Histories & Culture

The Surji clan is one of several large Kurdish tribes that reside in northern Iraq, in the area marked out by the Aqrah mountain chain, which extends from the Harir mountain chain to the north and the Great Zab River to the east and south. The chiefs of this clan are settled in the village of Bajeel, 20km east of Aqrah.


They are followers of the Naqashbandiyya faith, as are the sheikhs of the neighboring Barzan tribe. The two tribes are separated by the Zab river and Mt. Qarishu. Early on, the two tribes enjoyed good relations, being linked by marriage: Sheikh Mohammad, son of Sheikh Abd al-Salaam the First, married a daughter of Abd al-Samd, brother of Sheikh Mohammad of the Surji, and the two tribes follow the same faith.   


However, starting in 1890, conflict grew between them when Mohammad Hafiz bin Sheikh Mohammad al-Surji had abducted the wife of a Kuran chief (one of the “Seven Clans”). The Kuran then appealed to Sheikh Mohammad  al-Barzani to restore justice, which led to dreadful warfare between the two tribes. The Barzani and the Surji descended into bloody conflict marked by attacks on the villages and encampments of the two groups, killing scores on both sides.


The Russian Consul Basil Nikitin made mention of the conflict in his book “The Kurd: Sociology and History”:


    And so we come to the response of Sheikh Mohammad al-Surji (Sheikh Bijil) to Sheikh Mohammad Sadiq Nahri regarding the ending of bloody strife that broke out between the leaders and clans of the Bijil (the Surji) in 1891 and the Barzan over the abduction of a young woman. This conflict demonstrates that clan interests will ever take precedence over religious considerations, as Sheikh Bijil says in his response:  “I am unable to say a thing, my lord, for you know all that has taken place. I entrust you with all power in this matter and submit in advance to any judgment you might render.


    As for the inestimable material losses I have suffered, I forget them out of respect for your eminence. Yet this is a different matter, because of the disgrace and humiliation visited upon us by the shameless men of this clan, the Barzanis. I cannot stand to even hear the name of the disgraceful Barzaniyya family. And so I request your order, which will be obeyed. For you know that they did not respect even the holiness of the Quran, having thrown its pages into the mud, and defiled my place of worship (the mosque) with rubbish and filth. They even cut the ears of my wives and servants to seize their earrings. Anything you order I will undertake with all of my heart and soul.”


Effects of the conflict continued to be felt for a long time, even through the end of the 20th century. On July 6th, 1996, a band of the Barzani attacked the village of Kilkin, in the Harir area of Shaqlawa province, killing Hussein Agha al-Surji, leader of the Surani Surjis, along with a number of other Surjis. Afterward, they plundered the Surji houses and encampments, in spite of the fact that the village had opened its arms and welcomed the first meeting of the Kurdistan Front after the 1991 uprising.


The writer Najat Omar Khadr al-Surji notes that ambivalence, betrayal and revenge are traits of the Barzani leadership, and that these negative characteristics are well-known to the Kurds. He adds that one doesn’t have to look far to see that many of the devoted Kurdish chiefs and leaders honed their skills at the hand of the Barzani leadership.


Source: السورجي
Translated from the Arabic by Andrew Leber,
Brown University, Class of 2012.