Mustafa Pasha Yamolki: his life and role in the Kurdish nationalist movement

by Dr. Rebwar Fatah, Kurdish Media, 2005

A king is just like a chess king today in the world.

From a poem by Shukri Fazli, Kurdish intellect, journalist and poet

There are countless Kurdish figures that have been denied due credit for contributing to the cause of their people. Mustafa Pasha Yamolki is but one. Attempting to name the others would risk missing some and history already excels at this.

Therefore, this article seeks to reveal some unknown details of Yamolki’s life and to reintroduce him after an absence that is unjustified for a human of such stature. It was a significant, but worthwhile, challenge to discover information about Yamolki. I depended heavily upon his immediate family, whose acquaintance I treasure a great deal.

Prior to his death on May 25, 1936 in the Alwazyrya area of Baghdad, Mustafa Pasha Yamolki asked to have this verse of poetry etched into his grave:

Etirsm ey weten bimrim, nebînim bextiyarî to

Binwsin ba leser qebrim, weten xemgîn u min xemgîn.

Which can be translated to:

My homeland, I am scared that I may die without seeing your happiness

Etch into my grave that my homeland and I are both sad.

He was buried in the Gurdi Saywan [Saywan Heights] graveyard in Sulemani, along with many other well-known Kurds. Until his death, Yamolki remained proud of his Kurdish nationality.

Family background

Yamolki was born in Sulemani, South Kurdistan, on 25 January 1866, to an intellectual family. They lived in one of the traditional areas of Sulemani, Sabonkaran, opposite to the well-known public bath, Hamami Mufti. At 170 cm tall, Yamolki was renowned for his patriotism, bravery and brightness.

Yamolki belongs to the powerful Bilbaz, one of the Kurdish tribes.

On 3 May 1888, Yamolki married Safya Khanim Khandan Zada, the daughter of Hussain Pasha and the sister of Saeed Pasha, in Istanbul. Hers was a well-known Kurdish family and lived in the Uskidar area in Istanbul.

Yamolki and his wife had one son and three daughters:

– Colonel Aziz Yamolky deceased on August 1982 in Baghdad

– Zahra Yamolky (married first to Fathallah Ali Adibe and later to Ezzet Bey Jaff) deceased 1983 in Baghdad (A)

– Dr. Anjom Yamolky deceased 1968 in Paris, France

– Ms Maliha Yamolky [deceased in 1986]


In Yamolki’s era, the majority of Middle Easterners were illiterate. Yet Yamolki was a highly educated person with high qualifications and experiences as a military person. He spoke Kurdish, Arabic, Turkish and Persian fluently.

He attended primary school in Sulemani and studied in mosques, which was customary during his time. Two religious teachers, Mala Fatah and Mala Erfan, taught him in Said Hussan Mosque, at an early age. Yamolki entered a military school called Rushdia Alaskarya [Al-Rushdia Military School] in Baghdad. He then transferred to a military school, known as Harb Medrasasi (literally means War School) in Istanbul. In the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Yamolki had access to higher education institutions and intellectual communities.

Professional and military life

– 1888 graduated with distinction from the General Staff Academy in Istanbul as an officer (Naqib). After one year, he transferred to Hijaz (Saudi Arabia) to lead the Hijaz Division of the Ottoman Empire as a high-ranking officer.

– 1893 appointed as a councillor in Slimas and Khuey, Urmiah Province East [Iranian] Kurdistan and also a commercial councillor in Sanandaje Province East Kurdistan.

– 1899 appointed as the deputy chief of military staff of the entire Ottoman sixth army in Baghdad.

– 1904 appointed as a commissioner to define the border between Iraq and Iran.

– 1908 appointed as the head of the military division in Ankara.

– 1909 promoted as a brigadier and appointed head of the 21st army in Baghdad and transferred to a similar rank in Azerbaijan a year later.

– 1911 appointed as the commander of the fifth army during the Turkish-Italian War.

– 1917 appointed to lead the Ottoman Empire army in Baghdad.

– December 3, 1918, appointed to lead the Ottoman Army in Syvas region (North East of Turkey).

– Yamolki also wrote poetry. His book of poetry was published in Baghdad in 1956 after his death.

Sense of humour

Yamolki was well-known for his sense of humour as the following story illustrates.

The time is 1912, the place is Istanbul. One day when Mustafa Pasha was in his Saray (official office in the Turkish language), he sent a soldier to find him a shoe polisher for his military boots. A young person came in and began to polish Yamolki’s boots. The young shoe polisher, a Kurd, didn’t know that the man whose boots he was polishing was also a Kurd. So the story began.

As the young shoe polisher worked on the boots, he was swearing in Kurdish at the boots’ owner. Yamolki kept quiet until the shoe polisher finished his job. Then Yamolki approached him kindly, paid ten Ghroosh (a local currency of the time) and told the shoe polisher in very clear Kurdish, “This 10 Ghroosha is for the boots and this 10 Lira is for the swearing.

Yamolki’s Role in the Kingdom of Kurdistan – Sulemani

The Ottoman Empire had asked for an Armistice on Oct. 30th 1918. The Arabian provinces were lost, which was partitioned between Britain and France by the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1917; France proceeded not only to occupy Syria and Lebanon, but also Cilicia. The Italians claimed the coast opposite the already Italian Dodekanese islands; the Greeks desired the Smyrna region and Eastern Thrace.

Entente troops occupied the Straits area including Istanbul, which they demanded be demilitarized. The powers contemplated the establishment of an Armenian State in north-eastern Anatolia (under British protection) and a Kurdish State in south-eastern Anatolia (under French protection); there was little room left for a Turkish state.

Sultan Mehmed VI Vahiheddin, who had ascended to the throne only in July 1918, soon found himself unable to lead the affairs of his Empire, his own capital being occupied by Entente forces.

An officer, the hero of Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal (Kemal Ataturk) organized Turkish troops in the Ankara region, establishing a provisorical administration and reorganising the Ottoman forces into a Turkish army. Ataturk also gained the Kurdish support by promising the establishment of a Turkish-Kurdish republic.

In 1920 the Entente offered harsh conditions in the Treaty of Sevres, a treaty Turkey’s parliament never ratified.

In 1921, France withdrew from Cilicia; the united front of the Entente disintegrated. Ataturk’s forces defeated the Greeks in the Battle of Sakalya in 1922; in 1923 the Greeks were expelled from Smyrna. The Italians withdrew. The war had been decided militarily. The hitherto provisorial Turkish Republic gained international recognition in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).

After the end of the First World War, Yamolki was appointed to the Iraqi legal court. Then Vali of Prussia, Farid Pasha commissioned Yamolki to head a military court as a military judge to try the Kemel Ataturk’s group.

The group was charged with declaring a mutiny against the Istanbul Caliphdom which had been established after the dethroning of Sultan Abdul-Hamid. The group comprised of Mustafa Kemel (later known as Ataturk 1881-1938– i.e. the father of Turks), Foud Pasha, Dury Pasha Ciqmaq and Husyain Rauf Bey.

The group was to be sentenced in absentia and, on April 20, 1920. Yamolki ordered their death by hanging.

In 1922 in Turkey, Mustafa Kemal finally defeated the Turkish Government of Constantinople which, as heir to the Ottomans, had signed the Treaty of Sevres. Born in Erzurum province and helped to victory by the Kurdish people, the Kemalist Movement originally proclaimed its intention to create a modern Republic of Turkey in which the Kurdish and Turkish people would live as equals with full ’ethnic rights’. Kemalism rejected the Treaty of Sevres, which may have been a just treaty in that it guaranteed rights of independence and self-determination to the Kurds.

The genocide of every aspect of Kurds and Kurdistan by the Turks under the pretext of national unity continued, i.e. Turkification of the Kurdistan. The bloodshed has not stopped since.

On June 17, 1921, after Ataturk’s victory, Yamolki returned to his homeland where he took part in the newly established Kurdish State of Sulemani, headed by Shekh Mahmud Barzinji.

When Yamulki arrived back in Kurdistan, Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji was leading the Kurdish people to establish a Kurdish state in South Kurdistan.

On October 10, 1921, a statement was issued in Sulemani, the capital of Kurdistan, to establish a Kurdish government. Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji declared himself as the King of the Kingdom of Kurdistan. The cabinet members included

– Abdulkarim Alaka – Finance Minister

– Ahmed Bagy Fatah Bag – Customs Minister

– Hajy Mala Saeed Karkukli – Justice Minister

– Hema Abdullah Agha – Labour Minister

– Mustafa Pasha Yamolki- Education Minister

– Sheikh Qadir Hafeed, a brother of Sheikh Mahmud – Prime Minister

– Sheikh Mohammed Gharib – Interior Minister

– Zaky Sahibqran – Defence Minister (The Kurdish army at that time was called The Kurdish National Army)

Sheikh Mufeed Sheikh Qadir appointed as the Army’s Commander-in-Chief, and the Brigadier General, Saddik Qadiry (Yamolki’s brother) as the Army’s General Inspector. Despite his strong religious affiliation, Sheikh Barzinji appointed a Christian to the post of finance minister, which shows the diversity of the Kurdish society and his own open-mindedness.

Jemiyeti Kurdistan (Kurdistan Association)

On July 21, 1922, a group of Kurdish intellectuals and social figures, led by Yamoki, established Jemiyeti Kurdistan (the Kurdistan Association). The founding members were:

– Ahmad Behjat Afendi

– Ali Afendi Bapir Agha

– Faiq Arif Beg

– Haji Agha Fethulla

– Idham Yuzybashi

– Rafiq Hilmi Ahmed Beg

– Salih Qeftan

– Sheikh Muhemed Gulan

– Sukry Aleke (Christian Kurd)

– Tofiq Beg

Jemiyeti Kurdistan had, amongst other objectives, the goal of establishing and supporting a Kurdish state headed by Sheikh Mehmud Barzinji in Sulemani Province. On August 2, 1922, the group published the first issue of its paper, ‘Bangi Kurdistan’ (The Call of Kurdistan), in Kurdish, Turkish and Persian.

As the Kurdistan Kingdom of Sheikh Barzinji was not destroyed by the British, the Kurdish King of Kurdistan was replaced by an imposed Arab King, Faysial I, Yamolki left for Baghdad where he began publishing the paper on January 28, 1926.

On October 1, 1924, Jemiyeti Kurdistan sent a letter to the League of Nations protesting Turkish demand of Wilayet Musel and Turkey’s treatment of the Kurdish people in North [Turkey’s] Kurdistan.

The historical footprint of this organisation is important as it demanded an independent Kurdistan and legitimised its demands at the Treaty of Sevres.

British role in the destruction of the Kurdistan Kingdom

The Kingdom of Kurdistan did not last long, thanks to the British Royal Air Force acting on behalf of a puppet government in Baghdad. The British were not much kinder to the Kurds. It is wrongly preserved that the first regime that used poison gases against Kurds was Saddam Hussein’s government. This is wrong. British were the first regime to gas Kurds in South Kurdistan.

In this book, ’Deterring Democracy’, Noam Chomsky describes British rule in South Kurdistan as follows: [1]

As Secretary of State at the War Office in 1919, Churchill was approached by the RAF Middle East Command for permission to use chemical weapons ’against recalcitrant Arabs as experiment.’ Churchill authorized the experiment, dismissing objections:

I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gases; gases can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.

Churchill added: ’we cannot in any circumstances acquiesce in the non utilization of any weapons which are available to procure a speedy termination of the disorder which prevails on the frontier.’ Chemical weapons were merely ’the application of Western science to modern warfare.’

Churchill was in favour of using air power and poison gas against ’uncivilized tribes’ and ’recalcitrant Arabs’ i.e. Kurds and Afghans [2]. Not surprisingly, in the 1990s, William Waldegrave, who was in charge of Prime Minister John Major’s ’open government’ initiative, ordered the removal from the Public Record Office of ’files detailing how British troops had used poison gas against Iraqi dissidents including Kurds in 1919 [2].

In this way, a people who wished to run their own affairs were oppressed to the limit of genocide. Their King was undermined by the mighty British forces and an ’imported’ King from totally different culture was forced upon them.

The history has been written with the blood of the oppressed by the oppressing people. When the writings are still wet, the concept of ‘civilised and uncivilised’ people emerges. The more oppressed people bleed, the larger the history books get. The history fails to report commensurately the suffering of the oppressed. In this way, we build, what we term, ’civilisation’.


I am grateful for the information and pictures provided by the family of the late Mustafa Pasha Yamolki, in particular Mr. Kamal Yamolki.

Further reading on Yamolki

– Dr. Abdul-Sattar Sherif (Arabic), “History of Kurdish Societies and Political Parties”

– Rafiq Hilmi, Yadashtekani Refiq Hilmi (Kurdish)

– Dr. Kamal Mazhar, Safahatun min tarikh al-Iraq (Arabic)

– Dr. Fadhil Hussein, Mushkilat Musil (Arabic)


1. Chomsky, Noam, (1992), Deterring Democracy. New York: Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, NY 10003, pages 181-2.

2. Chomsky, Noam, (1999), The New Military Humanism – Lessons from Kosova. London: Pluto Press. ISBN: 0 7453 1634 4. 345 Archway Road, N6 5AA, page 62

Editor’s Notes:

A. Dr. Fatah had written 1972 (!) and was not aware of her first husband. Zahra’s oldest child, Nasrine Adibe, went to school in Beirut and later received a Ed. D. from Teacher’s College in New York.

[Webshaykh’s Note: I am particularly pleased to post this article, because Mustafa Pasha Yamolki is the great grandfather of my wife, Dr. Najwa Adra.]