The Zazas (also known as Kird, Kirmanc or Dimili)[6] are a people in eastern Turkey who speak the Zaza language. Their heartland consists of Tunceli and Bingöl provinces and parts of Elazığ, Erzincan and Diyarbakır provinces.[2] Zazas generally[7] consider themselves Kurds,[8][5][9][10] and are often described as Zaza Kurds by scholars.[6][11][12][13][14]

Total population
2 to 3 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
Diaspora: Approx. 300,000[2]
Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.[3][4]
Zaza, Kurdish,[3] and Turkish
Predominantly Sunni Islam and Minority Alevism[5]


The exact number of Zazas is unknown, due to the absence of recent and extensive census data. The last census on language in Turkey was held in 1965, where 150,644 people ticked Zaza as their first language and 112,701 as their second language.[15] More recent data from 2005 suggests that the Zaza-speaking population varies from approximately 2 to 4 million.[1] Many Zazas only speak Kurmanji Kurdish as it was believed that the Zaza language was an offshoot of Kurmanji.[3]

Following the 1980 Turkish coup d'état, many intellectual minorities, including Zazas, emigrated from Turkey towards Europe, Australia and the United States. The largest part of the Zaza diaspora is in Europe, predominantly in Germany.[4]

Ethnic consciousness

While Zazas largely consider themselves Kurds,[7] some researches consider Zazas to be a separate ethnic group, and treat them as such in their academic work.[16] A scientific report from 2005 concluded that Zazas share the same genetical pattern as other Kurdish groups and did not support the hypothesis of Zazas originating from Northern Iran.[17]

Zazas and Kurmanji-speaking Kurds

Zaza Kurds in Diyarbakir (Kurdistan), from an 1881 photograph[18]

Kurmanji-speaking 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. Zazas participated in the Koçgiri rebellion in 1920,[19] and during the Sheikh Said rebellion in 1925, the Zaza Sheikh Said and his supporters rebelled against the newly established Republic because of its Turkish nationalist and secular ideology.[20] Many Zazas subsequently joined the Kurmanji-speaking Kurdish nationalist Xoybûn, the Society for the Rise of Kurdistan, and other movements, where they often rose to prominence.[21]

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 Kurmanji-speaking Kurds and Zaza civilians, while many were internally displaced due to the conflict.[22]

Sakine Cansız, a Zaza from Tunceli was a founding member of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and like her many Zazas joined the rebels, including the promiment Besê Hozat.[23][24] Many Zaza politicians are also to be found in the fraternal Kurdish parties of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and Democratic Regions Party (DBP), like Selahattin Demirtaş, Aysel Tuğluk, Ayla Akat Ata and Gültan Kışanak.

On the other hand, some Zazas have publicly stated they do not consider themselves Kurdish, including Hüseyin Aygün, a CHP politician from Tunceli.[25][26]


Zaza language with the other Iranian languages[27]

Zaza is a Zaza–Gorani language, spoken in the east of modern Turkey, with approximately 2 to 3 million speakers. There is a division between Northern and Southern Zaza, most notably in phonological inventory, but Zaza as a whole forms a dialect continuum, with no recognized standard.[1] 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 of Ehmedê Xasi of 1898,[28] and of Usman Efendiyo Babıc (published in Damascus in 1933); both of these works were written in Arabic script.[29] The state-owned TRT Kurdî airs shows in Zaza.[3]

During the 1980s, the Zaza language became popular among the Zaza diaspora, followed by publications in Zaza in Turkey.[30]


A small minority of the Zaza population adhere to a branch of Alevism and they predominantly live around Tunceli. While predominantly of Zazas adhere to Sunni Islam, both Hanafi and Shafi‘i,[31] whereas the Shafi‘i followers are mostly Naqshbandi.[32] Historically, a small Christian Zaza population existed in Gerger.[33]

Zaza nationalism

Zaza nationalism is an ideology that supports the preservation of Zaza people between Turks and Kurds in Turkey. Turkish nationalist Hasan Reşit Tankut proposed in 1961 to create a corridor between Zaza-speakers and Kurmanji-speakers to hasten Turkification. In some cases in the diaspora, Zazas turned to this ideology because of the more visible differences between them and Kurmanji-speakers.[34] Zaza nationalism was further boosted when Turkey abandoned its assimilatory policies which made some Zazas begin considering themselves as a separate ethnic group.[35] In the diaspora, some Zazas turned to Zaza nationalism in the freer European political climate. On this, Ebubekir Pamukchu, the founder of the Zaza national movement stated: "From that moment I became Zaza."[36] Zaza nationalists fear Turkish and Kurdish influence and aim at protecting Zaza culture and language rather than seeking any kind of autonomy within Turkey.[37]

According to researcher Ahmet Kasımoğlu, Zaza nationalism is a Turkish and Armenian attempt to divide Kurds.[38]

See also


  1. Endangered Language Alliance.
  2. Asatrian (1995).
  3. Ziflioğlu (2011).
  4. Arakelova (1999), p. 400.
  5. Kehl-Bodrogi, Otter-Beaujean & Kellner-Heikele (1997), p. 13.
  6. Malmîsanij (1996), p. 1.
  7. Kehl-Bodrogi (1999), p. 442.
  8. Arakelova (1999), p. 397.
  9. Mosaki (2012).
  10. Postgate (2007), p. 148.
  11. Taylor (1865), p. 39.
  12. van Bruinessen (1989), p. 1.
  13. Özoğlu (2004), p. 35.
  14. Kaya (2009).
  15. Dündar (2000), p. 216.
  16. Keskin (2015), pp. 94-95.
  17. Nasidze et al. (2005).
  18. Barry (1881).
  19. Lezgîn (2010).
  20. Kaya (2009), p. IX.
  21. Kasımoğlu (2012), pp. 653-657.
  22. Cengiz (2011).
  23. Milliyet (2013).
  24. Hürriyet (2013).
  25. Haber Vaktim (2011).
  26. Haber Türk (2013).
  27. Gippert (1999).
  28. Malmîsanij (1996), pp. 1-2.
  29. Keskin (2015), p. 108.
  30. Bozdağ & Üngör (2011).
  31. Werner (2012), pp. 24 & 29.
  32. Kalafat (1996), p. 290.
  33. Werner (2012), p. 25.
  34. van Wilgenburg, Wladimir (28 January 2009). "Is Ankara Promoting Zaza Nationalism to Divide the Kurds?". Terrorism Focus. 6 (3). Retrieved 1 April 2017.
  35. Indigenous Peoples: An Encyclopedia of Culture, History, and Threats to . Victoria R. Williams
  36. Arakelova (1999), p. 401.
  37. Zulfü Selcan, Grammatik der Zaza-Sprache, Nord-Dialekt (Dersim-Dialekt), Wissenschaft & Technik Verlag, Berlin, 1998, p. 23.
  38. Kasımoğlu (2012), p. 654.


Further reading