Forensic Fashion
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>Costume Studies
>>1891 Kurdish hamidiye
Subject: hamidiye hafif süvari irregular cavalry
Culture: Kurdish
Setting: late Ottoman empire, Kurdistan 1890s-1900s
Evolution: ... > 1829 Kurdish şervan > 1891 Kurdish hamidiye

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources,Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Palmer 1992 p171-172
"The employment of foreign specialists to modernize the army was, of course, a familiar expedient favoured by all reformer Sultans, including Abdulhamid I and Selim III as well as Mahmud II.  Yet, uniquely, Abdulhamid II modelled a newly-created cavalry corps on what was in many respects an outdated concept.  In March 1891 he established a force of irregular horsemen reminiscent of the akinji outriders of the seventeenth century [NOTEakinci had been replaced by deli in the seventeenth century] or, more recently, of the başi bozuka, the notorious 'bashi-bazouks' whose bestialities were chronicled in every Western European and American account of the Bulgarian atrocities.  These new battalions -- hamidiye, as they were called -- were recruited from the nomadic Kurdish and Turcoman peoples of eastern Anatolia; they were led by tribal chieftains, with Ottoman officers attached to them as inspectors.  It was assumed that their natural enemies were the Russians, who seemed likely to thrust southwards from their Transcaucasian possessions.
    "At first the hamidiye were organized into thirty nominally disciplined regiments of 600 men, although the force rapidly expanded; there were 63 regiments of between 800 and 1,150 men at the end of the century.  Superficially they resembled the Cossack troops maintained by the Russians for over 200 years; but while the Cossacks were famous as a fighting horde before they became soldiers of the Tsars, the Kurdish and Turcoman tribes had long thrived on brigandage, with some six or seven chieftains only occasionally uniting in a loose confederacy, primarily to defend themselves against punitive expeditions.  Old habits died hard, and the circumstances in which local Ottoman commanders employed the Sultan's 'tribal gendarmerie' did not encourage their abandonment of traditional ways, especially in the mountains around Erzurum.  This development causd dismay among the consular representatives of the Great Powers and intensified the widespread abhorrence of 'Abdul the Damned'.  If the Kurds used the weapons and regimental organization of the hamidiye to scourge the Armenian Christians around them in eastern Anatolia, their Sultan and Caliph was disinclined to check such bloody effusions of fanatical zeal.  The Kurds, militant Muslims who had mistrusted Tanzimat westernization, served proudly in the hamidiye, which they accepted as a form of recognition of national identity bestowed upon them by their Ottoman sovereign.  Tragically the hamidiye -- like the 'Black and Tans' in Ireland -- left a legacy of racial and religious hatred which survived the Ottomans and their immediate successors."

* Lortz 2005 p5-7 online
"In 1891, Ottoman Sultan Abd al Hamid II (1876-1909) created the Hamidiya Cavalry, merging Turkish leadership with Kurdish tribal fighters. This force had two primary purposes: to defend the Cossack Region from a possible Russian threat and secondly, to reduce the potential of 
Kurdish-Armenian cooperation. Dividing two of the largest minority groups in the region ensured the Ottoman Empire control of Eastern Anatolia and countered recent losses of its western lands to the expanding European powers. The Hamidiya Cavalry may also have been instituted to create a feeling of “Pan-Islam”, especially in light of a perceived possible British-Russian-Armenian Christian alliance.  
      "Although attempts were made to integrate select Kurdish warriors in the Ottoman military prior to the Hamidiya Cavalry, most, if not all, Kurdish cavalry and riflemen were loyal only to their local tribes or regional shaykhs. To incorporate the fighting ability of the Kurds into the Ottoman army, Hamid II’s government employed many of the stronger tribes in Eastern Anatolia. According to Safrastian, powerful tribes, such as the Mirans, the Tayans, the Batwans, the Duderis, the Kachans and the Shernakhs were to supply nearly 40 regiments. Smaller tribes, such as the Heiderans, the Jibrans, the Jallals and the Mugurs were only to contribute 20 units.
      "Ottoman leaders, after selecting which tribes were to participate in the Hamidiya Cavalry, summoned the respective chiefs to Constantinople and endowed them with military rank. These chiefs and their entourages, armed usually with yataganskandjar rifles [SIC], and Russian Winchester cavalry rifles, were instructed to recruit troops and form units. After recruiting, the tribal chiefs and proceeding groups of Kurdish leaders were sent to the Hamidiya Suvari Mektabi, a special military school in Istanbul. Although Greene states that these units were to be cavalry units entirely, it is unclear as to how accurate his accounts were and whether or not certain Kurdish tribes were organized as infantry units.  
      "[....] The rank structure of the Hamidiya Cavalry reflected Turkish distrust in the Kurdish leadership. In order to limit Kurdish advancement and control, the planned structure of the officer corps was a commanding Turkish cavalry general responsible for all cavalry forces, a Kurdish brigadier general commanding up to four Hamidiya Cavalry regiments, four colonels per regiment (two Kurds and two 'prescelti' – a shadowing Turkish officer of equivalent rank used to ensure conformity), four lieutenants (two Kurds and two prescelti), two majors (one Kurd and one prescelti), and two adjuctant-majors (one Kurd and one prescelti). Overall, the Hamidiya Cavalry was comprised of 48 to 76 regiments, each having approximately 400 to 600 men. In total, there were approximately 50,000 troops in the unit.
      "The Hamidiya Cavalry was in no way a cross-tribal force, despite their military appearance, organization, and potential. Only when smaller tribes were unable to fully man their unit requirements were other tribal fighters integrated. As tribal/regimental commanders frequently took advantage of their newfound power and state affiliation, large tribes, such as the Jibran tribe, which fielded four regiments, found it easy to dominate, intimidate, and terrorize smaller non-Hamidiya tribes. These commanders often used Hamidiya troops and equipment to settle tribal differences. Orders also came from the state as tribes in the Hamidiya Cavalry were called upon to suppress 'recalcitrant tribes'.
      "The 'benefits' of being included in the Hamidiya meant receiving not only weapons and training, but a certain level of prestige. Hamidiya officers and soldiers quickly recognized they could only be tried through a military court martial and not through civil administration. Realizing their immunity, Cavalry leaders quickly turned their tribes into 'legalized robber brigades'. Hamidiya soldiers would often steal grain, reap fields not of their possession, drive off herds, and openly steal from shopkeepers. 
      "The Hamidiya Cavalry was also used by the Ottoman Empire to suppress Armenian revolts in Eastern Anatolia. The Sultan’s forces, including the Hamidiya Cavalry, made no distinction between pro- or anti-government Armenians as the European powers increased their desire for Armenian Christian concessions. Massacres occurred in numerous Armenian areas, with casualties reaching the thousands in several towns.  Hamidiya tactics during these raids were primarily cavalry in nature although unorganized Kurdish 'brigands' conducted most dismounted attacks.  In total, more than 200,000 Armenians were killed between 1894 and 1896."

* Hopkins 1896 p316
"One story is that the Armenians fought and drove away the Kurds in 1893, and that the latter came back with the regular troops in 1894, and performed the horrible work they had before attempted.
    "But whatever the exact origin of the occurrences, there is no doubt as to their nature.  The details indeed are too horrible to be more than briefly indicated.  A letter dated Bitlis, October 9th, declared that some of the Turkish soldiers actually shrank back shuddering from the picture and record of what they had themselves done, and claimed that the Kurds had committed the worst of the crimes.  'No compassion,' says the writer, 'was shown to age or sex, even by the regular soldiery -- not even when victims fell suppliant at their feet.  Five to ten thousand met such a fate as even the darkest ages of darkest Africa had hardly witnessed.'  The torments which were inflicted on the helpless women and children are as indescribable as they are inconceivable to Christian minds.  The letter concludes by saying that the writer could not further prolong the sickening tale.  'There must be a God in heaven who will do right in all these matters, or some of us would lose faith.'"


* Lortz 2005 p6 online
"In order to differentiate themselves from other cavalry troops under the Sultan’s command, the Hamidiya Cavalry were issued distinctive uniforms consisting of large black wool caps with brass badges on the front. This headgear was seen during their 'field' operations, whereas some elements of the Cavalry were witnessed wearing Cossack-style uniforms and uniforms worthy of being paraded before the Sultan prior to the 1897 war with Greece. According to Italian diplomatic correspondence, “some wore a uniform similar to that of the Cirassians [SIC], others like that of the Cossacks, and finally others, instead of the kalpak worn by the first group, were wearing the keffeyia like Arab horsemen'."