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THE ZAZAS: A KURDISH SUB-ETHNIC GROUP OR SEPARATE PEOPLE?

Nodar Mosaki
Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

THE ZAZAS: A KURDISH SUB-ETHNIC GROUP OR SEPARATE PEOPLE?

Idiom, Literature, Politics, Identity and Zaza Intellectuals’ Activities

 Definition of Zazaki (Kirmanckî, Kirdkî, Dimilî) as a separate language or Kurdish dialect often depends on political and ethnic orientation. Pro-Kurdish actors and authors, and the majority of Zaza themselves consider it a dialect, some others consider it a language.

Among pro-Kurdish authors we can in the first instance outline such researchers and practitioners of Kurdish [Zaza] origin as Mehemed Malmîsanij, Munzur Çem, Roşan Lezgîn, Seyîdxan Kurij et al. acting within the framework of the well-known group Vate. The development, standardization and the appearance of a significant body of texts in Zazaki during last 2 or 3 decades are actually connected entirely to the persons mentioned above.

It’s necessary to mention also the Saint-Petersburg Kurdologists: Primarily the work of the Kurdologists from the Institute for Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences I. A. Smirnova and K .R. Ayubi. Besides, there is some information about the non-published monograph on Zazaki by K. K. Kurdoyev who published an article about gender category in Zazaki in 1976. At the same time some Russian linguists consider Zazaki a separate language. Different approaches are typical also for foreign researchers. Some authors, including those of Kurdish origin, study Zazaki as one of the Kurdish dialects. Some other authors including a small part of Zazaphones claim that Zazaki is a separate language of the Iranian group. It is noteworthy, however, that researchers affirming that Zaza is a separate language very seldom refer to the famous pro-Kurdish Zazaphones who do enormous (really the whole) work on Zazaki development.

The problem «language – dialect» is very old and rather wide-spread. At the same time its significance goes far beyond the linguistic framework and as a rule is of great political importance.

It’s worth mentioning that the Zaza themselves more often than not use the terms Kirmanckî (particularly in Dêrsim) and Kirdkî (in Palu and Bingöl) instead of the term Zazaki, underlining their Kurdishness. While the majority call themselves Kirmanc and Kird, the term Zaza is anchored among the exterior observers.

In its turn the Zaza’s Kurdishness is based not only and not so much on researches of various linguists and historians but on the assumption that the Zaza are considered traditionally as Kurds. This position was typical for both exterior observers and the Zaza themselves as well as for the remaining part of the Kurds. The Zaza have been playing an important and often leading part in the Kurdish national movement. It is noteworthy that in some tribes of Turkish Kurdistan part of the tribe speaks Kurmancî and the others Zazaki.

Creation of organizations in the Kurdish movement which had begun since the late 1960s has led to more or less professional publishing activity and clear articulation of the demands concerning Kurdish language. Initially Kurdish publications in Turkey were as a rule bilingual (both in Turkish and in Kurmanji).

Before the 1980s Zazaki practically existed only in everyday life, not being used in the press. First publications in Zazaki in Kurdish magazines are connected with the names of Munzur Çem and Mehemed Malmîsanij. М. Çem in the second half of the 70s published some articles in Kirmanckî in publications of the leftist Kurdish organizations ÖzgürlükYolu (RiyaAzadî) and Roja Welat. Tirêj which was started in 1979 in Izmir is considered the first entirely Kurdish-language magazine in Turkey. The articles in Kirmanckî by Malmîsanij were published in this magazine. After the military take-over of 1980 texts in Zazaki appeared in the Kurdish magazines published in Europe. The rapid development of literature in Zazaki and its standardization has been taking place since the late 80s of the ХХ century due to the efforts of the Zazaki speaking intellectuals living in Europe. Earlier this work was mostly included in the Kurmanji cultural organizations which had small «Zazaki branches» in their media.

Since the late 90s practically all Kurdish organizations in Turkey use both dialects: Kurmanji and Zazaki as Kurdish language. Publications of Kurdish organizations in Kurdish, as a rule, included separate pages (columns) on which Zazaki texts were published.

The publications of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) played a certain part in the relatively widespread appearance of Zazaki in the mass media, because the short period of the 1970s aside, its media have become particular monopolists in the market of Kurdish language media in Turkey. Firstly the newspaper Welat, which was issued first in 1992 in Istanbul, regularly published texts in Kirmanckî. Nowadays Azadiya Welat is the only daily Kurdish newspaper in Turkey. It regularly publishes articles in Kirmanckî as well. In 2004–2006 one page appeared in Zazaki in the Kurmanji dialect edition (the newspaper was published also in Sorani) of the weekly Peyama Kurd (Germany). Its editor (page in Kirdkî) was Sayîdhan Kurij. Materials in Zazaki also appear in the Kurmanji version of the newspaper Rudaw (European edition).

Since the late 90s the creation of strictly Zazaki editions has taken place. Particular boom of such editions began at the end of the first decade of the XXI century. This process began in Europe, where in the 80s a substantial part of Zaza intellectuals emigrated to, and since the beginning of the XXI century has been observed also in Turkish Kurdistan.

The meeting of the 15 Zaza-speaking intellectuals in Stockholm took place in 1996 aimed at the organization of Zazaki and its grammar development. The work Group Vate was created. The famous Kurdish Zaza writers and philologists Malmîsanij, M. Çem et al. have actively been working in this Group. They write in Kurmanji as well. The main task of the group Vate is the standardization of Zazaki, in which, as it is known, there are several subdialects. The Group is working on Zazaki terminology, facilitating Zazaki development in order that it corresponds to contemporary realities, is editing the magazine (journal) Vate (36 issues have already been published). It uses the Kurdish Latin alphabet in Kurmanji publications. We would like to underline the fact that although the earlier meetings have taken place in Europe, they now take place in Kurdistan (in Dersim, Diyarbakir).

Though the members of the Vate group do not polemicize with the Zaza who neither consider Zazaki as a dialect of Kurdish, nor the Zaza as Kurds, preferring to work on real measures directed to Zazaki development, we would like to mention Seyîdhan Kurij’s article on this subject.

The standardization of Zazaki by the members of the Vate group is considered also within the framework of the necessity to reduce the differences between Kirmanckî and Kurmancî, through the implementation of common terms.

In recent years, about 10 books have been published annually in Kirmanckî (mostly by Vate Publishers), which is quite a few if one takes into consideration that before 1996 as a whole little more than 20 books were published in this dialect. Fundamental dictionaries «Zazaki–Turkish language», children’s literature, spiritual literature, poetry, different fiction works, translations of international classical literature (for instance, «Robinson Crusoe» by D. Defoe, «Notre Dame de Paris» by V. Hugo etc.) have been published. The books are published in Europe, Turkey (in Istanbul and Diyarbakir) and Iraqi Kurdistan (Dihok).

Part of the printing space in different Kurmanji dialect publications, as it was mentioned above, is traditionally given to Zazaki texts. Since the late 1990s strictly Zazaki editions (magazines) have begun to be published. It is worth mentioning one of them –Vate Journal. Through the site www.zazaki.net  started in 2009, the Zazaki audience got the opportunity of access to the news and research materials in Kirmanckî. Since March 15, 2011 in Diyarbakir the newspaper Newepel («New page»), which has become the first newspaper entirely in Zazaki (chief editor Roşan Lezgîn) has been published twice a month by the Society of Language, Art and Culture (Komela Ziwan, Huner û Kulturî Ziwan-Komî). 15 issues of the newspaper including October 2011 have been published, becoming a substantial tribute to the development of Zazaki. The articles, notes and interviews of scholars published in the newspapers affirm the Kurdishness of Zazaki, facilitating the development of this dialect within the framework of Kurdish language as a whole. The measures directed at representing the Zaza as an ethnic entity separate from the Kurds, for instance, at the symposium in Bingöl University which took place on May 13–14, 2011 are criticized. It is worth noting that in Bingöl police raised difficulties in the distribution of the newspaper. Both events and processes of common Kurdish character and the ones relating to the development of the Zaza dialect and culture have found their reflection in Newepel.

We can observe an increase in the number of authors writing in Zazaki as well as in the readers. In view of this, one more magazine (the second after Vate) entirely in Zazaki –Şewçila («Candlestick», «Chandelier») has begun to be published in March 2011. Its chief editor is Roşan Lezgîn. This quarterly journal is devoted to literature and art.

Zazaki has also appeared in the electronic media since the 90s. In 1991 several Kurdish intellectuals started a local radio in Duisburg (Germany) in Kurdish language (in Kurmanji and Zazaki dialects) which is still going strong. Sayîdxan Kurij and his spouse Leila-xan broadcast in Zazaki. Evidently, it became the first broadcasting in Zazaki. Shows in Zazaki began appearing on Med TV, the first satellite TV channel started in the mid-90s. Nowadays broadcasting in Zazaki on Roj-TV is approximately 2%, the show Verason performed in Zazaki. TRT-6 (news and music) also features shows in Zazaki. In 2009 «Voice of Russia» within the framework of its Kurdish language broadcasting also launched regular shows in Zazaki. All this, certainly, facilitates the creation of the media in Zazaki market, which also requires the necessary professionals.

Following the press and the electronic media, Kirmanckî has also penetrated into cinematography. Based on a Roşan Lezgîn story, the short 12-minute film (“Baba”) was made at the beginning of 2010. The shooting of Kekê, the first full-length feature film in Zazakiwas completed in 2011.

Local authorities in Turkish Kurdistan facilitate the publication of different materials as well as in Kurmanji and in Zazaki, implementing Kurdish into social life. It is worth mentioning the efforts of Diyarbakir’s Sur District Mayor Abdullah Demirbaşin in this direction. On the official site of the Diyarbakir Metropolitan Government the information in Kurmanji is placed besides Turkish and English. We are daring to forecast the creation of a page in Zazaki in the nearest future.

Thus, during the last 20 or 30 years Zazaki has become a language of literature and media. The number of intellectuals writing and reading it has increased manifold. If in the mid-90s their number was about a few dozen, nowadays it is in the hundreds. Soon enough, according to our estimation, in connection with the growth of student interest, the number of readers in Zazaki will be about several thousand people.

Akhmad Khakimoglu, the owner of the book shop Firat opened in Berlin in 2002 selling books in different languages and dialects and also discs on Kurds marked in 2009 that in the previous two years there has been a boom in the sales of literature and discs in Zazaki – from dictionaries to music. In his opinion, the Zaza are getting more and more interested in reading literature about themselves and in Zazaki. Therefore, products in Zazaki at this shop were in more demand than those in Kurmanji.

At the same time Zazaki now is in deep crisis because a significant part of the Zaza does not speak Zazaki. Colloquial Zazaki is on the edge of extinction, particularly among the young people. UNESCO also expresses its anxiety about the future of Zazaki.

Zaza intellectuals as a whole are unanimous in their belief that if Zazaki does not become the language of education (in Turkey), neither courses nor publishing will be able to prevent its disappearance in the near future. And such opportunities can arise only within the framework of Kurds struggling as a whole for their rights, the basic right to teach in Kurdish (Kurmanji and Zazaki).

*        *      *

The Zaza take an active part in Kurdish organizations, in the left and even in the rightist Turkish parties. At the same time identity or sub-identity of the Zaza is supported only in Kurdish organizations. Only a small part of the Zaza is trying to claim a separate ethnic identity. Some foreign authors are, in a greater degree, occupied with the «designing» of the Zaza (as a separate people). A part of them acts in this way with political motives, in the first instance based on the perception of the Kurdish factor as a hostile element and threat.

It’s difficult to agree with V. Arakelova affirming the availability of «national consolidation» among Zaza. Consolidation of the substantial part of Zaza, in our opinion, is taking part within the framework of Kurdishness, i.e. the matter is about sub-ethnic inter-Kurdish consolidation of Kirmanc. The Zaza who consider themselves a separate nation are not numerous, do not have much influence and cannot be compared with the group Vate and its members in activity connected with the development of Zazaki. Zaza taking part in Turkish organizations assimilate to the Turkish language.

The future of the Zaza will greatly be determined by the political processes in Turkey, by the policy of Turkish authorities and the prospective of Kurdish movement and the activity of Zaza intellectuals themselves, most part of which now is acting within Kurdish frameworks, but affirming and standardizing Zaza sub-ethnicity. The standardization and the development of Zazaki due to the activity of the Zaza intellectuals have made Zazaki a full-fledged dialect among the Kurdish, having begun the process of overcoming the earlier diglossia when Kurmanji was considered the more important dialect, «more chief» tongue of the Kurds in Turkey. Therefore it is frequently possible to hear from Zaza intellectuals the discontent with taking part among the Kurmanji identification of Kurdish language with Kurmanji, because the Zaza underline that Kurdish language includes all Kurdish dialects and the Zaza among others. We can say that inside the Kurdish world of Turkey the particular competition between the dialects (idioms) is running up.

Nowadays the attempts for creating a separate Zaza identity are unsuccessful as a whole. Turkish authorities making various attempts for the creation of a separate Zaza identity are also forced to admit their Kurdishness. Therefore TRT-6 (i.е. Kurdish language TV channel) broadcasts in Zazaki and texts in Zazaki are on the site http://www.xeberenkurdi.com/ which is connected with TRT-6. Turkish authorities understand that Zaza read in Zazaki either within the framework of Kurdish editions or separate editions in Zazaki, the most popular of which affirm that they belong to the Kurds. The separation of the Zaza from the Kurds will just lead to their assimilation among the Turks, because at present the Zaza themselves do not have the resources which would enable them to prevent Turkization.

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