Khanzad Castle - Atlas Obscura

Khanzad Castle

Banaman, Iraq

The legendary fortress of a female Kurdish warrior leader. 


Also known as Banaman Citadel, located on a hilltop towering over the Harir plains, the castle was built by order of Mir Khanzad and is where she ruled over the two districts of Harir and Soran, now the Governorate of Erbil.

Khanzad was the sister of Mir Sulaiman (or Sleman), ruler of the Soran Emirate under the Ottoman Empire in the late 16th or early 17th century until he was poisoned by the hand of Lashkry, one of his military commanders.

After the deed, the murderous Lashkry fled to the Sinjar (Shengal) Mountains. Meanwhile, Khanzad assumed control of the Emirate after her brother’s death.

From his hideout in Sinjar, Lashkry was reached by a letter signed by Khanzad, which contained a marriage proposal. When Lashkry then met her in Harir, the Kurdish ruler sentenced him to death with all his men. During her reign, Khanzad commanded an army of up to 50,000 soldiers and built roads, schools, mosques, and fortresses.

With time, Khanzad acquired the feature of a legendary warrior princess, represented in songs and poems, as well as paintings and statues. Khanzad’s name is nowadays a very popular name for Kurdish girls and women. 

Her fortress and residence, a two-story citadel with four round towers at each corner, built in stones and gypsum, is still standing today on top of its small hill, on the road between the modern cities of Erbil and Shaqlawa. It is a quiet reminder that these lands were once ruled by a brave, strong, and clever female ruler.

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