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Ak Koyunlu (1468-1508)



Ak Koyunlu (Turkish: "White Sheep"), is a Turkmen tribal federation that ruled northern Iraq, Azerbaijan, and eastern Anatolia from AD 1378 to 1508.

The Ak Koyunlu were present in eastern Anatolia at least from 1340, according to Byzantine chronicles, and most Ak Koyunlu leaders, including the founder of the dynasty, Kara Osman (reigned 1378-1435), married Byzantine princesses. In 1402 Kara Osman was granted all of Diyar Bakr in northern Iraq by the Turkic ruler Timur. The strong presence of the Kara Koyunlu ("Black Sheep"), a rival Turkmen federation, in western Iran and Azerbaijan temporarily checked any expansion, but the rule of Uzun Hasan (1452-78) brought the Ak Koyunlu to fresh prominence. With the defeat of Jihan Shah, the Kara Koyunlu leader, in 1467 and the defeat of Abu Sa'id, the Timurid, in 1468, Uzun Hasan was able to take Baghdad, the Persian Gulf, and Iran as far east as Khorasan. The Ottoman Turks were simultaneously (1466-68) moving eastward in Anatolia, threatening Ak Koyunlu domains and forcing Uzun Hasan into an alliance with the Qaramanids of central Anatolia. In 1464 the Ak Koyunlu had already turned to the Venetians, enemies of the Ottomans, in an attempt to stave off the inevitable Ottoman attack. Despite promises of military aid, the Venetian arms never were provided, and Uzun Hasan was defeated by the Ottomans in Tercan (modern Mamahatun) in 1473.

Ya'qub (reigned 1478-90) sustained the dynasty a while longer, but after his death the Ak Koyunlu were torn apart by internal strife and ceased to be a threat to their more powerful neighbours. The Safavids of Iran, members of the Shi'ite sect of Islam, were already undermining the allegiance of some of the Ak Koyunlu, predominantly of the Sunnite sect. The two powers met in battle near Nakhichevan in 1501-02, and the Ak Koyunlu "Alwand " was defeated by Esma'il I. In his retreat from the Safavid armies, Alwand in his turn destroyed an autonomous Ak Koyunlu state in Mardin, Diyar Bakr (1503). The last Ak Koyunlu ruler, Murad, who had been contending for power with his brothers Alwand and Muhammad since 1497, was also defeated by Esma'il (1503). Murad established himself briefly in Baghdad (until 1508); but, with his retreat to Diyar Bakr, the dynasty ended.


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