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Group of Zeybeks
Two Zeybeks in their attire 1873 a.d.

Zeybeks or sometimes Zeibeks (Greek: Ζεϊμπέκοι zeibeki, Ottoman Turkish: زیبك‎, romanized: zeybek), were irregular militia and guerrilla fighters living in the Aegean Region of the Ottoman Empire from late 17th to early 20th centuries.

Their origins are debated. According to Greek sources, Zeybeks were Islamized Greeks,[1][2] while Turkish sources claim that they are Turkic.[3] One source states the Zeybeks first appeared in the 13th century and were Turkmens who settled in to the Aegean region.[4] Another source links them to the Turkmen-Celali rebels in the 16th century,[5] while a different writer claims that Zeybeks were light infantry troops made of Turkmen tribes loyal to the Seljuq Empire[6] According to Aşıkpaşazade, an Ottoman Historian from the 15th century, Zeybeks were Muslim Ghazis protecting the borders in Anatolia.[3] In the Turkish society the Zeybeks and Yörüks are seen as the same people. Many famous Zeybeks like Yörük Ali Efe and Demirci Mehmet Efe belonged to Yörük tribes.[3]

Traditionally, they acted as protectors of village people against landlords, bandits and tax collectors. A leader of a Zeybek gang was called Efe and his soldiers were known as either Zeybeks or Kızan. The term "Efe" was used for the leaders of Zeybek groups, while the "Kızan" were beneath the Zeybeks. According to the Armenian-Turkish linguist Sevan Nisanyan, the origin of the term "Efe" is either of Greek ("Efevos" = young man with courage) or Turkic ("Eğe", "Ece", "Ebe" = big brother in old Turkic) origin[7]. The origin of the term "Zeybek" is according to Nisanyan also not clear. According to Nisanyan it is either of Turkic or Arabic origin[8] Some sources claim that it evolved from "Sübek", "Sü" meaning army and soldiers and "Bek" meaning lord (Bey) in old Turkic. According to Onur Akdogu it evolved from "Saybek", meaning "Strong Guardian" in old Turkic.[9] According to Paul Wittek it may evolved from the name "Salpakis Mantachias" used by the Byzantine historian Pachymeres for Mentesh Bey, who founded the Beylik of Menteşe in southwestern Anatolia.[10] The term "Kızan" is of Turkic origin and means "boy".[11] Kızan was generally used for newly recruited or inexperienced Zeybeks. There was generally a tribe democracy within a group. Decisions were made in a democratic way and after the decision was made, Efe had an uncontroversial authority. They followed definite rituals for all actions; for example, the promotion of a kızan to zeybek was very similar to Ahi rituals.

From the 17th to 19th century, the Zeybeks evolved to outlaws and bandits terrorizing the Aegean Region.[12] Before the Treaty of Lausanne and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, larger concentrations of Zeybeks could be found on the Aegean coast of western Anatolia, near the city of Smyrna and Magnesia. After the Greek landing at Smyrna they fought against the Greek occupation of western Turkey.[13][14] Following the formation of a Turkish national army, during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, most of them joined the regular forces and continued their resistance. During and after the Turkish War of Independence they were no longer seen as bandits and outlaws, but as heroes, nationalist forces fighting against a foreign and non-muslim force.[15] An English report about the Zeybeks and Yörüks states; "Those people hate the Greeks, and are known for their heroism." [16]

Zeybeks have a dance called the Zeybek dance (or Zeibekiko in Greece) in which performers simulated hawks. There are different Zeybek dances in Turkey. There is the "Avşar Zeybeği" (The Afshars were a Oghuz Turkic tribe.), Aydın Zeybeği, Muğla Zeybeği, Tavas Zeybeği, Kordon Zeybeği, Bergama Zeybeği, Soma Zeybeği, Ortaklar Zeybeği, Pamukçu Zeybeği, Harmandalı Zeybeği, Sakız Zeybeği, Tefenni Zeybeği, Kadıoğlu Zeybeği, Kocaarap Zeybeği (Koca = Big, Arap = Arab), Abdal Zeybeği (Turkmen Bektashi dervishes were often called "Abdal", there was also a "Abdal" tribe belonging to the White Huns[17]) and Bengi (Bengü meant "eternity" in old Turkic) Zeybeği.[3] The Greeks used to call the Zeybek dance "Türkikos"[18][19][20], but this name is not used anymore. Romantic songs about their bravery are still popular in Turkish and Greek folk music. The yatagan sword was their primary weapon, but most of them carried firearms as well.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dragoumis 1984, p.58
  2. ^ BiblioNet.gr, Thomas Korovinis, Asia Minor Zeibeks, 2005
  3. ^ a b c d Töre - Aylık Fikir ve Sanat Dergisi, Nisan 1972, Sayı 11, s. 13-21
  4. ^ Ali Haydar Avci, “Bir Sosyal İsyancılık Kurumu: Zeybeklik ve Zeybekler”, Folklor Edebiyat Dergisi, 1997, s.47, Ankara: Başkent Klişe Matbaacılık.
  5. ^ M. Ö. Özbilgin, (2003), Zeybeklik Kurumu ve Zeybek Oyunları, Yayımlanmamış Doktora Tezi, İzmir, s. 29
  6. ^ Yavuz, B. Galip (2012), Zeybekler, IV. Baskı, s.41, İzmir: Efe Ofset ve Matbaacılık.
  7. ^ "Nişanyan Sözlük Türkçe".
  8. ^ "Nisanyan Sozluk Zeybek".
  9. ^ Akdoğu, Onur (1994) "Zeybek Kelimesinin Kökeni", Türk Kültürü, 374: 355-367.
  10. ^ Wittek, Paul (1944), Menteşe Beyliği 13-15. Asırda Garbi Küçük Asya Tarihine Ait Bir Tetkik (çev. O.Ş. Gökyay), Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayınları IV. Seri No: l , s. 29-32
  11. ^ "Kızan sözcüğünün kökeni".
  12. ^ Uluçay, Çağatay (1955), XVIII. ve XIX. yüzyıllarda Saruhan’da Halk Hareketleri ve Eşkiyalık, İstanbul: Berksoy Basımevi.
  13. ^ Sina Aksin (1 February 2007). Turkey, from Empire to Revolutionary Republic: The Emergence of the Turkish Nation from 1789 to Present. NYU Press. pp. 126–. ISBN 978-0-8147-0722-7.
  14. ^ Jeremy Seal (5 July 2012). Meander: East to West along a Turkish River. Random House. pp. 289–. ISBN 978-1-4481-3922-4.
  15. ^ Öztürk, Okan Murat (2003), Zeybek Kültürü ve Müziği, Yayınlanmamış Yüksek Lisans Tezi, Ankara, s.24-25
  16. ^ İngiliz Gizli Belgelerinde Türkiye, İnceleme: Erol Ulubelen, İstanbul, 1967, sf. 207, Vesika No. 509.
  17. ^ Gankovsky, Yu. V., et al. A History of Afghanistan, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982, p. 382
  18. ^ PETRIDES, Theodore and Elfleida, (1961), Folk Dances of The Greeks, Nevv York: Exposition Press, s.65-78
  19. ^ A T A M A N , Sadi Yaver, (1970), “Zeybeklerin Soyu ve Zeybek Kiyafetleri” , Musik i Mecmuası, 23, 259, 6:10-11.
  20. ^ GAZİM İHAL, Mahmut Ragıp, (1991), Türk Halk Oyunları Katalogu /. (Ed. Nail Tan). Ankara: Kültür Bakanlığı Yayınları, s.215