(Redirected from Zaza people)

The Zazas (also known as Kird, Kirmanc or Dimili)[9][10] are a people in eastern Turkey who natively speak the Zaza language. Their heartland, the Dersim region, consists of Tunceli, Bingöl provinces and parts of Elazığ, Erzincan and Diyarbakır provinces. The majority of Zazas consider themselves ethnic Kurds[3][8][11][12][13] and they are often described as Zaza Kurds.[10][14][15][16]

Total population
2 to 4 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Diaspora: Approx. 300,000[2]
Australia,[3] Austria,[4] Belgium,[4] France,[4] Germany,[3] Netherlands,[4] Sweden,[4] Switzerland,[4] United Kingdom,[5] United States.[3]
Zaza language, Turkish, Kurdish[6]
Sunni Islam[7] Alevism,[8]


The exact number of Zazas is unknown, due to the absence of recent and extensive census data. The most recent official statistics concerning native language are available for the year 1965, where 147,707 (0.5%) chose Zaza as their native language in Turkey.[17] More recent data suggests that the total population varies from approximately 2 to 4 million.[1] It is also important to note that many Zazas only learned Kurdish (Kurmanji), as it was believed that the Zaza language was just a Kurdish offshoot.[6] According to a KONDA survey from March 2007, Kurds and Zazas together comprise an estimated 13.4% of the adult population and 15.68% of the whole population in Turkey.[18] The Zazas live mainly in Dersim (present-day Tunceli), between Erzincan in the north and the Murad-su river in the south, as well as in Bingol, Mush, the province of Diyarbekir, Siverek, Sivas etc.[19] Following the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, many intellectual minorities educated in Turkey, including Zazas, emigrated from the country across Europe, Australia and the United States. The largest of the Zaza diaspora - about half a million people - is located in Europe, mainly in Germany.


While almost all linguists agree that the Zaza language is not a Kurdish dialect but rather an independent language just like Gorani, they also agree on the fact that Zazas and Kurds are ethnically and culturally linked. This ethnic and culturally linkage though is more of an overshadowing of Kurdish identity upon the Zaza.[19] For centuries, the Zaza have been surrounded by the Kurds, a people with a homogeneous language and close culture. Therefore, outside of the region, the Zaza have always been considered to be a part of the Kurds, or a "Kurdish tribe".[19]

This suppression of Zaza autonomy has only been increased in the past century as a result of Kurdish political strivings from multiple resistance movements against the government. These political Turko-Kurdish conflicts put significant twin pressure on the Zaza identity. Intense political agitation around them encourages the Zazas to be part of the "imagined community" of Kurds, the biggest 'ethnic grouping' to be without nationhood, while simultaneously admitting that its participants are the very mixed product — an homogenisation or cultural mosaic of "tribes" over millennia.[20] Also, Kurdish nationalists play on the point that a large component of so-called Zazas do not want to be called by that name at all, but prefer self-inscribing as Kirmanji, a designation sounding one step away from being Kurmanji speaking Kurds.[20]

Meanwhile, in the Zaza language the term Kirmanji is regarded as a synonym for Alevi, which is the main religious group of Zazas living in Dersim separate from Northern Kurds. Among the Armenians, the Zazas are also known as Zaza-Kider, i.e. Zaza-Kurds - the fact, which by no means shows the identification of the Zazas with the Kurds, but rather distinguishes them as a specific group from a common Kurdish background.[19] A scientific report from 2005 concluded that Zazas share the same genetical pattern as other 'Kurdish groups'.[21]

However, the Kurds are not the only group to claim linkage to the Zazas. It is debated that the Zaza may possess roots going back to the Hittites or derive from a migration from the linguistically-related south Caspian.[20] Similar cultural expressions, and folkloric traditions of the "Old Women" in connection with the dead would further suggest a possible deeper connection between the Zazas and Hittites. Ludwig Paul also mentions that the ethno-cultural point is the decisive factor for the question of the ethnic identity of Zaza speakers.[15][22] The name Zaza was initially used by the neighbouring peoples as a pejorative characteristic (zaza means stutterer) due to specific phonetic system of the language of the Zazas, which is the only one among the North-West Iranian dialects having single-focused affricates - a strong indication of Armenian influence.[19] Some claim this to be exclusively an influence due to the shared historical and geographical ties between Zazas and Armenians to Dersim. Others citing the Prominence of Alevism, Armenian traditions, and everyday habits in Zaza society to be more suggestive of shared roots.[23]

Historic roots of the ZazasEdit

Some Zazas use the word Dimilî (Daylami) to describe their ethnic identity. Opposed to Alevi-Zazas who live in the North self-describing as Kirmanji, those who live south of Dersim refer to themselves as Dimilî.[23] The word Daylam describes a region of Gilan Province in today's Iran. Some linguists connect the word Dimilî with the Daylamites (Gilaks) in the Alborz Mountains near the shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran and believe that the Zaza have migrated from Daylam towards the west. The Armenians call this people Ddmik, the term which goes Middle Iranian delmik i.e. daylamit, the dweller of the Daylam.[19] Today, Iranian languages are still spoken in southern regions of the Caspian Sea (also called the Caspian languages), including Gilaki, Sangsari, Mazanderani, Tati, Semnani, and Talysh, and they are grammatically and lexically very close to Zaza; this supports the argument that Zazas emigrated from the southern regions of the Caspian Sea reaching eastern Anatolia.[24] These claims have already been disproven by genetical studies on Zazaki-speakers. A scientific study from 2005 concluded that Zazas share the same genetical pattern as other 'Kurdish groups' and harshly didn't support the claim that Zazaki-speakers have migrated from Northern Iran (including the Caspian Sea area and Khorasan).[25]


Zaza is a Northwest Iranic language, spoken in the east of modern Turkey, with approximately 2 to 3 million speakers. There is a division between Northern and Southern Zaza, most notably in phonological inventory, but Zaza as a whole forms a dialect continuum, with no recognized standard.[1] Northern Zaza is strongly associated with historical Dersim, and is spoken in the northern and northeastern parts of Elazig province, eastern and central Sivas, southern Erzincan, western Erzurum and Bingöl, and Tunceli.[26]

The first written statements in the Zaza language were compiled by the linguist Peter Lerch in 1850.[27] Two other important documents are the religious writings (Mewlıd) of Ehmedê Xasi of 1899,[28] and of Usman Efendiyo Babıc (published in Damascus in 1933); both of these works were written in the Arabic alphabet.[29] The state owned TRT Kurdî airs shows on Zaza language.[30]

The Zaza language is considered to be an endangered language due to a long history of persecution, and targeting by the Turkish government. The lack of documentation, and the decline in the number of native Zaza speakers can largely be attributed to the Turkish laws put in place in the mid-1920s, after the creation of the Republic of Turkey. These laws banned the Kurdish language, of which Zaza was often erroneously considered a dialect, from being spoken in public, being written down, and being published. One specific law, the Language Ban Act of 1985, explicitly stated that only Turkish could be spoken in public, not only greatly discouraged the use of Zaza, but it also endangered the cultural identity of the Zaza.[1] The consequences of this process of turkification were so detrimental that under the Alawi-Zaza population the youngest generations hardly speak the language or teaches it to its children.[31] Only until very recently has Zaza been allowed back in the public sphere of Turkey. But the effects of these past policies are still very present as there has been a lack of literature and substantial development in the language.

During the 1980s following the passage of these persecutory laws, the Zaza diaspora resulted in a small renaissance following meager efforts by Zazas in Europe.[31] This was followed by the publication of magazines and books in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. The efforts of Zaza intellectuals to advance the comprehensibility of their native language by alphabetizing were not fruitless: the number of publications in Zaza increased by the multiple. The rediscovery of the native culture by Zaza intellectuals not only caused a revival of Zaza language and culture, it also triggered feelings among younger generations of Zazas (who unfortunately, rarely spoke Zaza as a mothertongue at the time) in favor of modern western in the Zaza language, and thus their interest in the most important inheritance of their ancestors.[1]

Connection to KurdsEdit

"Zaza Kurds in Diyarbakir (Kurdistan)", E.Chantre & C.Barry, 1881

Kurds and Zazas have for centuries lived in the same areas in Anatolia. In the 1920s and 1930s, Zazas played a key role in the rise of Kurdish nationalism with their rebellions against the Ottoman Empire and later the Republic of Turkey. During the Sheikh Said rebellion in 1925, the Zaza Sheikh Said and his supporters (both Zazas and Kurmanjis) rebelled against the newly established Turkey for its nationalist and secular ideology.[32] In 1937 during the Dersim rebellion, Zazas once again rebelled against the Turks. This time the rebellion was led by Seyid Riza and ended with a massacre of thousands of Kurdish and Zaza civilians, while many were internally displaced due to the conflict.[33] Zazas also participated in the Kurdish Koçgiri rebellion in 1920.[9]

Sakine Cansız, a Zaza from Tunceli was a founding member of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and like her many Zazas joined the rebels. Other noticeable Zaza individuals in PKK are Besê Hozat and Mazlum Doğan.[34][35] Many Zaza politicians are also to be found in the fraternal Kurdish parties of HDP and DBP, like co-chairman of HDP Selahattin Demirtaş, Aysel Tuğluk, Ayla Akat Ata and Gültan Kışanak. On the other hand, some Zazas have publicly said they don't consider themselves Kurdish like Hüseyin Aygün, a CHP politician from Tunceli.[36][37][38]



The Alevi Zaza are concentrated in the region of Dersim. There are also Kurmanj-speaking (Kurds) and Turkish-speaking Alevis in Eastern Turkey. The term "Kurdish Alevis" is used to include both Kurmanj-speakers and Zaza-speakers.[8]

The Alevi Zaza in Dersim call themselves Kırmanc, while they call the Sunni Zaza Zaza, and Kurdish-speakers as Kurmanc and Kurdish language as Kırdaski.[39] In the Zaza language in Dersim, Kırmanc is a synonym for Alevi.[39] They also call themselves Dersimli, increasingly popular.[40]

Some Alevi Zaza joined the 1921 Koçgiri rebellion, however, many tribal chiefs were loyal Kemalists. The Alevi Zaza did not support the 1925 rebellion led by the Sunni Zaza widely supported by other Kurdish groups. Sunni Zaza elders claim the rebellion was suppressed by the government using Alevi Zaza help. In 1937, the Alevi Zaza rose up against the government, in the event known as the "Dersim rebellion", which was suppressed by the government using Sunni Zaza help. This has marked the Zaza society.[32] A separate, Zaza nationalism, is supported mainly by Alevi Zaza, unlike the Sunni Zaza.[41]

Zaza nationalismEdit

Zaza nationalism grew primarily in the diaspora, because of the more visible difference between Kurmanjis and Zazas.[42] Supporters of Zaza nationalism are afraid of being assimilated by Turkish and Kurdish influence. They indicate of protecting Zaza culture, language and heritage rather than seeking any kind of autonomy within Turkey.[43] During this time period, following in the footsteps of the revival of Alevi cultural expression, the Zazas were able to find their own national self-consciousness in the freer European political climate. Ebubekir Pamukchu, the founder of the Zaza national movement expressed this idea in the following sentence: "From that moment I became Zaza."[19] E. Pamukchu was born in Dersim in 1946. Being graduated from a higher college he taught the Turkish language in many parts of the country. At the age of 20 he joined the leftists and was several times imprisoned for his political activities and seditious poems. In 1989 E. Pamukchu emigrated to Sweden where he continued his work until he died in 1991. Ebubekir Pamukchu was the founder of the first periodicals in the Zaza language - "Ayre" and "Piya".[19]

Some Kurds and international foundations suggest a link between the founder of Zaza nationalism, Ebubekir Pamukçu (d. 1993), and the Turkish intelligence services.[3] The Zaza nationalistic movement was welcomed and financially supported by certain circles in Turkey's intelligence establishment and Pamukcu has since been accused of having ties to Turkish intelligence. These are not the only claims by Kurds, and others of attempts by the Turkish government to use Zaza nationalism to attack the strength of Kurdish resistance. The Zazas have the attractions of modern Turkey, and the socio-economic (especially educational) benefits it offers other neighboring minorities who eschew involvement in Kurdish separatism (such as the Lazi[c]s to the far north, or Arabic and Syriac-speaking enclaves in and around Mardin).[20]

In an interview with Kurdmedia, Kurdish-Zaza linguist Mehemed Malmîsanij said the name of this “Zazaistan” publisher was the “Zaza Culture and Publication House” and was part of the Turkish intelligence services with the task of attacking the Kurdish nationalist movement. “The conclusion that I draw… is that these [Zaza nationalist groups] were groups based in the state, or with a more favorable expression, groups that thought in parallel with the state”.[42]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ "Dimlï". IranicaOnline. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Arakelova, Victoria (1999). "The Zaza People as a New Ethno-Political Factor in the Region". Iran & the Caucasus. 3/4: 397–408. JSTOR 4030804.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Selim, Zülfü. "Zaza Dilinin Gelişimi" (PDF) (in Turkish). Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 April 2015. Retrieved 27 April 2015. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ "Turkey's Zaza gearing up efforts for recognition of rights". Hürriyet Daily News. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  6. ^ a b "Turkey: The Country's Zaza are Speaking Out About their Language". 24 May 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  7. ^ Paul Joseph White, Joost Jongerden (2003). Turkey's Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9789004125384.
  8. ^ a b c Kehl-Bodrogi; Otter-Beaujean; Barbara Kellner-Heikele (1997). Syncretistic religious communities in the Near East : collected papers of the international symposium "Alevism in Turkey and comparable syncretistic religious communities in the Near East in the past and present", Berlin, 14-17 April 1995. Leiden: Brill. p. 13. ISBN 9789004108615.
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  12. ^ Nodar Mosaki (14 March 2012). "The zazas: a kurdish sub-ethnic group or separate people?". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  13. ^ J.N. Postgate (2007). Languages of Iraq, ancient and modern (PDF). Cambridge: British School of Archaeology in Iraq. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-903472-21-0. Retrieved 20 May 2019.
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  15. ^ a b van Bruinessen, Martin. "The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds in Turkey" (PDF): 1. Retrieved 23 June 2015. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
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  20. ^ a b c d Trompf, Garry W. (2013). "Ethno-Religious Minorities in the Near East: Some Macrohistorical Reflections with Special Reference to the Zazas". Iran & the Caucasus. 17 (3): 321–344. doi:10.1163/1573384X-20130306. JSTOR 23597500.
  21. ^ Nasidze, Ivan; Quinque, Dominique; Ozturk, Murat; Bendukidze, Nina; Stoneking, Mark (2005-03-19). "MtDNA and Y-chromosome Variation in Kurdish Groups". Annals of Human Genetics. 69 (4): 401–412. doi:10.1046/j.1529-8817.2005.00174.x. ISSN 0003-4800. PMID 15996169.
  22. ^ Köhler, herausgegeben von Bärbel (1998). Religion und Wahrheit : religionsgeschichtliche Studien : Festschrift für Gernot Wiessner zum 65. Geburtstag. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 385–399. ISBN 978-3447039758.
  23. ^ a b "Once Armenians or separate ethnic group?: Zazas, unusual neighbors". PanARMENIAN.Net. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  24. ^ Sims-Williams, ed. by Nicholas (1998). Old and middle Iranian studies (PDF). Wiesbaden: Reichert. pp. 163–177. ISBN 9783895000706. Retrieved 23 June 2015.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  25. ^ Nasidze, Ivan; Quinque, Dominique; Ozturk, Murat; Bendukidze, Nina; Stoneking, Mark (2005). "MtDNA and Y-chromosome Variation in Kurdish Groups". Annals of Human Genetics. 69 (4): 401–412. doi:10.1046/j.1529-8817.2005.00174.x. PMID 15996169.
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  28. ^ Mela Ehmedê Xasî.; Mihanî. (1994). "Mewlûdê nebî". Fırat. OCLC 68619349. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  29. ^ Shoup, John A. (2011). Ethnic groups of Africa and the Middle East an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598843637.
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  34. ^ "Portre: Bese Hozat" (in Turkish). 17 February 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  35. ^ "Sakine Cansiz: 'a legend among PKK members'". The Guardian. 10 January 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  36. ^ "Kürt değilim Türkmenim" (in Turkish). Haber Vaktim. 4 December 2011. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  37. ^ "Dersimli Kürt değildir çünkü Kürtler Şafii'dir!". Sabah. 8 June 2011. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
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  39. ^ a b Tözün Issa (22 July 2016). Alevis in Europe: Voices of Migration, Culture and Identity. Taylor & Francis. pp. 85–. ISBN 978-1-317-18264-1.
  40. ^ Marii͡a Nikolaeva Todorova (2004). Balkan Identities: Nation and Memory. C. Hurst & Co. Publishers. pp. 65–. ISBN 978-1-85065-715-6.
  41. ^ Asian and African Studies. 16. Vydavatel̕stvo Slovenskej akadémie vied. 2007. p. 18. Zaza nationalism is supported mainly by Alevi Zazas, while Sunni Zazas keep their reservations. And what's more, for some Zaza Alevis, Kurd even means 'Sunni'.
  42. ^ a b van Wilgenburg, Wladimir (28 January 2009). "Is Ankara Promoting Zaza Nationalism to Divide the Kurds?". Terrorism Focus. 6 (3). Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  43. ^ Zulfü Selcan, Grammatik der Zaza-Sprache, Nord-Dialekt (Dersim-Dialekt), Wissenschaft & Technik Verlag, Berlin, 1998, p. 23.