Zaza people

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Zaza woman.jpg
Zaza woman
Total population
3 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Zazaki, Turkish
Islam (Sunni) and Alevi
Related ethnic groups
Kurds in Turkey

The Zaza (Zāzā), Kird, Kirmanc or Dimilī[2][3] are an ethnically Iranian people found mostly in modern-day Turkey.[4] whose native language is Zazaki, spoken in eastern Anatolia. They primarily live in the eastern Anatolian provinces, such as Adıyaman, Aksaray, Batman, Bingöl, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Erzurum, Erzincan, Gümüşhane, Kars, Malatya, Muş, Şanlıurfa, Sivas, and Tunceli. Almost all speakers of Zazaki consider themselves Kurds and they are often counted as such by international statistics and surveys[5][unreliable source?] as Columbia[6][7] as part of the Kurdish people.[2][3][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]


150,644 Turkish citizens spoke Zazaki as mother language in the census of 1965. Proportionally, Zazaki-speakers were most numerous in Bingöl (20.5%), Diyarbakır (12.1%), Elazığ (9.6%), Adıyaman (2.5%), Tunceli (1.5%) and Bitlis (1.4%). 92,288 of these spoke only Zazaki. An additional 20,413 people spoke Zazaki as their second most fluent language.

The exact number of Zaza is unknown, due to the absence of recent and extensive census data. The fact that some Zaza have mixed into other regional ethnic groups has also contributed to the lack of certainty. Many Zaza live outside their homeland. Apart from widespread suppression and mass evacuation of villages, the economically miserable situation of the Zaza areas forces the local population to emigrate to Turkish or European cities. There are many Zaza living in major Turkish cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir. Moreover, the Zaza diaspora is spread across Europe (mainly in Germany) and beyond (United States, Canada, etc.) Estimates of the Zaza population vary widely, from between 1 to 2 million[citation needed], to as high as 4 to 6 million in Turkey alone.[17]

According to a March 2007 survey published by a Turkish newspaper, Kurmanj and Zaza together comprise an estimated 13.4% of the adult population, and 15.68% of the whole population in Turkey.[18]


While almost all linguists agree that the Zazaki language is not a dialect of Kurmanji, but rather an independent language just like Gilaki, they also agree on the fact that the Zazaki and Kurmanji Kurds build an ethno-cultural unity.[clarification needed][9] And Ludwig Paul also mentions that the ethno-cultural point is the decisive factor for the question of the ethnic identity of Zazaki speakers.[8]

The region where the majority of Zaza live in Turkey

Historic roots of the Zaza people[edit]

Linguistic studies shows that the Zaza may have immigrated to their modern-day homeland from the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. Some Zaza use the word Dimli (Daylami) to describe their ethnic identity. The word Dimli (Daylami) also describes a region of Gilan Province in today’s Iran. Some linguists connect the word Dimli with the Daylamites in the Alborz Mountains near the shores of Caspian Sea in Iran and believe that the have migrated from Daylam towards the west. Today, Iranian languages are still spoken in southern regions of Caspian Sea (also called the Caspian languages), including Sangsarī, Māzandarānī, Tātī (Herzendī), Semnānī, Tāleshī, and they are grammatically and lexically very close to Zazaki; this supports the argument that Zaza immigrated to eastern Anatolia from southern regions of Caspian Sea.[19]

Zaza also live in a region close to the Kurmanji people, another Iranian ethnic group. But, historic sources such as the Zoroastrian holy book, Bundahishn, place the Dilaman (Dimila/Zaza) homeland in the headwaters of the Tigris[citation needed], as it is today. This suggests that the Dimila/Zaza migrated to the Caspian sea, rather than the other way around[original research?]. This hypothesis however is not supported by genetics. Recent studies show the origin of Zaza being native to eastern Anatolia and genetically indistinguishable from their Kurmanji neighbors, although linguistically connected to the region south of the Caspian Sea.[20]


Main article: Zazaki language

The first written statements in Zazaki were compiled by the linguist Peter Lerch in 1850. Two other important documents are the religious writings (Mewlıd) of Ehmedê Xasi of 1899, and of Usman Efendiyo Babıc (published in Damascus in 1933); both of these works were written in the Arabic alphabet.

The use of the Latin alphabet for writing Zazaki only became popular in the diaspora after meager efforts in Sweden, France and Germany at the beginning of the 1980s. This was followed by the publication of magazines and books in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul. The efforts of Zaza intellectuals to promote their native language by the written word is beginning to bear fruit: the number of publications in Zaza is increasing. The rediscovery of the native culture by Zaza intellectuals not only caused a renaissance of Zazaki language and culture, it also triggered feelings among younger generations of Zaza (who rarely speak Zazaki as a mother tongue anymore) in favor of Zazaki, and thus their interest in their heritage. In the diaspora, a limited number of Zazaki-language programs are broadcast. Moreover, with the gradual easing of restrictions on local languages in Turkey in preparation for European Union membership, the state owned TRT television launched a Zazaki TV program and a radio program, which is broadcast on Fridays.


  1. ^ Kaya, Mehmed S. (2011). The Zaza Kurds of Turkey: A Middle Eastern Minority in a Globalised Society. London: Tauris Academic Studies. p. 5. ISBN 9781845118754. 
  2. ^ a b "AMONG SOCIAL KURDISH GROUPS – GENERAL GLANCE AT ZAZAS". Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Kird, Kirmanc Dimili or Zaza Kurds, Deng Publising, Istanbul, 1996 by Malmisanij". Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  4. ^ G ethnic group. Asatrian, "DIMLĪ" in Encyclopaedia Iranica. [1] "DIM(I)LĪ (or Zaza), the indigenous name of an Iranian people living mainly in eastern Anatolia, in the Dersim region (present-day Tunceli) between Erzincan (see ARZENJĀN) in the north and the Muratsu (Morādsū, Arm. Aracani) in the south, the far western part of historical Upper Armenia (Barjr Haykʿ)."
  5. ^ Justin Dargin (14 October 2009). "Securing the Peace: The Battle over Ethnicity and Energy in Modern Iraq". The Dubai Initiative. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  6. ^ "Languages of the Middle East". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  7. ^ McDowall, D. (2004). A Modern History of the Kurds: Third Edition. I. B. Tauris. ISBN 9781850434160. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Ludwig Paul, Zaza (ki) – Dialekt, Sprache, Nation?, In: Gernot Wiessner, & Bärbel Beinhauer-Köhler (Hg.): Religion und Wahrheit - religionsgeschichtliche Studien - Festschrift für Gernot Wiessner zum 65. Geburtstag, Harrassowitz, 1998, page 385-399
  9. ^ a b Martin van Bruinessen, The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds in Turkey , page 1
  10. ^ "MtDNA and Y-chromosome Variation in Kurdish Groups - Nasidze - 2005 - Annals of Human Genetics - Wiley Online Library". Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  11. ^ "Kurdish Nationalism and Competing Ethnic Loyalties", Original English version of: "Nationalisme kurde et ethnicités intra-kurdes", Peuples Méditerranéens no. 68-69 (1994), 11-37
  12. ^ Kehl-Bodrogi, Krisztina. "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
  13. ^ Ozoglu, Hakan. "Kurdish notables and the Ottoman state." Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004
  14. ^ Mehmed S. Kaya (2011). "The Zaza Kurds of Turkey: A Middle Eastern Minority in a Globalised Society". London: Tauris. ISBN 9781845118754. Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  15. ^ Martin Strohmeier, Lale Yalçin-Heckmann, Die Kurden: Geschichte, Politik, Kultur id=6QQysBznH0QC&pg=PA32&dq=%22Zaza+Kurden%22&hl=de&sa=X&ei=Xwl3UfjyLain4gS4k4DACg&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=%22Zaza%20Kurden%22&f=false p. 32
  16. ^ Introduction to Special Issue Kurdish: A critical research overview
  17. ^ Duus Extra (editor); Durk Gorter, Guus Extra, The Other Languages of Europe: Demographic, Sociolinguistic and Educational Perspectives, Multilingual Matters (2001). ISBN 1-85359-509-8. p. 415. Cites two estimates of Zazaki speakers in Turkey, 4,000,000 and 6,000,000, respectively. Accessed online at Google book search.
  18. ^ "Sistemimizi Yeniliyoruz (Article on Konda survey in Turkish)". Retrieved 10 December 2014. 
  19. ^ Ludwig Paul, The position of Zazaki among West Iranian languages, 15 November 2006.
  20. ^

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