Zeybeks

By: Ryan Sigmon

July 8, 2019

Robin Hood was a English folklore legend who took from the rich and gave to the poor.  But few know that Turkey has a similar story of folk heroes.  These heroes were  the Zeybeks.  The Zeybeks protected vulnerable villages and people from rogue militias, landlords, and tax collectors. The Zeybeks were irregular militia and guerrilla fighters consisting of Islamized Greeks living in the highlands of the Aegean Region of the Ottoman Empire from the late 17th to the early 20th centuries. Before the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, through the Treaty of Lausanna, larger concentrations of Zeybeks could be found on the Aegean coast of western Anatolia, near the city of Smyrna.  After the Greek invasion of Smyrna they fought against the Greek occupation of western Turkey.  Following the formation of a Turkish national army, during the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, most of the Zeybeks joined the regular Turkish forces and continued their resistance against the Greeks.  

A leader of a Zeybek gang was called Efe and his soldiers were known as either Zeybeks or Kızan. Kızan was a term generally used for newly recruited or inexperienced Zeybeks. Decisions were made in a democratic way and after the decision was made, Efe had an uncontroversial authority.

The Zeybeks created a form of folk dance in which performers simulated hawks.  The dance was first seen at the end of the 17th century in cities such as Constantinople and Smyrna. Today there are said to be over 150 different Zeybek dances, varying by region and type – fast, slow, solo man & solo woman, group, couple, etc.  The Zeybek dance is still widely popular in Turkey, and romantic songs about their bravery are still prevalent in Turkish folk music.

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