Zaza Kurds and Turkey’s pol­icy of di­vid­ing the Kurds

The Kurdish Globe - - CULTURE - By Mehmed Pertew

A short time ago, Turk­ish Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter, Omer Din­cer, in a spe­cial con­fer­ence held by Bin­gol Univer­sity made the fol­low­ing state­ment, "When we start the ed­u­ca­tion of Zazaki this year we have re­garded it as a ver­sion of Kur­dish. In fact, the ones [Ar­tuklu Univer­sity aca­demi­cians] who pre­pare the book [text­book for Kur­dish elec­tive classes] have thought in that way and we have re­lied on their pro­fi­ciency. How­ever, be­gin­ning from the next year, we will con­sider Zazaki a seper­ate lan­guage but not an­other ver­sion or di­alect of Kur­dish."

The claims of "Zazas are not Kurds" and "Zazaki is not Kur­dish" which Turkey has tried to bring to the fore are not new. An­thro­pol­o­gist Martin van Bru­i­nessen has de­scribed Turkey's poli­cies in or­der to sep­a­rate Kur­manji and Zaza from each other in his ar­ti­cle, "the emer­gence, in the 1980s, of a Zaza na­tion­al­ist move­ment that de­clared the Zazas to be an an­cient na­tion that had al­ways been dif­fer­ent from the Kurds was to be wel­comed and fi­nan­cially sup­ported by cer­tain cir­cles in Turkey's in­tel­li­gence es­tab­lish­ment," he wrote.

The the­sis of "Zazas are not Kurds" and "Zazaki is not Kur­dish" were man­u­fac­tured in Swe­den and later on seen in Ger­many. It is known that some of the peo­ple sug­gest­ing "Zazas are not Kurds," are close to Turk­ish ul­tra­na­tion­al­ists or Turkey's Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Or­ga­ni­za­tion (MIT) and are sup­ported by ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist fac­tions. In the writ­ings of those who sup­port the the­sis, they seem to de­fend the state and have an ag­gres­sive at­ti­tude to­ward Kurds and Kur­dis­tan con­flict, adding strength to the the­ory they work for the Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence.

Turk­ish state within the frame­work of its Kur­dish poli­cies, wants to cre­ate new di­vi­sions within the Kur­dish na­tion. The aim of this pol­icy is to weaken Kur­dish nationalism and pro­vide a ba­sis for frag­men­ta­tion. In Turkey, the name "Kur­dish" be­came mostly used for the Kur­manj Kurds, dom­i­nant in north­ern Kur­dis­tan, and the Zaza Kurds were named as a sep­a­rate na­tion. Right now, cir­cles claim­ing that Zazas are not Kurds, fi­nally made the Turk­ish Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter ex­press their stance.

The pro-Kur­dish Peace and Democ­racy Party (BDP) group deputy chair­man and the deputy of Bin­gol, Idris Baluken, gave a par­lia­men­tary ques­tion de­mand­ing an­swer from Din­cer who said "Zaza peo­ple are not Kurds" and "Zaza lan­guage is a dis­tinct lan­guage." While de­not­ing the de­scrip­tions of Din­cer as "un­sci­en­tific", he stated that it is an­other form of the as­sim­i­la­tion pol­icy that is has been ap­plied to the Kur­dish Peo­ple for a hun­dred years. Baluken refers to the di­vide and rule pol­icy which is played in terms of Zaza in this par­lia­men­tary ques­tion. The very ba­sic ques­tion that Baluken want an an­swer from Din­cer is that “Kur­dish lan­guage con­sists of 'Kur­manj, Zaza, So­ran, Gûran, Lur'. Although sev­eral sci­en­tific re­searches prove that Zaza lan­guage is a di­alect of Kur­dish lan­guage, what is the ex­pla­na­tion of this sit­u­a­tion that as a Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, you’re tak­ing an un­sci­en­tific lan­guage di­vi­sion used as po­lit­i­cal pur­poses as a ba­sis?" Who are the Zaza Kurds? The Zaza Kurds, in dif­fer­ent re­gions call them­selves Kir­mancs, Kirds, Dim­ili and Zazas and call the di­alect they speak Kir­mancki, Kirdki, Dim­ilki and Zazaki. This di­alect, even though it has more ves­tiges of an­cient lan­guages than other di­alects of Kur­dish, is the di­alect used most in writ­ing.

The Zaza Kurds are in a ter­ri­to­rial area which is some­what united, they are pop­u­lous in 12 prov­inces in North Kur­dis­tan. In Dêr­sim (Tunceli) and Çewlig (Bin­gol) most of the pop­u­la­tion and in Di­yarbakir, Xarpêt (Elazig) and Erz­in­can, the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, speak this di­alect. In some prov­inces, the di­alect is spo­ken in the bor­der ar­eas. The dis­tricts of Al­duş in Sem­sûr (Adiya­man), Sêwreg in Ruha (Urfa), Motki in Bedlis are ex­am­ples. In the prov­inces Mûş, Sêwas, Erzirom and Sêrt, the num­ber of Zaza Kurds is low. A part from that, be­cause of the war with the Kur­dis­tan Work­ers' Party (PKK), the evac­u­a­tion of vil­lages, eco­nomic prob­lems and other prob­lems, Zaza Kurds have moved to pre­dom­i­nantly Turk­ish ar­eas.

Most re­fer to them­selves as "Kird" or "Kir­manc" and al­most all of the lead­ing ac­tors have taken a place in the Kur­dish na­tional move­ments. Zaza Kurds have par­tic­i­pated in lead­ing Kur­dish re­bel­lions and re­sis­tances, for in Bidlîs Mela Selîm Efendî Re­bel­lion (1914), in the Qoç­girî Move­ment (1920), in the big Kur­dish re­bel­lion un­der the lead­er­ship of Xalit Beg of Ci­bran, pre­pared by the Azadî Or­ga­ni­za­tion and later ex­panded un­der the lead­er­ship of Seikh Said (1925), and the Der­sim Re­sis­tance move­ment lead by Seyith Riza (1937-1938).

Be­cause of the fact that ev­ery­thing about Kur­dish iden­tity and Kurds was banned from the es­tab­lish­ment of the Turk­ish Repub­lic to re­cent years, there are no solid num­bers on the pop­u­la­tion of the Kur­dish na­tion or of the pop­u­la­tion liv­ing within the ad­min­is­tra­tive bor­ders of the Turk­ish Repub­lic. Ac­cord­ing to some re­searchers, it is es­ti­mated at some 3 to 3.5 mil­lion. This num­ber, more or less, makes up one fourth of the Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion liv­ing in north­ern Kur­dis­tan.

In Turkey, be­cause of the pres­sures and bans on Kur­dish iden­tity, for Kur­dish (both Kur­manji and Zazaki di­alects) writ­ing to be­gin it waited un­til the 1970s. The first mod­ern Zaza ar­ti­cles were pub­lished by Me­hemed Malmîsanij a lin­guist, re­searcher and writer for Tirêj Mag­a­zine, which started in 1979 and had three edi­tions pub­lished. Also, Vate Mag­a­zine, which pub­lished 39 edi­tions af­ter a soft­en­ing of the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment in Turkey and af­ter Europe dis­trib­uted its sec­ond edi­tion from Is­tan­bul.

Af­ter its 20th edi­tion it was wholly pub­lished in Is­tan­bul Vate pub­lish­ing house, which has con­nec­tions with Kurds from north­ern Kur­dis­tan and has also pub­lished 74 books, 50 of them in the Zazaki di­alect. In the past year, a bi­monthly cul­tural news­pa­per Newe­pel (New Page) came onto the scene and pub­lishes in the Zazaki di­alect. It is based in Di­yarbakir and con­tin­ues pub­lish­ing de­spite fi­nan­cial woes. In ad­di­tion, in the past year, Şewçila mag­a­zine, a monthly cul­tural and lit­er­ary mag­a­zine, has pub­lished in Zazaki. More­over, there are many lan­guage cour­ses in Di­yarbakir and also in sev­eral other cities, in­clud­ing Is­tan­bul and Ankara. Hun­dreds of Zaza writ­ers, in­tel­lec­tu­als and lan­guage ac­tivists see them­selves as Kurds and Zazaki as a di­alect of the Kur­dish lan­guage.

The Kur­dish Globe asked the writ­ers and re­sarchers how the state­ment of Turk­ish Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter and the claims of "Zazas are not Kurd" or "Zazaki is not Kur­dish" are per­ceived.

Pro­fes­sor Dr. Kadri Yildirim, the Di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Liv­ing Lan­guages at Mardin Ar­tuklu Univer­sity, ar­gued that the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion at­tempted to demon­strate that Zazas are dif­fer­ent from Kurds. "In front of the press, we, as aca­demi­cians of Ar­tuklu Univer­sity, re­quest an ap­point­ment with the Min­is­ter ur­gently. They pro­pose that the view of Zazaki as a branch of Kur­dish is a PKK pro­poganda. Evliya Çelebi and Ataturk also shared the same view. Did all th­ese peo­ple know that PKK would emerge?" he told the Globe.

He said that Evliya Çelebi was an Ot­toman Turk­ish trav­eler who jour­neyed through the ter­ri­tory of the Ot­toman Em­pire and neigh­bor­ing lands over a pe­riod of forty years, had men­tioned about Zazas as a part of Kurds and that he would send all th­ese to the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion and he de­manded an ob­jec­tive sym­po­sium to reach a con­clu­sion. He also said that "Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk said in a tele­graph which he wrote in 21 Au­gust 1919 that Zazas are Kurds."

The ed­i­tor in chief of Newe­pel news­pa­per, which pub­lishes in the Kur­dish Zazaki di­alect in Di­yarbakir, Roşan Lezgîn, said that the Turk­ish State at­tempts to try new poli­cies by tak­ing the ad­van­tage of Kur­dish so­ci­ety’s het­ero­genic struc­ture. It tries, he ar­gues, to dis­so­ci­ate Kurds and to cre­ate iden­tity shift and con­fu­sion among Kurds of which it de­nied ex­is­tence un­til now, and which it has tried to ex­ter­mi­nate to­gether with their lan­guage and cul­ture." As they say 'Zazaki is a dif­fer­ent lan­guage from Kur­dish', they mean 'Zazas are not Kurd'. There­fore they at­tempt to sep­a­rate Kur­dish so­cial groups and to set them against each oth­ers. We re­gard in that way," he told the Globe.

Lez­gin also stated that the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter says they have been mis­taken be­cause they re­lied on pro­fi­ciency of Ar­tuklu Univer­sity aca­demi­cians, and now they rely on pro­fi­ciency of Bin­gol univer­sity aca­demi­cians. "In both sit­u­a­tions it eas­ily seems that the min­is­ter doesn't have knowl­edge about the is­sue. There­fore, he must ex­plain the in­for­ma­tion or the­sis which he re­lies on. He must pub­lish the dif­fer­ence be­tween re­li­able and un­re­li­able ar­gu­ments com­par­a­tively. He has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to per­suade us, Zaza Kurds, as he makes a de­ci­sion about us in a night. There is no aca­demic who has a study on Kurds and Kur­manji di­alect or Zazaki di­alect of Kur­dish lan­guage at Bin­gol Univer­sity. In Elazig, a project was im­posed to some aca­demic staff who have iso­lated from the feel­ing of Kur­dish be­long­ing­ness among Turk na­tion­al­ist move­ments. And they had to run this project. They al­ready do not have any ma­te­ri­als re­lated to this topic," he told the Globe.

Fe­him Isik, a jour­nal­ist and trans­la­tor, said that there is not any good sign in stud­ies that is main­tained in or­der to prove that Zazaki is not a di­alect of Kur­dish lan­guage in Tunceli and Bin­gol Univer­si­ties. "Aca­demi­cians of th­ese Univer­si­ties who want to show Zazas as an na­tion dis­tinct from Kur­dish na­tion through ben­e­fit­ting from the op­por­tu­ni­ties are try­ing to prove this pur­pose via the lan­guage. The same ef­fort is seen in TRT6 TV sta­tion, a Kur­dish-lan­guage, state-owned TV sta­tion, which be­gan broad­cast­ing in 2009. TRT 6 also uses the propo­si­tion of "Zazas and Kurds" or "Zazaki lan­guage and Kur­dish lan­guage" in­stead of "Zazaki and Kur­manci." It is also pos­si­ble to see the ef­fort of TRT 6 and Dunya TV," he told the Globe.

Ac­cord­ing to Bi­lal Zi­lan of the Lan­guage, Art and Cul­ture Foun­da­tion (Zi­wan-Kom) Ad­min­is­tra­tive Coun­cil pres­i­dent and the gen­eral ed­i­tor of Newe­pel, what has been used through the his­tory, what the Kur­manj and the Zaza Kurds use and what the re­searchers and the lin­guists use is this de­scrip­tion: Zazaki is a di­alect of Kur­dish lan­guage. "If the Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, Omer Din­cer, cre­ate ar­ti­fi­cial de­scrip­tions as "Zaza lan­guage is an dis­tinct lan­guage from Kur­dish" and "Zaza peo­ple is a dis­tinct na­tion from Kurds", he also should be aware that he will be re­spon­si­ble for com­plex sit­u­a­tions and new con­flicts. It is as how we de­scribe our­selves and our lan­guage through the his­tory. The con­strained de­scrip­tions which will cause an iden­ti­cal trauma for our na­tion are cer­tainly un­nec­es­sary. No one also has the right to cre­ate such a sit­u­a­tion," he told the Globe.

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