1 Islamic articles on: Dersim

Table of contents for the topic Dersim
  1. On the different origins of Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza People

IslamQA: On the different origins of Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza People


I have realized that it is a very sensitive issue for some people whether Hawramis are Kurds or not. To me it’s merely a matter of historical curiosity. Almost all my friends are Kurds and growing up in Slemani, Iraqi Kurdistan, I never made a difference between Hawramis and Kurds. I always tell people that I’m Kurdish when people in the West ask me because I consider myself part of Kurdish history and culture, even though I may not be from the same race exactly. It’s similar to a Volga German from Russia saying he is Russian even though he knows he is descended from Germans.

My sources for what I say regarding Hawramis not being Kurds are two: 1. What old Hawrami people say about themselves (that they are not Kurds, in fact they feel insulted if they are called Kurds). 2. Linguistic research by Western scholars who do not have an alignment with Kurdish interests. Vladimir Minorsky (1877 – 1966), who lived among Kurds and Hawramis in the first part of the 20th century and had a great love for the people he studied, believed that Hawramis were not Kurds based on the evidence he had gathered regarding Hawrami place names like Gilan and the Hawrami language. Garnik Asatrian, a great linguist of Iranian languages, implies it is laughable to consider Hawramis Kurds because the differences between their languages is so great in his paper “Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds“. Since he is an Armenian, he may have an anti-Kurdish bias, but as a respected academic it is unlikely he would make this claim without good evidence.

If anyone has scholarly evidence that these two scholars are wrong about the matter, I will be happy to see it.

The article

Regarding the Hawramani people – are they not Kurds? How come you write: “Like the Kurds around them, the Hawrami people are largely Sunni Muslims.” ? Do you consider yourself as Hawramani and not as a Hawramani-Kurd?

The cultural and linguistic evidence suggests that Hawramis are descended from the people of Gilan, who themselves are a mix of South Caucasians (Georgians, Armenians, etc.) and Persians. Hawramis are closely related to the Zaza people of Turkey, who are also descended from the people of that area. On the other hand, Kurds are a separate race who inhabited the borderlands between Persia, Turkey and Arabia and who probably came from South East Persia.

While Hawramis live among Kurds, they are a different race. Kurds may themselves be anciently descended from the Iranians of Fars province then mixed with Turks and Arabs. Hawramis are descended from the people of the Caspian sea area, who might be a mix of Persians, Armenians and other Caucasian races (such as Circassians) who inhabited the Tabarstan area.

Below is a representation of the migration of the original “Kurds” out of Fars province in Iran, perhaps between 600 and 1000 CE. They settled in that oval area and mixed with Arabs and other original inhabitants.

Below is a representation of the origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people. They came out of the south-western coast of the Caspian Sea and settled in Hawraman and Dersim as a separate race from the Kurds. I know that most Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza are unaware of these facts so that they think the label “Kurd” applies to them. The origins of the Hawrami and Zaza people were only worked out by scholars in the past 100 years. Vladimir Minorsky spoke of his theory of Hawramis coming out of Gilan, and another scholar whose name I cannot remember worked out the relationship between the Zaza language of Turkey and the Daylam area of Iran. The extreme similarity between the Zaza and the Hawrami languages, their similarity to the Caspian languages (Gilaki, Mazandarani), and their extreme difference from Kurdish, all made Western scholars realize that they are in reality non-Kurdish languages coming out of the Western Caspian.

Another clue for the different origins of Hawramis and Kurds is that Hawramis often look very different from the Kurds that live close to them. Tall stature, very pale skin, soft, colored hair and colored eyes are very common among Hawramis while they are less common among these Kurds belonging to the Jaf tribe or other Kurdish tribes of the area.

Reconstruction of the possible major lines of genetic descent of Kurds, Hawramis and Zaza people (click to see larger version).

For the Zaza people, the word they use for themselves is a clue: “Dimli”, which is an alternative pronunciation of Dilmi, which is a localized pronunciation of Daylami, which means “from Daylam” (the area by the Caspian Sea in Iran).