Sunday, August 14, 2005

KARAI (QARAI, QARA TATAR): A Turkic-speaking tribe of Azerbaijan, Khurasan, Kerman and Fars.

A Turkic-speaking tribe of Azerbaijan, Khurasan, Kerman and Fars. As Vladimir Minorsky wrote, "The name of the Karai may in fact be connected with that of the famous Mongol tribe, the Kereit, who, because of their Christian Nestorian faith, were imagined to be the good people of Prester John" (personal communication). But the name could also be connected with that of other ethnic groups in Central Asia (see Ne‚meth, pp. 264-68).

Sir John Malcolm claimed that the Karai of Persia "had come from Tartary with Timur," who "had settled part of them in Turkey and part in Khorassan." After the death of Timur (807/1405), "they had dispersed," and Nader Shah (r. 1736-1747), "having desired to reassemble them," brought them together in Khurasan (p. 147). Although we do not know whether or not Timur brought the Karai to the Middle East, the rest of Malcolm's assertion seems to be substantially true.

There seems to have been Karai on both sides of the Aras river in Azerbaijan, at least for a century before 1148/1735. Adam Olearius, who traveled in Azerbaijan in 1638, mentions a tribe by the name of Karai on his list of the tribes of Mogan (p. 28). In his Tarikh-e jahan-gosha, Mohammad-Mahdi mentions two khans of Ganja, Fath-Karai and Eslam-Karai, who are said to have facilitated the surrender of that city to Nader Shah in 1148/1735 (pp. 216-221). There are also two villages by the name of Karai in western Persian Azerbaijan, one in the shahrestan (county) of Orumiya and the other in the shahrestan of Mahabad (Razmara, p. 350). But, after 1148/1735, nothing further is heard about the Karai of Azerbaijan. Therefore, one is tempted to believe that they were moved to Khurasan, like so many other tribes of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, during that period.

The Karai of Khurasan began to play an important role in the province when, in 1162/1749, their leader, Amir Khan, was put in charge of Mashhad by the Afghan ruler Ahámad Khan Dorrani (q.v.; Yate, p. 53). But they reached the zenith of their power and influence under the leadership of Esháaq Khan Karai at the beginning of the 19th century. Son of a mere servant of Najaf-¿Ali Khan, the paramount chief of the Karai tribe, he started his climb to power by illicitly building a fort in the small town of Torbat-e Haydari. Then, after Najaf-¿Ali Khan's murder, Esháaq Khan married his daughter and assumed the leadership of the tribe. By the end of the 18th century, Torbat-e Haydari was the thriving capital of a large Karai principality stretching from the gates of Mashhad to Khaf, which Esháaq Khan ruled as a kind of enlightened monarch (Malcolm, pp. 146-50; Yate, pp. 52-56; Curzon, p. 203; Sykes, pp. 291, 314-15). In 1209/1795, Esháaq Khan submitted to Aga Moháammad Khan Qajar (q.v.; Pakravan, pp. 197-98). But, under the more relaxed rule of Fath-Ali Shah (q.v.; 1211-1249/1797-1834), he achieved almost total independence from the central government. In 1227/1813, he took advantage of a rising tide of resentment against Qajar rule in Khurasan to seize Mashhad, along with the Hazaras and other discontented tribes, and to imprison the governor-general of the province, the Qajar prince Moháammad-Wali Mirza, in his own palace. However, soon thereafter, Eshaq Khan's tribal coalition began to unravel. He went to Tehran to plead his case, but to no avail, and, in 1230/1816, both he and a son, Hasan-Ali Khan, were strangled in Mashhad (Sepehr, p. 164; Fraser, pp. 25-29; Bellew, pp. 350-51).

Eshaq Khan was succeeded as paramount chief of the Karai tribe by another son, Moháammad Khan. In 1244/1829, he too took possession of Mashhad, and, although he was finally defeated by another son of Fath-Ali Shah, Ahmad-Ali Mirza, he nonetheless "retained a sort of semi-independent existence, and never thoroughly acknowledged the authority of the Kajars" (Yate, p. 53; Sepehr, p. 247). But during the second half of the 19th century, the Karai chiefs lost much of their power and wealth, and Torbat-e Haydari its luster. When J.-P. Ferrier visited the area in 1260/1845, the town and it surroundings were still prosperous (p. 265). But, by the time George N. Curzon came in 1306/1889, the whole region had been "terribly decimated both by Turkmen ravages and by the great famine" (p. 203), and Yate, who passed by in 1310/1893, wrote that Torbat-e Haydari "presents a very tumble-down appearance," the walls "now broken in all directions" (p. 54). For population estimates of the Karai of Khurasan, see M. L. Shiel (p. 400), H. Field (p. 253), and S. I. Bruk (p. 32). However, owing to the fact that, already in the 19th century, the tribe had become largely sedentary, such figures are highly conjectural.

There are also Karai in Kerman province. In 1957, they comprised some 420 households. Their summer quarter stretched from the Khana Sorkòi mountain pass, on the Kerman-Saidabad (Sirjan) road, down to the neighborhood of Balvard. Their winter quarters were in the ¿Ayn-al-Bagal region, across the salt lake from Saidabad. Their tiras (clans) were: Tela Begi, Kurki, Abbasi, Beglari, Haydari and Yar-Ahmadi. The village of Tangu was their headquarters (Oberling, pp. 100-105).

Finally, there are several groups of Karai in Fars. There are clans by that name in the Amala tribe of the Qashqai tribal confederacy, in the Eynally (Inanlu) and Arab Jabbara tribes of the Khamsa tribal confederacy, and in the Bakesh tribe of the Mamasani tribal confederacy. Some Karai have also settled down in the dehestan of Sar Ùahan, near Bavanat, and in the dehestan of Abada Tashk, near Neyriz. According to the Iranian Army Files (1956), the Karai of Kerman and Fars were moved there from Khurasan during Safavid times (Oberling, pp. 101-102).


H. W. Bellew, From the Indus to the Tigris, London, 1874.
S. I. Bruk, Naselenie Perednei AzI, Moscow, 1960.
G. N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, London, 1892,
I. J.-P. Ferrier, Voyage en Perse, dans l'Afghanistan, le Beloutchistan et le Turkestan, Paris, 1860.
H. Field, Contributions to the Anthropology of Iran, Chicago, 1939.
J. B. Fraser, Narrative of a Journey into Khorasan in the Years 1821 and 1822, London, 1825.
J. Malcolm, The History of Persia, London, 1829,
I. Mohammad-Mahdi, Tarikh-e Jahan-gosha, tr. W. Jones as Histoire de Nader Chah, London, 1770.
G. Nemeth, A Hongfoglalo‚ Magyarsag Kialakula‚sa, Budapest, 1930.
P. Oberling, The Turkic Peoples of Southern Iran, Cleveland, 1960.
Adam Olearius, Voyage en Moscovie, Tartarie et Perse, Paris, 1659.
E. Pakravan, Agha Mohammad Ghadjar, Tehran, 1953.
H. A. Razmara, Farhang-e joghrafia Iran IV, Tehran, 1951.
Mirza Mohammad Sepehr, Nasekh al-tawarikh, Tehran, 1958-59,
I. M. L. Sheil, Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia, London, 1856.
P. M. Sykes, A History of Persia, London, 1951,
I. C. E. Yate, Khurasan and Sistan, London, 1900.

(P. Oberling)

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