DONBOLĪ, name of a turkicized Kurdish tribe in the Ḵoy and Salmās regions of northwestern Azerbaijan and of the leading family of Ḵoy since the 16th century. Šaraf-al-Dīn Bedlīsī (tr., pt. 1, p. 169) reported that, according to the “most authentic” theory, the Donbolī came from Boḵtān, a region between Siirt and Cizre in what is now southeastern Turkey, and the tribe was thus called Donbolī-e Boḵt. Its first leader seems to have been a certain ʿĪsā Beg, whose descendants were known as the ʿIsā Begī. The Donbolī were supposedly Yazīdīs for a considerable time before becoming Shitʿite Muslims (for other theories about the origin and early history of the Donbolī, see Nikitine, pp. 110-18). The ʿĪsā Begī held the district of Sokmanābād (modern Zūravā) some years before the establishment of the Āq Qoyunlū dynasty in 780/1378. Shaikh Aḥmad Beg, a descendant of ʿĪsā Beg, became an important official in the Āq Qoyunlū administration and conquered both the fortress of Bāy (which, for a long time, remained under Donbolī control) and a part of Hakkārī territory southeast of Lake Van (Bedlīsī, tr., pt. 1, pp. 169-70).

In the Safavid period. The Safavid shah Ṭahmāsb I (930-84/1524-76) combined Ḵoy with Sokmanābād in a single district (eyālat) and named Shaikh Aḥmad Beg’s grandson Ḥājī Beg governor, with the honorary title ḥājī solṭān. He also entrusted Ḥājī Beg with the defense of the frontiers of the empire, including the province of Van. In 955/1548 Eskandar Pasha, governor of Van, at the instigation of the Kurdish chief Ḥasan Beg, attacked and killed Ḥājī Beg in Ḵoy (Bedlīsī, pt. 1, pp. 170-72; Ḥasan Rūmlū, ed. Seddon, II, p. 153). Donbolī allegiance to the shah then became increasingly tenuous, and Shah Ṭahmāsb’s troops, sent to subdue the tribe by force, massacred a large number of its leaders. Manṣūr Beg, a nephew of Ḥājī Beg, survived and fled to the Ottoman empire, where he was appointed governor of the sanjāq of Qotūr Deresī (Qotūr valley) and Bargīrī and was able to gather the remnants of the Donbolī tribe under his leadership (Bedlīsī, tr., pt. 1, pp. 172-73).

During the reign of Shah ʿAbbās I (996-1038/1588-1629) most of the Donbolī once more shifted their allegiance to Persia, and several tribal leaders achieved distinction. Among them were Jamšīd Solṭān, who participated in the shah’s expedition to Balḵ in the summer of 1011/1602 and was appointed governor of Marand after the capture of Tabrīz in the autumn of 1012/1603; Salmān Solṭān, who was for many years governor of Čūrs and Salmās and was a hero of the Persian defense of Azerbaijan against the Ottomans in the summer of 1025/1616; Ṭahmāsbqolī Šīra, who in 1035/1625-26 set off on a diplomatic mission to Istanbul but was murdered en route, allegedly by Ottoman officials who “did not consider it in their interests to allow the ambassador to reach Istanbul”; Maqṣūd Solṭān, governor of Barkošāṭ in Qarābāḡ and Qelīč Beg, who received a fief from Shah ʿAbbās (Eskandar Beg, II, pp. 643, 783, 882, 901-02, 1031, 1057, 1064, 1086; tr. Savory, II, p. 832-33, 847, 980, 1117-18, 1252, 1281, 1287-88, 1313).

In the 18th century. Najafqolī Khan (1125-99/1713-85), the son of Šahbāz Khan Donbolī, entered the service of Nāder Shah (1148-60/1736-47) after the latter took Ḵoy from the Ottomans in 1147/1734 (Bedlīsī, repr., p. 399; Nāder Mīrzā, p. 154) and was soon appointed chief musketeer (tofangčī āqāsī). He accompanied Nāder Shah on his military expeditions to India, Georgia, and Dāḡestān and while in India was raised to the rank of amīr al-omarāʾ ; Donbolī, 1349 Š./1970, I, pp. 58-68; Marvī, p. 999 n. 3). He maintained his position under Nāder Shah’s successors.

In late 1163/1750, when Āzād Khan Afḡān took control of Tabrīz and Urmia, Najafqolī Khan’s nephew Šahbāz Khan Donbolī joined with several influential Afšār khans and leaders of the mountain tribes of Azerbaijan in his support. Šahbāz Khan performed many services for Āzād Khan, but at the battle of Urmia in the spring of 1170/1757 he switched sides and pledged allegiance to Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Qājār. In early 1171/late 1757, at the head of 6,000 men, he helped Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan take Isfahan but withdrew his support after the Qājār leader failed to wrest Shiraz from Karīm Khan Zand (1163-93/1750-79) a few months later. Šahbāz Khan then concentrated his energies on extending his own power base in Azerbaijan; he and Najafqolī Khan already controlled much of the province, but an alliance with Fatḥ-ʿAlī Khan Afšār Arašlū strengthened them further. When, in the spring of 1172/1759, Āzād Khan passed through Azerbaijan after a period of exile in Baghdad, Šahbāz Khan and Fatḥ-ʿAlī Khan defeated him at Marāḡa. A year later the two leaders prevented Karīm Khan Zand from seizing Tabrīz and forced him to withdraw from Azerbaijan, then a few months later defeated Āzād Khan once more near Tabrīz. In the spring of 1175/1762 Karīm Khan Zand again invaded Azerbaijan and took Šahbāz Khan and Najafqolī Khan’s son ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Beg to Shiraz as hostages. There Šahbāz Khan once more switched sides and was appointed governor of Ḵoy and Salmās, and his daughter Ṣāḥeb Solṭān Ḵānom was married to Karīm Khan’s son Abu’l-Fatḥ Khan (Perry, pp. 49, 57, 66, 68, 70, 73, 81, 83-84, 88, 92, 98).

In 1177/1763 Karīm Khan appointed Najafqolī Khan governor of large parts of Azerbaijan and in 1183/1769 governor of the province of Tabrīz (Nāder Mīrzā, pp. 154, 249, 271). At a time when the central government was weak and in decline Najafqolī Khan kept the province of Azerbaijan completely under control (Bāmdād, Rejāl VI, pp. 19, 49, 170, 283). When Moḥammad-Ḥasan Khan Qājār captured Azerbaijan in 1171/1757-58 he appointed his own minor son Aqā Moḥammad Khan but appointed Najafqolī Khan and ʿAlī Khan Qīlījlū joint guardians. After a severe earthquake in 1194/1780 Najafqolī Khan devoted himself to rebuilding Tabrīz. He constructed a strong fortified city wall, with eight gates; built the Daftar-ḵāna-ye šāhī, the government palace, which continued in use under the Qajars; and enlarged and restored the small Moʿīnī mosque, which became known as Maqām-e Ṣāḥeb-al-Amr. Najafqolī Khan died in 1199/1785 and was buried in Najaf near the tomb of Imam ʿAlī (Āqāsī, 1350 Š./1971, p. 191; Donbolī, 1349 Š./1970, I, pp. 86-89; idem, 1350 Š/1971, II, pp. 263-64; Nāder Mīrzā, pp. 152 ff.; Rǖbayānī, pp. 370-71; Bāmdād, Rejāl IV, pp. 333-34). He was succeeded briefly at Tabrīz by his son Ḵodādād Khan.

Šahbāz Khan had died in 1187/1773 and was succeeded as governor of Ḵoy by his brother Aḥmad Khan. Aḥmad Khan was killed in 1200/1786, and his son Ḥosaynqolī Khan became governor (Āqāsī, 1350 Š./1971, pp. 209-10; Rǖbayānī, p. 373; Nāder Mīrzā, p. 151; Rīāḥī, p. 20). In the spring of 1205/1791 he concluded a friendship pact with Āqā Moḥammad Khan Qājār (1193-1212/1779-97) and, in addition to being reconfirmed as governor of Ḵoy, was appointed governor of Tabrīz, Ardabīl, and other parts of Azerbaijan (Fasāʾī, I, p. 232; Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā I, p. 230; Donbolī, 1351 Š./1972, p. 21; Nāder Mīrzā, p. 156; Rīāḥī, p. 21; Āqāsī, 1350 Š./1971, p. 209). The next year he accompanied Āqā Moḥammad Khan on a campaign against Ebrāhīm Ḵalīl Khan Javānšīr, governor of Qarābāḡ, and was rewarded with the title amīr al-omarāʾ of Azerbaijan and the governorship of Qarāča Dāḡ. But he apparently aroused suspicion by marrying Javānšīr’s daughter, and Aqā Moḥammad Khan appointed his brother Jaʿfarqolī Khan to govern Ḵoy and other towns of Azerbaijan (Hedāyat, Rawżat al-ṣafā I, pp. 309, 329; Rǖbayānī, pp. 373-74). When Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah succeeded to the Qajar throne in 1211/1797 Ḥosaynqolī Khan once more came into favor and was reappointed governor of Ḵoy, Tabrīz, and Qarāča Dāḡ.

During Ḥosaynqolī Khan’s terms as governor of Ḵoy he built several mosques, including the great Masjed-e Ḵān. He completed the Askarīyīn tomb at Samarra in Iraq, begun by his father (Nāder Mīrzā, p. 151). In Tabrīz he restored the congregational mosque, which had been completely destroyed in an earthquake, and built three additional mosques and several baths (Āl-e Dāwūd, pp. 79-80, 107; Āqāsī, 1350 Š./1971, p. 220). Ḥosaynqolī Khan was also a patron of learning and poetry; among the literary men in his service were Abu’l-Ḥasan Ḥarīf Jandaqī (d. 1230/1814), who composed qaṣīdas in his praise (Āl-e Dāwūd, pp. 93-99, 113), and Mīrzā Mo-ḥammad-Ḥasan Fānī Zonūzī, author of Rīāż al-jenna (partial ed. ʿA. Rafīʿī, Qom, 1371 Š./1992) and Baḥr al-ʿolūm (unpublished). Ḥosaynqolī Khan died in 1213/1798 and was buried in the tomb at Sāmarrā; Fath-ʿAlī Khan Ṣabā Kāšānī composed the qaṣīda engraved on his tombstone (Bāmdād, Rejāl I, p. 468).

When news of his brother’s death reached Jaʿfarqolī Khan he assumed his brother’s posts. After a period of rebellion he appealed to Fatḥ-ʿAlī Shah for forgiveness but rebelled again in 1214/1799. The crown prince, ʿAbbās Mīrzā, then marched on Ḵoy, and in September Jaʿfarqolī Khan, with an army of 15,000 horse met him at Dīlmaqān, near Salmas but was defeated (Brydges, pp. 39, 50, 68, 71-72, 88-90). For the rest of his life he served the Russian government and on 10 December 1806 was appointed governor of the district of Šekkī in eastern Transcaucasia. He died in 1229/1814 and was succeeded by his son Esmāʿīl Khan, who died in 1819 (Minorsky, “Shekkī,” p. 347; Jawāher-al-Kalām, p. 216).

Other leaders of the Donbolī tribe had remained loyal to the Qajars, and several became important figures in the 19th century. Foremost among them was a great-grandson of Najafqolī Khan by the same name, who rebuilt the citadel at Tabrīz in 1224/1809 (Minorsky, “Tabrīz,” p. 590). The best-known member of the Donbolī tribe in the 20th century was Ḥājī Mīrzā Yaḥyā Imam Jomʿa Ḵoyī, who died in 1324 Š./1945 (Mojtahedī, pp. 24-26).

According to J. M. Jouannin, the tribe numbered some 12,000 families at the time of Jaʿfarqolī Khan (Dupré,II, p. 459), but only about forty years later Lady Sheil (p. 396) estimated their number at a mere 2,000 families. Today the Donbolī have been sedentary for a long time and have completely lost their tribal identity. Apparently, when the Donbolī of Ḵoy and Salmās moved to northwestern Persia, some families remained behind in southeastern Anatolia. This group was mentioned by Bedlīsī (pt. I, p. 174) in the 16th century, as well as by Carsten Niebuhr (p. 419), who reported in the second half of the 18th century that it was located south of Dīārbakr and comprised about 500 tents. Also in the 18th century there was a group of Donbolī Kurds (presumably not turkicized) in the province of Yerevan (Taḏkerat al-Molūk, ed. Minorsky, pp. 101, 166).



(For cited works not found in this bibliography and for abbreviations found here, see “Short References.”) ʿA. ʿAbd-al-ʿArīz, Āṯār al-Šīʿa al-emāmīya IV, tr. ʿA. Jawāher-kalām, Tehran, 1307 Š./1928.

ʿA. Āl-e Dāwūd, Aḥwāl wa ašʿār-e Ḥarīf Jandaqī, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987.

M. Āqāsī, Tārīḵ-e Ḵoy, Tabrīz, 1350 Š./1971. Idem, Gūša-ī az tārīḵ-e Ḵoy I, Tabrīz, 1355 Š./1976.

Šaraf-al-Dīn Khan Bedlīsī, Šaraf-nāma I, ed. Veliaminof-Zernof, St. Petersburg, 1861; repr. Cairo, 1931; tr. F. B. Charmoy as Chéref-Nâmeh II, St. Petersburg, 1873, pt. 1, pp. 169-77; pt. 2, pp. 123-31.

H. J. Brydges, Dynasty of the Kajars, London, 1833.

ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Beg Donbolī, Tajrebat al-aḥrār wa taslīat al-abrār, 2 vols., Tabrīz,ed. Ḥ. Qāżī Ṭabāṭabāʾī, 1349-50 Š./1970-71.

Idem, Maʾāṯer-e solṭānīya, 2nd ed., ed. Ḡ.-Ḥ. Ṣadrī Afšār, Tehran, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 21-26, 29, 47.

A. Dupré, Voyage en Perse fait dans les années 1807, 1808 et 1809, Paris, 1819.

O. A. Efendiev, Azerbaidzhanskoe Gosudarstvo Sefevidov (The state of Azerbaijan under the Safavids), Baku, 1961.

A. Jaubert, Voyage en Arménie et en Perse, Paris, 1821.

ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz Jawāher-al-Kalām “Omarā-ye Danābela dar Ḵoy wa Āḏarbāyjān,” in Āṯār al-Šīʿa al-emāmīya, Tehrān, 1307 Š./1928, pp. 205-17.

Moḥammad-Kāẓem Marvī, ʿĀlamārā-ye nāderī, ed. M.-A. Rīāḥī, III, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985.

V. Minorsky, I"Shekkī,” in EI1 IV, pp. 346-48.

Idem, “Tabrīz,” in EI1 IV, pp. 583-93. Idem, “Kurds, Kurdistān iii,” in EI2 V, pp. 447-64.

M. Mojtahedī, Rajāl-e Āḏarbāyjān dar ʿaṣr-e mašrūṭīyat, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948.

Nāder Mīrzā, Tārīḵ wa joḡrāfīā-ye dār-al-salṭana-ye Tabrīz, ed. M. Mošīrī, Tehran, 1360 Š./1981.

C. Niebuhr, Reisebeschreibung nach Arabien und andern umliegenden Ländern II, Copenhagen, 1774, pp. 415-22.

B. Nikitine, “Les Afšārs d’Urumiyeh,” JA, January-March 1929, pp. 67-123.

E. Pakravan, Abbas Mirza. Un prince réformateur, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958.

J. R. Perry, Karim Khan Zand, Chicago, 1979.

M.-J. Rǖbayānī, “Emārat wa farmān-ravaʾī-e Donbolīān dar Tabrīz wa manāṭeq-e arbaʿa,” in Majmūʿa-ye soḵan-rānīhā-ye šešomīn kongera-ye taḥqīqāt-e īrānī II, Tabrīz, 1357 Š./1978, pp. 352-77.

M. L. Sheil, Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia, London, 1856.

(ʿALĪ ĀL-E DĀWŪD and Pierre Oberling)

Originally Published: December 15, 1995

Last Updated: November 29, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 5, p. 492-495