Aq Qoyunlu

Aq Qoyunlu

آق قویونلو
Tamga of Bayandur used by Aq Qoyunlu[2] of Aq Qoyunlu
Tamga of Bayandur used by Aq Qoyunlu [2]
The Aq Qoyunlu confederation at its greatest extent under Uzun Hasan
The Aq Qoyunlu confederation at its greatest extent under Uzun Hasan
Status Confederate Sultanate
Common languages
Sunni Islam[7]
Government Monarchy
• 1378–1435
Uthman Beg
• 1497–1503
Sultan Murad
  • Kengač (legislative)[3]
  • Boy ḵānları (military)[3]
Historical era Medieval
• First raid on the Trapezuntine Empire by Tur Ali Beg [8]
• Siege of Trebizond [8]
• Established
• Coup by Uzun Hasan [3]
Autumn 1452
• Reunification [3]
• Death of Ahmad Beg, division of the Aq Qoyunlu [3]
December, 1497
• Collapse of the Aq Qoyunlu rule in Iran [3]
Summer 1503
• End of the Aq Qoyunlu rule in Mesopotamia [3]
Autumn 1508
Currency Hasanbegî:[8]
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Qara Qoyunlu
Safavid Empire
Ottoman Empire

The Aq Qoyunlu[d] (Persian: آق‌ قویونلو‎, Azerbaijani: Ağqoyunlular آغ‌قویونلولار‎) was a Persianate[12][13] Sunni[7] Turkoman[14][15][16] tribal confederation that ruled parts of present-day eastern Turkey from 1378 to 1503, and in their last decades also ruled Armenia, Azerbaijan, most of Iran, and Iraq. The Aq Qoyunlu empire reached its zenith under Uzun Hasan.[3]



The name Aq Qoyunlu (meaning White Sheep) is first mentioned in late 14th century sources. It has been suggested that this name refers to old totemic symbols, but according to Rashid al-Din Hamadani, the Turks were forbidden to eat the flesh of their totem-animals, given the importance of mutton in the diet of pastoral nomads. Another hypothesis is that the name refers to the predominant color of their flocks.[3]


According to chronicles from the Byzantine Empire, the Aq Qoyunlu are first attested in the district of Bayburt south of the Pontic mountains from at least the 1340s.[17] In these chronicles, Tur Ali Beg was mentioned as lord of the "Turks of Amid", who had already attained the rank of amir under the Ilkhan Ghazan. Under his leadership, they besieged Trebizond, but failed to take the town.[18] A number of their leaders, including the dynasty's founder, Qara Osman,[19] married Byzantine princesses.[20]

By the end of the Ilkhanid period in the mid-14th century, the Oghuz tribes that comprised the Aq Qoyunlu confederation roamed the summer pastures in Armenia, in particular, the upper reaches of the Tigris river and winter pastures between the towns of Diyarbakır and Sivas. Since the end of the 14th century, Aq Qoyunlu waged constant wars with another tribal confederation of the Oghuz tribes, the Qara Qoyunlu. The leading Aq Qoyunlu tribe was the Bayandur tribe.[21]

Uzun Hasan used to assert the claim that he was an "honorable descendant of Oghuz Khan and his grandson, Bayandur Khan". In a letter dating to the year 1470, which was sent to Şehzade Bayezid, the-then governor of Amasya, Uzun Hasan wrote that those from the Bayandur and Bayat tribes, as well as other tribes that belonged to the "Oghuz il", and formerly inhabited Mangyshlak, Khwarazm and Turkestan, came and served in his court. He also made the tamga of the Bayandur tribe the symbol of his state. For this reason, the Bayandur tamga is found in Aq Qoyunlu coins, their official documents, inscriptions and flags.[8]


The Aq Qoyunlu Sultans claimed descent from Bayindir Khan, which was a grandson of Oghuz Khagan, the legendary ancestor of Oghuz Turks.[22]

Professor G. L. Lewis:[23]

The Ak-koyunlu Sultans claimed descent from Bayindir Khan and it is likely, on the face of it, that the Book of Dede Korkut was composed under their patronage. The snag about this is that in the Ak-koyunlu genealogy Bayindir's father is named as Gok ('Sky') Khan, son of the eponymous Oghuz Khan, whereas in our book he is named as Kam Ghan, a name otherwise unknown. In default of any better explanation, I therefore incline to the belief that the book was composed before Ak-koyunlu rulers had decided who their ancestors where. It was in 1403 that they ceased to be tribal chiefs and became Sultans, so we may assume that their official geneaology was formulated round about that date.

According to the Kitab-i Diyarbakriyya, the grandfathers of Uzun Hasan back to the prophet Adam in the 68th generation are listed by name and information is given about them. Among them is Tur Ali Bey, the grandfather of Uzun Hasan's grandfather, who is also mentioned in other sources. But it is difficult to say whether Pehlivan Bey, Ezdi Bey and Idris Bey, who are listed in earlier periods, really existed. Most of the people who are listed as the ancestors of Uzun Hasan are names related to the Oghuz legend and to Oghuz rulers.[24]

Uzun Hasan

The Aq Qoyunlu Turkomans first acquired land in 1402, when Timur granted them all of Diyar Bakr in present-day Turkey. For a long time, the Aq Qoyunlu were unable to expand their territory, as the rival Qara Qoyunlu or "Black Sheep Turkomans" kept them at bay. However, this changed with the rule of Uzun Hasan, who defeated the Black Sheep Turkoman leader Jahān Shāh in 1467.

After the defeat of a Timurid leader, Abu Sa'id Mirza, Uzun Hasan was able to take Baghdad along with territories around the Persian Gulf. He expanded into Iran as far east as Khorasan. However, around this time, the Ottoman Empire sought to expand eastwards, a serious threat that forced the Aq Qoyunlu into an alliance with the Karamanids of central Anatolia.

As early as 1464, Uzun Hasan had requested military aid from one of the Ottoman Empire's strongest enemies, Venice. Despite Venetian promises, this aid never arrived and, as a result, Uzun Hassan was defeated by the Ottomans at the Battle of Otlukbeli in 1473,[25] though this did not destroy the Aq Qoyunlu.

In 1470, Uzun selected Abu Bakr Tihrani to compile a history of the Aq Qoyunlu confederation.[26] The Kitab-i Diyarbakriyya, as it was called, referred to Uzun Hasan as sahib-qiran and was the first historical work to assign this title to a non-Timurid ruler.[26]

Sultan Ya'qub

Miniature of Sultan Ya'qub and his courtiers, Mehmed the Conqueror's album

When Uzun Hasan died early in 1478, he was succeeded by his son Khalil Mirza, but the latter was defeated by a confederation under his younger brother Ya'qub at the Battle of Khoy in July.[11]:128

Ya'qub, who reigned from 1478 to 1490, sustained the dynasty for a while longer. However, during the first four years of his reign there were seven pretenders to the throne who had to be put down.[11]:125 Following Ya'qub's death, civil war again erupted, the Aq Qoyunlus destroyed themselves from within, and they ceased to be a threat to their neighbors. The early Safavids, who were followers of the Safaviyya religious order, began to undermine the allegiance of the Aq Qoyunlu. The Safavids and the Aq Qoyunlu met in battle in the city of Nakhchivan in 1501 and the Safavid leader Ismail I forced the Aq Qoyunlu to withdraw.[27]

In his retreat from the Safavids, the Aq Qoyunlu leader Alwand destroyed an autonomous state of the Aq Qoyunlu in Mardin. The last Aq Qoyunlu leader, Murad, brother of Alwand, was also defeated by the same Safavid leader. Though Murād briefly established himself in Baghdad in 1501, he soon withdrew back to Diyar Bakr, signaling the end of the Aq Qoyunlu rule.

Ahmad Beg

Amidst the struggle for power between Uzun Hasan's grandsons Baysungur (son of Yaqub) and Rustam (son of Maqsud), their cousin Ahmed Bey appeared on the stage. Ahmed Bey was the son of Uzun Hasan's eldest son Ughurlu Muhammad, who, in 1475, escaped to the Ottoman Empire, where the sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror, received Uğurlu Muhammad with kindness and gave him his daughter in marriage, of whom Ahmed Bey was born.[28]

According to Hasan Rumlu's Ahsan al-tavarikh, in 1496-7, Hasan Ali Tarkhani went to the Ottoman Empire to tell Sultan Bayezid II that Azerbaijan and Persian Iraq were defenceless and suggested that Ahmed Bey, heir to that kingdom, should be sent there with Ottoman troops. Beyazid agreed to this idea, and by May 1497 Ahmad Bey faced Rustam near Araxes and defeated him.[28]


The leaders of Aq Qoyunlu were from the Begundur or Bayandur clan of the Oghuz Turks[29] and were considered descendants of the semi-mythical founding father of the Oghuz, Oghuz Khagan.[30] The Bayandurs behaved like statesmen rather than warlords and gained the support of the merchant and feudal classes of Transcaucasia (present-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia).[30]

Uzun Hasan's conquest of most of mainland Iran shifted the seat of power to the east, where the Aq Qoyunlu adopted Iranian customs for administration and culture. In the Iranian areas, Uzun Hasan preserved the previous bureaucratic structure along with its secretaries, who belonged to families that had in a number of instances served under different dynasties for several generations. The four top civil posts of the Aq Qoyunlu were all occupied by Iranians, which under Uzun Hasan included; the vizier, who led the great council (divan); the mostawfi al-mamalek, high-ranking financial accountants; the mohrdar, who affixed the state seal; and the marakur "stable master", who supervised the royal court.[3] Culture flourished under the Aq Qoyunlu, who, although of coming from a Turkic background, sponsored Iranian culture. Uzun Hasan himself adopted it and ruled in the style of an Iranian king.[31]

In letters from the Ottoman Sultans, when addressing the kings of Aq Qoyunlu, such titles as Arabic: ملك الملوك الأيرانية‎ "King of Iranian Kings", Arabic: سلطان السلاطين الإيرانية‎ "Sultan of Iranian Sultans", Persian: شاهنشاه ایران خدیو عجمShāhanshāh-e Irān Khadiv-e Ajam "Shahanshah of Iran and Ruler of Persia", Jamshid shawkat va Fereydun rāyat va Dārā derāyat "Powerful like Jamshid, flag of Fereydun and wise like Darius" have been used.[32] Uzun Hassan also held the title Padishah-i Irān "Padishah of Iran", which was re-adopted by his distaff grandson Ismail I, founder of the Safavid Empire.[33]



See also