Introduction / History
The Zaza-Alevica people of Turkey have Iranian Kurdish roots, and have sometimes been known as Alevi Kurds. Their language, Northern Zazaki, is related to Kurdish. Although Turkish is the language used for religious ceremonies and for official purposes, Northern Zazaki is the language used in the home.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Zaza-Alevica people claim to be Muslim; however, their system of beliefs is unacceptable to the predominantly Sunni Muslim population of Turkey. The Zaza-Alevica do not observe the five fundamental requirements of Islam and are thus treated with contempt by Sunni Muslims.
Of particular distaste to Sunni Muslims is their failure to observe cleansing rituals before prayer. The Zaza-Alevica however, insist that it is the condition of the heart and mind that is important, not the outward rituals.
Kurdistan (homeland of the Kurds) is the largest and most populous part of Kurdish national territory in Turkey. This region stretches from the gulf of Alexandria and the Anti-Taurus Mountains in the west to the borders of Iran and Russia in the east. To the north, it is bounded by the Pontic Mountains, and Syria and Iraq to the south.
What Are Their Beliefs?
The Zaza-Alevica are largely village people, living in the remote mountain areas of the Tunceli province or in marsh areas near the city of Marash. The Tunceli province is a rugged mountainous region with a continental climate that is subject to extreme temperature fluctuations. The southern part of the area is covered with snow about six months each year.
Kurdish society is still mainly rural, and most of the people make their living from farming and raising livestock. While a majority of the people live fairly settled lives, some still practice a semi-nomadic lifestyle. In most cases, productive farming techniques are underdeveloped. This has resulted in a very low per capita yield. The nomads migrate from place to place, following their herds of goats and sheep onto the mountains during the summer months and down to the plains during the winter.
With population growth, some Zaza-Alevica have moved into predominantly Sunni Muslim towns. There, they tend to live in their own slum quarters, remaining on the fringes of Kurdish society.
The term Alevi is sometimes used to denote a wide variety of Shi'ite sects of Islam. The Shi'ite Muslims lean toward the ecstatic, while the Sunnis tend to be more fundamental in their beliefs and practices.
What Are Their Needs?
The Zaza-Alevica of Turkey have mixed many elements of various religions and traditions with their Islamic beliefs. For this reason, they are basically rejected by most Sunni Muslims and regarded as heretics. Because they have always been a deprived class outside the mainstream of life in Turkey, they are the object of political as well as religious dislike. They tend to drift towards extremist politics, identifying with other antagonistic groups.
Illiteracy continues to be a major problem in Turkish Kurdistan. Today, most Alevica villages do not even have primary schools. It is, therefore, not surprising to find that so few of their young people go to college. The Kurdish language has been banned since 1925, and the publication of books and magazines in Kurdish is also still illegal.
Persecution is common at the local level and in everyday life. Harassment, intimidation, arrest, and torture are common events for the Zaza-Alevica. With the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in 1989 and the increase in persecution, many of them left Turkey and fled to England.
As an outcast, despised people, the Zaza-Alevica need to be shown the love of Jesus in practical ways. Perhaps Christian educators will have open doors to reach these needy people with the message of salvation.
Ask the Lord to soften the hearts of the Zaza-Alevica so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
Pray that God will strengthen and protect the small number of Zaza-Alevica believers in Turkey.
Ask God to raise up an army of intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for the Zaza-Alevica.
Ask the Lord to call Christian teachers who will be willing to live in Turkey and work among the Zaza-Alevica people.
Scripture Prayers for the Zaza-Alevi in Turkey.
Bethany World Prayer Center