(Turkish for “redheads,” after the hats with 12 scarlet stripes in honor of the 12 Shiite imams, worn by members), Turkish tribal alliance of Azerbaijanian nomads in Asia Minor and Azerbaijan.
The Kizilbashi received their name in the second half of the 15th century. They were the chief military bastion of the Shiite order of Safawi. Along with the Safawid sheikhs, they led attacks on neighboring non-Muslim countries, including Georgia and the Trebizond empire. Taking advantage of the weakening of the Ak-Koyunlu state, the Kizilbashi destroyed the state at the start of the 16th century. Their military leader, Ismail Safawid (Ismail I), was proclaimed shah in 1502. This date marks the founding of the Safawid state. In this state, the Kizilbashi aristocracy occupied the predominant positions until the end of the 16th century. The main officials at court, the viceroys of regions, and military commanders came from its ranks; in its hands was concentrated an enormous land fund. The political importance of the Kizilbashi and their military units declined sharply after the military reform of Shah Abbas I in the late 16th century, when the regular army was created. In Russian official documents of the 16th and 17th centuries, all subjects of the Safawid state were called Kizilbashi.