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Isma'il I (July 17, 1487 - May 23, 1524), was the founder and first shah of the Persian Safavid dynasty, the first native Iranian dynasty in 800 years, which survived in Iran until 1736. He reigned as Shah Isma'il I in Iran 1501 - 1524.
A descendant of the Sufi Shaikh Safi Al-Din (1252-1334) of Ardebil, Isma'il Safavi was the last in line of hereditary Grand Masters of the Safaviyeh Sufi order, prior to its accent to a ruling dynasty. As a young boy only a year old, he had lost his father Haidar Safavi Sultan , Sufi Grand Master and belligerent leader of a swelling Shi'a Islam community in northwestern Iran who was killed in battle. Isma'il's mother was Halima Begum, the daughter of Uzun Hasan by his wife Despina (herself the daughter of John IV of Trebizond ). As legend has it, infant Isma'il went into hiding for several years. With his followers, he finally returned to Tabriz, vowing to make Shi'a Islam the official religion of Iran.
Isma'il found significant support among the people of northern Iran as well as some parts of the Ottoman Empire, mainly in eastern Anatolia. Centuries of Sunni rule followed by pagan Mongol hegemony lent fertile ground for new teachings. In 1501, Isma'il I proclaimed himself Shah, choosing Tabriz, in Iran's northernmost province of Azerbaijan, as his capital. In that year he also defeated his grandfather's people, the Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep Turks).
In 1510 Isma'il I moved against the Sunni Uzbeg tribe. In battle near the city of Merv, some 17,000 Iranians ambushed and defeated a superior Uzbek force numbering 28,000. The Uzbek ruler Muhammad Shaybani was caught and killed trying to escape the battle, and the shah had his skull made into a jeweled drinking goblet.
In 1514, Selim I, the Sunni Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and recent successor to the Abbasid caliphate, attacked Isma'il's Kingdom, to remove his rival claim to the Caliphate of Islam, and to check the spread of Shiism into Ottoman dominions. Selim and Ismail had been exchanging a series of belligerent letters prior to the attack.
Selim I decisively defeated Shah Isma'il at the battle of Chaldiran in 1514, in modern-day Iran. The Ottomans prevailed dule in large part to their efficient modern army, and possession of artillery, black powder and muskets. Ismail was wounded and almost captured in battle. Selim I entered the Iranian capital in triumph on September 7, but did not linger, a mutiny among his troops forcing him to withdraw. This saved Ismail, and allowed him to recover. Sultan Selim I also took Isma'il's favorite wife hostage, demanding huge concessions for her release. Isma'il refused to cede to the Ottoman demands, and is said to have died of a broken heart in 1524 at the early age of thirty-six, never having seen his beloved spouse again.
Isma'il's reign was marked by enormous conquests, shaping the map of Iran up to the present day. Baghdad and the holy Shi'a shrines of Najaf نجف and Karbalā' كربلاء were seized from the Ottoman Turks, lost and reconquered again.
Shah Ismail was also a Sufi poet. He wrote his poems in Azeri-Turkic language. His divan, i.e., the collection of poems he has written with alias Hatayi , remains to this day. Here is a sample from his poetry, which is still popular today.
Men pirimi hak bilirem, Yoluna gurban oluram, Dün doğdum bugün ölürem, Ölen gelsin işte meydan.
I regard my pir as the essence, I'll sacrifice myself in his way, I was born yesterday, I will die today, Come, if you're willing to die, this is the arena.
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