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Kara Koyunlu (1375-1468)


Kara Koyunlu [Turkish KARAKOYUNLULAR, English Black Sheep], is a Turkmen tribal federation that ruled Azerbaijan and Iraq from about 1375 to 1468.

The Kara Koyunlu were vassals of the Jalayirid dynasty of Baghdad and Tabriz from about 1375, when the head of their leading tribe, Kara Muhammad Turmush (reigned c. 1375-90), ruled Mosul. The federation secured its independence with the seizure of Tabriz (which became its capital) by Kara Yusuf (reigned 1390-1400; 1406-20).

Routed by the armies of Timur in 1400, Kara Yusuf sought refuge with the Mamluks of Egypt but by 1406 was able to regain Tabriz. He then secured the Kara Koyunlu position against threats from the Ak Koyunlu ("White Sheep"), a rival Turkmen federation in the province of Diyar Bakr (modern Iraq), and from the Georgians and Shirvan-Shahs in the Caucasus and Timur's successors in Iran.

The capture of Baghdad in 1410 and the installation of a subsidiary Kara Koyunlu line there hastened the downfall of the Jalayirids themselves. Despite the dynastic struggles for primacy in the years following Kara Yusuf's death (1420) and continuing Timurid pressure, the Kara Koyunlu maintained a firm grip on their possessions. Jihan Shah (reigned c. 1438-67) established a temporary peace with the Timurid Shah Rokh, who had helped him gain the Kara Koyunlu throne; but after Shah Rokh's death in 1447, Jihan Shah annexed portions of Iraq and the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula as well as Timurid western Iran.

Jihan Shah's rule was repeatedly troubled, however, by his rebellious sons and by the semiautonomous Kara Koyunlu rulers of Baghdad, whom he expelled in 1464. An attempt to take Diyar Bakr from the Ak Koyunlu in 1466 ended in Jihan Shah's defeat and death, and within two years the Kara Koyunlu succumbed to the superior Ak Koyunlu forces.


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