Not to be confused with Zazi.
Total population
1 to 3 millions[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Diaspora: Approx. 300,000[2]
Australia,[3] Austria,[4] Belgium,[4] France,[4] Germany,[3] Netherlands,[4] Sweden,[4] Switzerland,[4] United Kingdom,[5] United States.[3]
Zaza, Turkish, Kurdish[6]
Alevism and Sunni Islam[7]

The Zazas (also known as Kird, Kirmanc or Dimili)[8][9] 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,[3][10][11][12] and they are often described as Zaza Kurds.[9][13][14][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 in Turkey.[16] 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.[6] 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 Zaza language is not a Kurdish dialect but rather an independent language just like Gilaki, 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.[14][18] A scientific report from 2005 concluded that Zazas are very similar to Kurds genetically.[19] 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.[20]


Main article: Zaza language

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.[21]

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 state owned TRT Kurdî airs shows on Zaza language.[25]

Connection to Kurds

"Zaza Kurds in Diyarbakir (Kurdistan)", E.Chantre & C.Barry, 1881

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.[26] 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.[27] Zazas also participated in the Kurdish Koçgiri rebellion in 1920.[8]

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.[28][29] 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 Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Hüseyin Aygün and Kamer Genç; all three CHP politicians from Tunceli.[30][31][32]

Religious groups

Alevi Zaza

Main article: Alevi Zaza

Zaza nationalism

Main article: Zaza nationalism

Zaza nationalism grew primarily in the diaspora, because of the more visible difference between Kurds and Zazas.[33]

Some Kurds and international foundations suggest a link between the founder of Zaza nationalism, Ebubekir Pamukçu (d. 1993), and the Turkish intelligence services.[3] 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”.[33]

See also


  1. 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, 1,000,000 and 2,000,000, respectively. Accessed online at Google book search.
  2. 1 2 "Dimlï". IranicaOnline. Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Arakelova, Victoria (1999). "The Zaza People as a New Ethno-Political Factor in the Region": 397. JSTOR 4030804.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Selim, Zülfü. "Zaza Dilinin Gelişimi" (PDF) (in Turkish). Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  5. "Turkey's Zaza gearing up efforts for recognition of rights". Hürriyet Daily News. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  6. 1 2 "Turkey: The Country's Zaza are Speaking Out About their Language". 24 May 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  7. Paul Joseph White, Joost Jongerden. Turkey's Alevi Enigma: A Comprehensive Overview. pp. 17–18. ISBN 9789004125384.
  9. 1 2 Kird, Kirmanc Dimili or Zaza Kurds, Deng Publishing, Istanbul, 1996 by Malmisanij
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Nodar Mosaki (14 March 2012). "The zazas: a kurdish sub-ethnic group or separate people?". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  13. Taylor, J. G. (1865). "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. 35: 39. doi:10.2307/3698077.
  14. 1 2 van Bruinessen, Martin. "The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds in Turkey" (PDF): 1. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  15. Özoğlu, Hakan (2004). Kurdish notables and the Ottoman state : evolving identities, competing loyalties, and shifting boundaries. Albany: State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-5993-4.
  16. "UN Demographic Yearbooks". Retrieved 2014-06-17.
  17. "55 milyon kişi 'etnik olarak' Türk". Miliyet (in Turkish). Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  18. Köhler, herausgegeben von Bärbel (1998). Religion und Wahrheit : religionsgeschichtliche Studien : Festschrift für Gernot Wiessner zum 65. Geburtstag. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. pp. 385–399. ISBN 3447039752.
  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. PMID 15996169.
  20. Sims-Williams, ed. by Nicholas (1998). Old and middle Iranian studies (PDF). Wiesbaden: Reichert. pp. 163–177. ISBN 9783895000706. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  21. J.A. Lerch, Peter. "Forschungen über die Kurden und die Iranischen Nordchaldaer" (PDF) (in German). Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  22. Mela Ehmedê Xasî.; Mihanî. (1994). "Mewlûdê nebî". OCLC 68619349. Retrieved 23 June 2015.
  23. Shoup, John A. (2011). Ethnic groups of Africa and the Middle East an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781598843637.
  24. "Playing Kurdish card". Hurriyet. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
  25. Kaya, Mehmed S. (2009). The Zaza Kurds of Turkey : a Middle Eastern minority in a globalised society. London: Tauris Academic Studies. ISBN 9781845118754.
  26. "Can Kurds rely on the Turkish state?". Today's Zaman. 14 October 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2015.
  27. "Portre: Bese Hozat" (in Turkish). 17 February 2014. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  28. "Sakine Cansiz: 'a legend among PKK members'". The Guardian. 10 January 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  29. "Kürt değilim Türkmenim" (in Turkish). Haber Vaktim. 4 December 2011. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  30. "Dersimli Kürt değildir çünkü Kürtler Şafii'dir!". Sabah. 8 June 2011. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  31. "Meclis'e sıçrayan polemi" (in Turkish). Habertürk. 30 May 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2016.
  32. 1 2 "Is Ankara Promoting Zaza Nationalism to Divide the Kurds?". The Jamestown Foundation. 28 January 2009.
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