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Chaldiran: The 16th Century Battle that Created the Modern Middle East

The pivotal legacy of the Battle of Chaldiran still reverberates 500 years later

For The DiplomatAkhilesh Pillalamarri16th-century writes: Chaldiran (چالدران) today is a small, sleepy town in northwestern Iran near the Turkish border. Yet, nearly five hundred years ago to the day, on August 23, 1514, the plains outside of Chaldiran groaned under the weight of men and horses and thundered with the sound of cannon-fire and muskets.

“The Battle of Chaldiran had an enormous impact on shaping the modern Middle East, its boundaries, and its demography.”

The Battle of Chaldiran is one of the most pivotal battles in the history of the Middle East. Rather than being an obscure footnote in history, it was a battle of pivotal importance, with results that still reverberate in the modern Middle East. By determining the borders and demographics of the Persian Safavid Empire and the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Battle of Chaldiran created the contours of the modern Middle East.

In the early 16th century, two empires were competing for eastern Turkey and the Fertile Crescent (Iraq and greater Syria). One of these was the Sunni Ottoman Empire, based in western Turkey and Constantinople (Istanbul). While its ruling class was Turkish, the majority of its subjects were still Christians from the Balkans. The other empire was a new creation of the era – the Safavid Empire. The Safavid Empire was founded by the leader of the Shia Sufi Safaviyya sect, Shah Ismail, who was of mixed Turkish, Persian, and Kurdish descent. Starting a series of conquests from a small principality in Azerbaijan in northwestern Iran, Ismail impressively won his first battle in 1501 at the age of 14. By 1510, only nine years later, he had conquered all of the Iranian Plateau and the city of Baghdad. Ismail’s eastern campaigns checked Uzbek power and helped a prince named Babur set up his Mughal Empire.

“The Safavids, who had depended heavily on cavalry and made minimal use of gunpowder, were shocked by their defeat, which was Ismail’s first and last defeat.”

The sudden expansion of this Safavid Empire was a serious threat to the Ottoman Empire territorially; the Safavids further destabilized the Ottomans by propagating Shia Islam among the Turkish tribes of eastern Turkey (much of Ismail’s forces consisted of Shia Qizilbash Turks). The then Ottoman Sultan Selim I decided to confront the Safavid threat directly by marching east, suppressing the Turkish tribes of eastern Turkey and arriving at Chaldiran, where the Safavids and Ottomans fought on August 23, 1514. The battle ended in a decisive Turkish victory, aided by their mastery of gunpowder technology. Their victory cemented permanent Ottoman rule over eastern Turkey, most of Kurdistan (expect a portion that remained with the Safavids and became mostly Shia), and Iraq. The Safavids, who had depended heavily on cavalry and made minimal use of gunpowder, were shocked by their defeat, which was Ismail’s first and last defeat. He never fought another battle and spent the next ten years of his life drinking. He died in 1524.

The Battle of Chaldiran had an enormous impact on shaping the modern Middle East, its boundaries, and its demography. The most important legacy of the Battle of Chaldiran is that it led to the creation of a relatively compact, Persian-oriented, Shia nation-state on the Iranian Plateau…(read more)

The Diplomat

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One Comment on “Chaldiran: The 16th Century Battle that Created the Modern Middle East”

  1. […] By Pundit from another Planet The pivotal legacy of the Battle of Chaldiran still reverberates 500 years later For The Diplomat, Akhilesh Pillalamarri writes: Chaldiran (چالدران) today is a small, sleepy town in northwestern Iran near the Turkish border. Yet, nearly five hundred years ago to the day, on August 23, 1514, the plains outside of Chaldiran groaned under the weight of men and […] Like this? Read more and get your own subscription at […]


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