Zaza Kurds and Turkey’s policy of dividing the Kurds
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.