The Arabic origin of the word sheikh is simply "old man." In Kurdistan, however, sheikhs are holy men, recipients of popular devotion that at times borders on worship and leaders of sufi orders. Traditionally, they enjoyed wide respect and thus became ideal mediators in conflicts after the last Kurdish emirates were abolished in the 19th century. This political role was reinforced by the sufi orders, which enabled sheikhs to occasionally be able to mobilize large masses for political aims. Indeed, most of the main Kurdish nationalist leaders of the late 19th and early 20th centuries owed at least some of their power to their "sheikhly" connections. Sheikh Ubeydullah of Nehri, Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji, and Sheikh Said of Palu come readily to mind. Mulla Mustafa Barzani and Jalal Talabani also owed their initial power to their association with families of sheikhs.
   In the 20th century, however, the power of sheikhs has greatly declined before the forces of modernization. Following the uprising of Sheikh Said in Turkey in 1925, the tekiyes were closed, and sheikhs were persecuted and exiled as reactionary opponents of the modern Republic of Turkey. Some sheikhs were even executed. Even more important in this decline of sheikhly influence were various socioeconomic developments. Mass migration to the cities, better education and communication networks, more effective governments, and improved agricultural techniques made the sheikh less important as a mediator and more likely to be seen as an exploiter or even charlatan. Many sheikhs died without appointing a successor, the sheikh of Barzan being a noted example.
   Nevertheless, sheikhs continue to exist, even in Turkey, where they had gone underground after 1925. Indeed, after the institution of competitive politics in Turkey in 1950, some sheikhs emerged as important vote getters, especially for the Democrat Party of Adnan Menderes. Sheikh Salahaddin of Khizan, who became a member of the Turkish parliament, was a prime example. His son Kamran Inan was an influential politician in Turkey for many years.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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