Lady Adela Khanum

Lady Adela

Lady Adela Khanum was a Persian aristocrat, a famous Kurd, the leader of the Jaf tribe and the ruler of Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan from 1909 to 1924.

Lady Adela was famous for her bravery, and was said to have saved the lives of many British soldiers. Many of her stories were documented by a British man named E.B. Soane, who after hearing of her fame and reputation, traveled from Iran to Kurdistan in disguise to find Lady Adela.

Lady Adela came from an aristocratic Kurdish family and a well-known Kurdish tribe in Sanandaj, Iran. When it came time for her to marry, her family looked across the border to Iraq to the well-known Jaf tribe.

Move to Halabja

Lady Adela married the governor of Halabja, a Kurd, who allowed her to continue her life in the aristocratic manner she was used to — a stark contrast from the way of life in Halabja. When the Westerner E.B. Soane arrived at Lady Adela’s doorstep, she took him in as her scribe, and he came to know her very well.

Soane documented Lady Adela’s rise to power in his 1926 book, “Gradually the official power came into her hands. [The Governor] was often called away… so Lady Adela, governing for him in his absence, built a new prison, and instituted a court of justice of which she was president.”

Rise to Power

When her husband died in 1909, Lady Adela took full control of the district. As the Ottomans were slowly defeated by the British, Lady Adela began to meet with British military officers, siding with the British against regional uprisings.

Lady Adela, a true Kurd and strong woman, remained in power until her death in 1924. Lady Adela is buried in Halabja.

Visit Martin van Bruinessen’s “From Adela Khanum to Leyla Zana: Women as Political Leaders in Kurdish History” to Read More.