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Total population
3-4 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Diaspora: Approx. 300,000[1]
 United Kingdom[4]
 United States[2]
Zazaki, Kurdish[5]
Islam (Alevi and Sunni)[6]
Related ethnic groups
Kurds, Gilakis, Persians, Mazandaranis

The Zazas, Kird, Kirmanc or Dimilis[7][8] are an Iranian people whose native language is Zazaki, spoken in eastern Anatolia. Their heartland, the Dersim region consist of parts of Bingöl, Elazığ, Erzincan, Sivas, and Tunceli provinces. The majority of the Zazas consider themselves as ethnic Kurds and part of the Kurdish nation,[2][9][10] and they are often counted as such.[8][11][12][13]

In 1920s and 1930s, Zazas triggered Kurdish nationalism with their rebellions against the Ottoman Empire and later the Republic of Turkey. During the Sheikh Said rebellion in 1925, Sheikh Said of Zaza origin and his supporters (both Zazas and Kurds) rebelled against the newly established Turkey for their nationalist and secular ideology.[14] In 1937 during the Dersim rebellion, the 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, and many others were internally displaced due to the conflict.[15]


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.[16] It is also important to note that many Zazas only learned Kurdish (Kurmanji), as it was believed that Zazaki was just a Kurdish offshoot.[5]

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.[17]


While almost all linguists agree that the Zazaki language is not a Kurdish dialect but rather an independent language just like Gilaki, they also agree on the fact that Zazas and Kurds build an ethno-cultural unity. Ludwig Paul also mentions that the ethno-cultural point is the decisive factor for the question of the ethnic identity of Zazaki speakers.[12][18] A scientific report from 2005 concluded that Zazas are very similar to Kurds genetically.[19]

The region where the majority of Zazas live in Turkey
Seyit Rıza Zaza leader (In Dersim rebellion 1937)

Historic roots of the Zaza people

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]

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.[22] Two other important documents are the religious writings (Mewlıd) of Ehmedê Xasi of 1899,[23] and of Usman Efendiyo Babıc (published in Damascus in 1933); both of these works were written in the Arabic alphabet.[24]

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.

The state owned TRT Kurdî airs shows on Zazaki.[25]

Zaza nationalism

Zaza nationalism grew primarily in the diaspora, because of the more visible difference between Kurds and Zazas.[26]

Some Kurds and international foundations suggest a link between the founder of Zaza nationalism, Ebubekir Pamukçu (d. 1993), and the Turkish intelligence services.[2] 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.

In an interview with Kurdmedia, Kurdish-Zazaki 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”.[26]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Dimlï". IranicaOnline. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Arakelova, Victoria (1999). "The Zaza People as a New Ethno-Political Factor in the Region". p. 397. Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Selim, Zülfü. "Zaza Dilinin Gelişimi" (PDF) (in Turkish). Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  4. ^ "Turkey's Zaza gearing up efforts for recognition of rights". Hürriyet Daily News. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b "Turkey: The Country's Zaza are Speaking Out About their Language". 24 May 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  6. ^ Paul Joseph White, Joost Jongerden. Turkey's Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9789004125384. 
  8. ^ a b Kird, Kirmanc Dimili or Zaza Kurds, Deng Publising, Istanbul, 1996 by Malmisanij
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ Kehl-Bodrogi, Krisztina (October 1999). "KURDS, TURKS, OR A PEOPLE IN THEIR OWN RIGHT? COMPETING COLLECTIVE IDENTITIES AMONG THE ZAZAS". The Muslim World 89 (3-4): 442. doi:10.1111/j.1478-1913.1999.tb02757.x. 
  11. ^ J. G. Taylor, Travels in Kurdistan, with Notices of the Sources of the Eastern and Western Tigris, and Ancient Ruins in Their Neighbourhood, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 35, 1865, p.39
  12. ^ a b Martin van Bruinessen,The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds in Turkey , page 1
  13. ^ Ozoglu, Hakan. "Kurdish notables and the Ottoman state." Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004
  14. ^ Kaya, Mehmed S. (2009). The Zaza Kurds of urkey : a Middle Eastern minority in a globalised society. London: Tauris Academic Studies. ISBN 9781845118754. 
  15. ^ "Can Kurds rely on the Turkish state?". Today's Zaman. 14 October 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  16. ^ "UN Demographic Yearbooks". Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  17. ^ "55 milyon kişi 'etnik olarak' Türk". Miliyet (in Turkish). Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Nasidze, Ivan; Quinque, Dominique; Ozturk, Murat; Bendukidze, Nina; Stoneking, Mark (July 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. 
  20. ^ Ludwig Paul, The position of Zazaki among West Iranian languages, 15 November 2006.
  21. ^ Nasidze, Ivan; Quinque, Dominique; Ozturk, Murat; Bendukidze, Nina; Stoneking, Mark (July 2005). "MtDNA and Y-chromosome Variation in Kurdish Groups" (PDF). Annals of Human Genetics. pp. 401–412. doi:10.1046/j.1529-8817.2005.00174.x. Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  22. ^ J.A. Lerch, Peter. "Forschungen über die Kurden und die Iranischen Nordchaldaer" (PDF) (in German). Retrieved 27 April 2015. 
  23. ^ Xasi, Ehmedê (1899) Mewlude nebi, reprinted in 1994 in Istambul OCLC 68619349, (Poems about the birth of Mohammed and songs praising Allah.)
  24. ^ Shoup, John A. (2011). Ethnic groups of Africa and the Middle East an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598843637. 
  25. ^ "Playing Kurdish card". Hurriyet. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  26. ^ a b "Is Ankara Promoting Zaza Nationalism to Divide the Kurds?". The Jamestown Foundation. 28 January 2009. 

External links