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The Zazas (also known as Kird, Kirmanc or Dimili) are a people in eastern Anatolia 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, part of the Kurdish nation, and they are often described as Zaza Kurds.



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. 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. 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.


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. Ludwig Paul also mentions that the ethno-cultural point is the decisive factor for the question of the ethnic identity of Zaza speakers. A scientific report from 2005 concluded that Zazas are very similar to Kurds genetically. Zaza and Kurdish languageas belong to the Indo-European languages family.

Historic roots of the Zazas

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 the 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 the Caspian Sea (also called the Caspian languages), including 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.


Zazaki probably originates from northern Iran, from the historical region "Deylamān" at the Caspic sea, in the present province of Gīlān. Today the Iranian languages still spoken there (also called the Caspian dialects) like Sangsarī, Māzandarānī, Tātī (Herzendī), Semnānī, Tāleshī are grammatically closer to Zazaki than Kurdish. Apart from the presently in Balochistan spoken Balochi, only Gōrānī, which is spoken in a few remote areas in Iran and Mesopotamia, have relatively closer linguistic affinity with Zazaki.

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 state owned TRT Kurdî airs shows on Zaza language.

Connection to Kurds

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 Kurds) rebelled against the newly established Turkey for their nationalist and secular ideology. 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. Zazas also participated in the Kurdish Koçgiri rebellion in 1920.

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. 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.

Zaza nationalism

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

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


Zazas Wikipedia

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