The Zazas – Who are they?
The Zazas are a people in Eastern Anatolia, who natively speak one of the dialects of the Kurdish language – the Zaza language. They have been living on this territory for centuries, but have created their written language recently, as before they had only verbal language.There are many assumptions about where the name "Zaza" came from. According to the most common version, the sound “za” is the most actively used sound in this language. For example, such words as "deza", "varza", "byrarza", "halza".
The first settlements of Zazas were found on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Despite the fact that for a long time these lands belonged to Zazas, they left them and moved to Mosul. After living there for some time, they soon moved to the territory where they live today - to the lands of Anatolia.
Zazas have been the neighbors of all the peoples living in Iran. Their first neighbors in Iran were the Persians, then the those Zazas who migrated to Mosul began live close to the Arabs. The Zazas who came from Mosul to Anatolia thereby began to develop their neighborhood with the Kurdish people. In other words, over the centuries, Arabs, Kurds, Persians and Turks were neighbors of Zazas.
The Zaza language belongs to the Indo-European languages which is a part of the north-western group of Iranian languages. When we look at the peculiarities of this language, we note that this language is aglunative. This means that new words and structural units can be formed by adding an ending to the root of the word. The same feature concerns the Arabic, Persian, Turkish languages. At the same time, the Zaza language is associated with the Iranian language, as well as French and Italian and such oriental languages as Farsi. And thus, it proves that it is a very ancient language.
There is a misconception that the representatives of Zazas who live in different territories, do not understand each other and that the Zaza language is confusing, but when we look at the script of this language in different regions, we understand that the differences are insignificant. The difference is mainly connected with the sound and the spelling of some words. For example, in one region, the subject is indicated in one word, in another region - in two words. There are some differences in writing some words and using some letters, but this is quite normal, as such minor differences do not prevent people of different regions from understanding each other. And even if there are these changes, people can easily communicate with each other.
We can also note that Zazas lived for a long time in rural areas, and maybe that is the reason that they still have sincerity and intimacy, openness and warmth in relations with each other, which is peculiar to people living in small regions. Another feature of them is that even in spite of living in in cities, they try to be away from urbanization by keeping together and maintaining their traditional way of life.
In Turkey, the Zazas live mainly in Southeastern Anatolia, namely, the largest number of people among the local population in Diyarbakir, Bingol, Dersim, Tunjeli. In addition, a significant part of them live in Elazig. Outside the Diyarbakır region, representatives of this people can be found in the cities of Urfa, Siverek, and the Adıyamane region.
You can also meet representatives of Zazas among the population of Erzurum, Sivas, Aksaray. They were forced to move to these cities for various reasons. For a certain period, they lived on these lands in large groups. It can be said that the Zazas’ population in these cities is approximately equal to the population of a small village or a district.
Do Zazas consider themselves to be Kurds or consider them to be a separate nation? There are three versions of this issue. Some of them see themselves as separate people, some consider themselves Turks. The main difference here is due to ideological and political disagreement. In the past, for instance, many representatives of this people were associated with the Kurdish movement and Kurdish politics and therefore considered themselves to be Kurds. Those Zazas, which are more integrated and assimilated into society, more integrated into the system, consider themselves as Turks. This group mainly lives in Elazig or in Dersim. We can see that from 1990 to 2000, more and more representatives of this people have formed their own national consciousness. After this period, more and more Zazas began to consider themselves neither Turks and Kurds, but a separate people with their own social structure. And every day this position is becoming increasingly common among them. The idea that this nation should have its own separate status, its own way of life, its own idea of the future is becoming popular.
Zazas and Kurds today live in Turkey on the same territory, that is, in Eastern and Southeast Anatolia. These are two nations that have coexisted for centuries with each other and have lived under the control of the same rulers throughout history. For many years both peoples lived under the yoke of the Ottoman rulers. And since 1923, from the moment of the proclamation of the republic, both peoples suffered in their rights. Their culture, their language, their social life fell under restriction.
In the middle of the 19th century, namely from 1856, scientific research started on the subject of the origin of the people of Zazas. Nowadays this topic is not fully studied academically and there is not enough information to fully explore it. Much of the research that will help fill the existing gaps is conducted by Western scientists. It is worth noting that in Turkey, especially after the 2000s, many scientific papers on this topic began to appear. That is, now Turkish scientists are interested in learning the language, roots, and culture of the Zazas. After 2010, on the basis of many universities, significant studies have been carried out by the students concerning the history of the people and their language.
In recent years, with the intensification of globalization and modernization, we see that the cultural characteristics of Zazas are undergoing a certain degree of deformation. Small nations find it harder to exist and preserve their culture. Globalization has negatively influenced the language of this people, and the people, therefore, in order to preserve themselves and their roots, they need, first of all, to preserve their culture.