Among the Qizilbash, Turcoman tribes from Eastern Anatolia and Azerbaijan who had helped Shah Ismail I defeat the Aq Qoyunlu tribe were by far the most important - in number and influence. Therefore the name Kizilbash is usually applied to them only. Some of these greater Turcoman tribes were subdivided into as many as eight or nine clans and included the:
Other tribes, such as Turkman, Bah?rlu, Qaram?nlu, Wars?k or Bay?t were occasionally listed among these "seven great uymaqs". Some of these names consist of a place-name with addition of the Turkish suffix -lu, such as Sh?mlu or Bah?rlu. Other names are those of old Oghuz tribes such as Afsh?r, Dulghadir, or Bay?t, as mentioned by the medieval Uyghur historian Mahmoud Al-K?shghar?. The origin of the name Ust?djlu, however, is unknown and possibly indicates a non-Turkic origin of the tribe.
The non-Turkic or non-Turkish-speaking Iranian tribes among the Kizilbash were called T?jiks by the Turcomans and included:
The rivalry between the Turkic clans and Persian nobles was a major problem in the Safavid kingdom and caused much trouble. As V. Minorsky put it, friction between these two groups was inevitable, because the Turcomans "were no party to the national Persian tradition". Shah Ismail tried to solve the problem by appointing Persian wakils as commanders of Kizilbash tribes. However, the Turcomans considered this an insult and brought about the death of 3 of the 5 Persians appointed to this office - an act, that later inspired the deprivation of the Turcomans by Shah Abbas I.
In the 15th century, Ardabil was the center of an organization designed to keep the Safavid leadership in close touch with its murids in Azerbaijan, Iraq, eastern Anatolia, and elsewhere. The organization was controlled through the office of khal?f?t al-khulaf?'? who appointed representatives (khal?fa) in regions where Safavid propaganda was active. The khal?fa, in turn, had subordinates termed pira. Their presence in eastern Anatolia posed a serious threat to the Ottomans, because they encouraged the Shi'ite population of Asia Minor to revolt against the sultan.
In 1499, Ismail, the young leader of the Safavid order, left Lahijan for Ardabil to make his bid for power. By the summer of 1500, ca. 7,000 supporters from the local Turcoman tribes of Anatolia, Syria, and Iraq - collectively called "Kizilbash" by their enemies - rallied to his support. Leading his troops on a punitive campaign against the Sh?rvansh?h (ruler of Shirvan), he sought revenge for the death of his father and his grandfather in Sh?rvan. After defeating the Sh?rvansh?h Farrukh Yassar, he moved south into Azarbaijan where his 7,000 Kizilbash warriors defeated a force of 30,000 Ak Koyunlu under Alwand Mirz?, and conquered Tabriz. This was the beginning of the Safavid state.
In the first decade of the 16th century, the Kizilbash expanded Safavid rule over the rest of Persia, as well as Baghdad and Iraq, formerly under Ak Koyunlu control. In 1510 Shah Ismail sent a large force of the Kizilbash to Transoxania to support the Timurid ruler Babur in his war against the Uzbeks. The Kizilbash defeated the Uzbeks and secured Samarqand for Babur. However, in 1512, an entire Kizilbash army was annihilated by the Uzbeks after Turcoman Kizilbash had mutinied against their Persian wakil and commander, Amir Nadjm. This heavy defeat put an end to Safavid expansion and influence in Transoxania and the northeastern frontiers of the kingdom remained vulnerable to nomad invasions.
The Battle of Chaldiran
Meanwhile, the Safavid da'wa (propaganda) continued in Ottoman areas - with great success. Even more alarming for the Ottomans was the successful conversion of Turcoman tribes in eastern Anatolia and Iraq, and the recruitment of these well experienced and feared fighters into the growing Safavid army. In order to stop the Safavid propaganda, Sultan Bayezid II deported large numbers of the Shi'ite population of Asia Minor to Morea. However, in 1507, Shah Ismail and the Kizilbash overran large areas of Kurdistan, defeating regional Ottoman forces. Only two years later in Central Asia, the Kizilbash defeated the Uzbeks at Merv, killing their leader Muhammad Shaybani and destroying his dynasty. His head was sent to the Ottoman sultan as a warning.
In 1511, an Alevi revolt known as "Shahkulu Uprising" broke out in Teke and was brutally suppressed by the Ottomans: 40,000 were massacred on the order of the sultan. Shah Ismail sought to turn the chaos within the Ottoman Empire to his advantage and invaded Anatolia. The Kizilbash defeated a large Ottoman army under Sinan Pasha. Shocked by this heavy defeat, Sultan Selim I (the new ruler of the Empire) decided to invade Persia with a force of 200,000 Ottomans and face the Kizilbash on their own soil. In addition, he ordered the persecution of Shiism and the massacre of all its adherents in the Ottoman Empire.
On the 20 August 1514 (1st Rajab 920 A.H.), the two armies met at Chaldiran in Azarbaijan. The Ottomans outnumbered the Kizilbash two to one (according to other sources: three to one) and had artillery and handguns. The Kizilbash were heavily defeated, and many high-ranking Kizilbash amirs as well as three influential figures of the ulam? were killed.
The defeat destroyed Shah Ismail's belief in his invincibility and his divine status. It also fundamentally altered the relationship between the murshid-e k?mil and his murids.
In 1588, Shah Abbas I came to power. He appointed the Governor of Herat and his former guardian and tutor, Al? Quli Kh?n Sh?ml? (also known as H?j? Al? Qizilb?sh Mazandar?n?) the chief of all the armed forces. Later on, events of the past, including the role of the Turcomans in the succession struggles after the death of his father, and the counterbalancing influence of traditional Ithnashari Shia Sayeds, made him determined to end the dominance of the untrustworthy Turcoman chiefs in Persia. In order to weaken the Turcomans - the important militant elite of the Safavid kingdom - Shah Abbas raised a standing army from the ranks of the ghilman who were usually ethnic Armenians and Georgians. The new army would be loyal to the king personally and not to clan-chiefs anymore.