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Zaza Kirmanc Dimili

Research & Comments  - Arastirma ve Görüsler.



Who are the: 


The eastern portion of the Turkish State is called ‘Anatolia’. Like the collective term ‘Yugoslavia’, however, the term ‘Anatolia’ masks a multitude of ethnic and national tensions. Most readers would be aware of the plight of the Kurds, for instants, whose historic territory of Kurdistan has newer been permitted to establish itself, There are many other ethnic and national groupings within Anatolia, in addition to the Kurds, however, with varying claims on the Republic of Turkey. 

One such grouping is the Zaza / Dimili (Kirmanc)*. Like all inhabitants of present day Anatolia, the origins of the Zaza / Dimili (Kirmanc) are not fully clear. The most likely theory, however, is that they are the descendants of the ancient Dailamites, who inhibited the mountainous southwestern region of the Caspian Sea shore known as Dailam. Fierce warriors, in search of conquest. Sometime between 800 AD, and 1000 AD, it is thought, a large group of Dailamites reached Anatolia (White, 1995: 69-73). 

The closest people to the Zaza / Dimili are the Kurds. But certain similarities does not automatically mean that the Zaza / Dimili are Kurds - no more than the several cultural and linguistic similarities between the Portuguese, the Italians and the Spanish automatically mean these three distinct nations are one. 


It is generally accepted by most scholars that the Kurdish people speak an Indo - European language, Kurdish, which is part of the Iranian language group. There are number of dialects and sub dialects of the Kurdish language. Kurmanji is the most widely spoken dialect in the most populous sector of Kurdistan, in Turkey, as well as in the ex - USSR. Sorani is mostly spoken in Iraqi Kurdistan and west of Irani Kurdistan. Zazaki -Dimilki-Kirmancki  Spoken in central Turkish Kurdistan (** )(McDowall, 1989: 7). There is controversy, however - even among Kurds - about whether Zaza is actually a Kurdish language, as it is markedly different (although not completely dissimilar form) other Kurdish dialects, except Guarani and its derivatives. 

The Zaza call their Language Zazaki or Dimilki. They live mainly north of Diyarbakir and Urfa, as far as Elazig - in and around towns like Palu, Dicle, Chermik, and Siverek. People from Dersim, Bingol, Erzinca, Sivas, and theirs around with a sense of distinct Kizilbash - Alevi (Kirmanc in Dimilki) ethnicity generally describe themselves as Kirmanc, or by their language. Both sector of the Zaza / Dimili speak dialect of same language, Dimilki (literally ‘of Dailam’) (Hadank, in Mann and Hadank, 1930: II: 18-19; Hadank in Mann and Hadank, 1932: IV: 4-6; Minorsky, 1928: 91, 105 and Van Bruinessen 1992a, Footnote 115: 130). The Kizilbash dialect of Dimilki is known as Kirmancki ( not Kurmanji, which is the main Kurdish dialect). 

The language spoken by the Zaza and Gurani are so closely related to each other, but so different from Kurmanji and Sorani that they are placed in different language groups. Even the Kurdish scholar Izady concludes that these two language groups are not simply convenient ways of categorising different dialect of the same language, but ‘like French and Italian’ utterly distinct, quite separate languages, ‘not dialects of the same language’. Izady continues (Izady, 1992: 170): 

Their variations are far too great by any standard linguistic criteria to warrant classification as dialect of the same language (see also Izady 2,2: 1988: 13- 24). 

In fact, the current thinking is that the Kurdish language Kurmanji originated in southern Iran, while Zazaki, Kirmancki and Gurani originated in northern Iran (McKenzie, 1961: 68-86; Minorsky, 1964: 13-14 and Izady 1988: 23 


The complex questions of identity are not all settled even this century, with some Anatolian's if identical background considering themselves to be ‘Alevi Kurds’, while others recoil from this term, and insist they are from a distinct ethnic group - the Kizilbash, or the Zaza-Kizilbash. Non Anatolians should resist trying to force one convenient category onto Zaza and Kirmanc (Kizilbash). Those who consider that any of these certainly are people in Anatolia corresponding to all these descriptions. 

This is not to say that any attempt by non- - Kurdish scholars to question the mainstream Kurdish view (that is, the view disseminated by the dominant groups in Kurdish societies) deserves to be denounced. That would be crude anti - intellectualism. No, the point here, it most be stressed again, is for non - Zaza / Dimili to simply desist from ordering them to adopt an alien identity. 

Over the past five years, Western scholars of the Kurds have gradually become aware of the distinct identity of the Anatolian Zaza / Kirmanc. As more research is done, acceptance grows of this reality. Thus, Phillip G. Kreyenbrook’s verdict on the notion that the Zaza, Kirmanc and Guran are Kurd is pretty strightforward: ‘From a purely historical and linguistic perspective, this is probably incorrect... (Kreyenbrook, 1992: 70). 

Joyce Blau, the author of many Kurdish dictionaries, is an eminent Professor of Kurdish language, literature and civilisation. Blau writes (1996: 20) 

As spokers of early Kurdish invaded what is now Kurdistan, they assimilated both earlier waves of Iranian - speaking peoples and other peoples present in the area, giving them both their language and their name. Some of these peoples resisted total assimilation, and island of non-Kurdish speaking people exist today in Kurdistan. 

In a footnote, Blau elaborates on ‘these peoples [who] resisted total assimilation’ indicating that they include those who nevertheless also speak ‘language of Iranian origin, such as the Goran and Zaza’. She adds: 

Gurani is spoken by a few hundred thousand people, most of whom live in an area stretching from the area north of Kermanshah (now Bakhtaran) in Iran to the Iraqi frontier. ... In Turkish Kurdistan, several Million Zaza (also called Dimili) live in a vast rectangular area between Erzincan and Diyarbakir (Blau, ‘1996: 27, Footnote number 1). 

David McDowall, also writing in 1996 states: 

Zaza and Gurani are related, belonging to the northWestern group of Iranian languages, while Kurmanji and Sorani belong to the south - western group. This suggests that Zaza and Gurani speakers may be of distant common origin, probably from Daylam and Gilan on the south - West Side of the Caspian (McDowal, 1996: 10) 

Martin van Bruinessen, while still using the term ‘Kurdish Alevis’ is at pain to explain that this is mere ‘Shorthand’ which ‘does not imply any claim that they are "really" or "essential" Kurds or whatever’ (Van Bruniessen, 1996b : 4). Elsewhere, the same author writes how, despite attempts by both the Turkish state and Kurdish nationalists to foist politically - convenient identities on them, the ‘Kurdish Alevis’ (Zaza - Kizilbash) while not unsympathetic to the plight of Kurds, cling to their own separate identity: ‘Many if not most of the Kurdish Alevis define themselves as Alevis first, and Kurdish only second if at all’ (van Bruniessen, 1966a: 10). 

No section of the Anatolian Zaza / Dimili are campaigning for a separate state in Anatolia or anywhere else. They simply seek the right to enjoy their own, distinct, culture, without anyone forcing them to masquerade as something else. 


Joce Blau, ‘Kurdish Written Literature’, in Philip G. Kreyenbrook & Chiristine Allison (eds.), Kurdish Culture and Identity, London & New jersy, Zed Books. 

Brunissen, Martin van (1992a) Agha, shaikh and State. The social and Political Organisation of Kurdistan, london, Zed. 

Brunissen, Martin van (1996a) ‘Kurds, Turks and the Alevi Revivel in Turkey’, in Middle east raport number 200. 

Brunissen, Martin van (1966b) "Aslini inkar eden haramzadedir". The debate on the Ethnic Identity of the Kurdish Alevis, Published as a working paper of the centre for the study of Asia & the middle east at Deakin University. 

Handak, Karl, in Oskar mann & Karl Handak (1930) Mundarten der Guran, besonders das Kandulai, Auramani,und Badscalani. (Kurdisch - Persiche Forschungen), Berlin, II. 

Handak, Karl, in Oskar mann & Karl Handak (1932) Mundarten der Zaza Hauptsachlich aus Siverek und Kor. (Kurdisch - Persiche Forschungen), Berlin, IV. 

Izady, Mehrdad R. (1988) ‘A Kurdish Lingua Franca?’ in Kurdish Times, Newyork, 2: 13 - 24. 

Izady, Mehrdad R. (1992) The Kurds: A Concise Handbook,Washington, Crane Russak. 

Kreyenbrook, Philip G. (1992) ‘On the Kurdish Language’, in Kreyenbrook, Philip G. & Stefan Sprel (editors) (1992) The Kurds. A Contemporary Overwiew, London & Newyork, Routledge. 

McKenzie, D. N. (1961) ‘The origins of Kurdish’, in Transactions of the Philological Society: 68 - 86 

McDowall, David (1989) The Kurds, London, Minoraty Rights Group. 

David McDowall, (1996)A Modern History of The Kurds,London & Newyork, I. B. Tauris, 1996. 

Minorsky, Vladimir (1928) ‘Etudes sur les Ahl-i Haqq: "Toumari" = Ahl-i Haqq’, in Revue de L’Histoire des Religions, No. 9 7, Paris. 

Minorsky, Vladimir (1964)’La Dominiation Des Dailamites’ in Iranica. Twenty Articles, Tehran, University of Tehran: 12-30. 

White Paul (1995) ‘Ethnic Differentiation among the Kurds: Kurmanci, Kizilbash and Zaza’, in Journal of Arabic, Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies, 2, 2: 67-90. Deakin university Melbourne-Australia 




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