Zaza people

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Zaza woman.jpgZaza woman
Total population
3 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Europe as part of the Kurdish diaspora
Zazaki (Dimli), Kurmanji Kurdish[2]
Islam (Alevi and Sunni)[3]
Related ethnic groups
other Iranian people, particularly Gilakis, Kurmanjis, Soranîs, Mazandaranis, and Persians

The Zazas, Kird, Kirmanc or Dimilis[4][5] are an Iranian people[6] whose native language is Zazaki, spoken in eastern Anatolia. They primarily live in the eastern Anatolian provinces, such as Adıyaman, Batman, Bingöl, Diyarbakır, Elazığ, Erzurum, Erzincan, Gümüşhane, Kars, Malatya, Mus, Şanlıurfa, Sivas, and Tunceli provinces. Almost all speakers of the Zaza language consider themselves as Kurds and they are often counted as such by international statistics and surveys as part of the Kurdish people.[4][5][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]


The exact number of Zaza Kurds[5][13][15][16][17] is unknown, due to the absence of recent and extensive census data. The fact that some Zazas have mixed into other regional ethnic groups has also contributed to the lack of certainty. Many Zazas 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 Zazas 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.) According to estimated figures, the Zaza population is somewhere between 1 to 2 million.[18]

According to a March 2007 survey published by a Turkish newspaper, Kurmanj and Zazas together comprise an estimated 13.4% of the adult population, and 15.68% of the whole population in Turkey.[19]


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. And Ludwig Paul also mentions that the ethno-cultural point is the decisive factor for the question of the ethnic identity of Zazaki speakers.[7][8]

The region where the majority of Zazas live in Turkey

Historic roots of the Zaza people[edit]

Linguistic studies shows that the Zazas may have immigrated to their modern-day homeland from the southern shores of the Caspian Sea. Some Zazas 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 Zaza 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 Zazas immigrated to eastern Anatolia from southern regions of Caspian Sea.[20]

Zazas 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.[21]

Zaza Kurds in Diyarbakir (1881)


Main article: Zazaki language

The first written statements in the Zaza language 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 the Zazaki language 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 Zaza language and culture, it also triggered feelings among younger generations of Zazas (who rarely speak Zaza as a mother tongue anymore) in favor of the Zaza language, and thus their interest in their heritage. In the diaspora, a limited number of Zaza-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.

Zaza nationalism[edit]

In recent years, in which the question about political and human rights for Kurds in Turkey came more to spotlight, a new nationalistic movement was formed by a small group of people in the diaspora. This group pretends a non-Kurdish identity of Zazaki speakers based on some linguistic differences which do not only exist between Kurmanji and Zazaki speakers but also between Kurmanji and Soranî speakers. Some Kurds and international foundations suggest a link between the Sunni founder of Zaza nationalism, Ebubekir Pamukcu (d.1993), and the Turkish intelligence services, accusing Pamukcu of helping split the Kurdish nation. 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. A Zaza publisher in Ankara is believed by some Kurds to be controlled by the Turkish intelligence services. In an interview with Kurdmedia, Kurdish-Zazaki linguist[22] 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”.[23]

These accusations on Kurdish side seem to be not unfounded. In a trial against the nationalistic Turkish underground organization of Ergenekon some of the most active Zaza nationalists were caught as members. One of them is Hayri Başbuğ, who was active under various nicknames on the Global Net promoting Zaza nationalism and anti-Kurdism, according to some sources. He also had close ties with Ebubekir Pamukçu, the founder of Zaza nationalism.[24]


  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. ^ "The zazas: a kurdish sub-ethnic group or separate people?". Retrieved 26 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Paul Joseph White, Joost Jongerden. Turkey's Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9789004125384. 
  5. ^ a b c Kird, Kirmanc Dimili or Zaza Kurds, Deng Publising, Istanbul, 1996 by Malmisanij
  6. ^ G ethnic group. Asatrian, "DIMLĪ" in Encyclopaedia Iranica. [1] "DIM(I)LĪ (or Zāzā), 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)."
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Martin van Bruinessen,The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds in Turkey , page 1
  9. ^ MtDNA and Y-chromosome Variation in Kurdish Groups
  10. ^ "Kurdish Nationalism and Competing Ethnic Loyalties", Original English version of: "Nationalisme kurde et ethnicités intra-kurdes", Peuples Méditerranéens no. 68-69 (1994), 11-37
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ Ozoglu, Hakan. "Kurdish notables and the Ottoman state." Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004
  13. ^ a b Mehmed S. Kaya, The Zaza Kurds of Turkey: A Middle Eastern Minority in a Globalised Society, Tauris, London 2011
  14. ^ Martin Strohmeier,Lale Yalçin-Heckmann, Die Kurden: Geschichte, Politik, Kultur p. 32
  15. ^ People Cluster: Kurd, jashuaproject
  16. ^ Hans-Peter Müller, Ethnische Dynamik in der aussereuropäischen Welt [2] "Die Kurden der Osttürkei sind vor allem Kirmanci- Kurden, einige auch Zaza-Kurden."
  17. ^ Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly( on 7 July 2006, at language development "zaza" is a part of Kurdish languages.)
  18. ^ Duus (EDT) Extra, D. (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 Zaza-speakers in Turkey, 4,000,000 and 6,000,000, respectively. Accessed online at Google book search.
  19. ^ Article on Konda survey in Turkish
  20. ^ Ludwig Paul, The position of Zazaki among West Iranian languages, 15 November 2006.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Joyce Blau, "Written Kurdish Literature", Oral Literature of Iranian Languages: Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi, Ossetic; Persian and Tajik: Companion Volume II, (Edited by Philip G. Kreyenbroek, Ulrich Marzolph), I. B. Tauris, 2010 p.25 (72)
  23. ^, October 6, 2003
  24. ^ M. Bahar Ergenekon Davası Ve Bazı Zazacılar

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