Tamzara (Armenian, Greek, Turkish) or Tanzara (Assyrian, Turkish) or Tenzere (Azerbaijani) is one of the most widespread dances originating in Eastern Anatolia (including Armenia). The Assyrians, who were the first Tanzara dancers to arrive on the scene, (roughly 2670 years ago) claim to have brought it with them from further south, making Tamzara one of the oldest documented dances in the world. In its long history, MANY varitions have evolved.
Though still a living dance among Assyrians, Tanzara is not one of their core dances.
Wikipedia, in its article titled “Tamzara, says: “Legend has it that the dance was brought to Anatolia by the ancient Assyrians during their conquest of the region in the Assyrian empire (ca 650 BC) in commemoration to the god of food and vegetation Tammuz. The meaning of this dance, which is famous in the villages of Charchibogan, Chomakhtur and other villages of Sharur* region, is “Gizili tanbatan” (Half golden) in word by word translation and today Tamzara is included to the repertoire of the folklore dancing collectives respectively. The women dancing used to put on all kinds of golden things, dressed luxuriously–including rings, ear-rings, bracelets, chains etc. and those women resembled beauty and sparkling.” *The Sharur region is part of Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijani region surrounded by Armenia & Iran. See map way below under AZERBAIJANI.
The traditional Assyrian homeland spans today’s Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Assyrians have been persecuted for centuries, and recent upheavals make it difficult to estimate how many Assyrians remain there. Iraq and Syria may contain 1 million each; Turkey may have under 100,000, though many more may be in refugee camps – (refugees from Syria and Iraq). However there are thriving expat communities in the USA (100,000 – 500,000), Sweden, Jordan, Lebanon, Germany, Iran, & Russia (roughly 100,000 each), Australia & Canada (40 – 50,000), and lesser numbers in many other countries.
Peter Pnuel BetBasoo, in his paper 30 Assyrian Dances, http://www.aina.org/articles/tafd.pdf lists 3 different Tamzara dances. The dance in the YouTube below closely resembles his Tanzara 2a, found on page 21. Peter’s other two dances, one in 2/4, the other in 9/8, are not represented by YouTubes that I can find.
Armenians have been in Anatolia a long time, too – longer than the Assyrians – possibly 4500 years. Armenians have various legends concerning the origin of the word Tamzara.
- A quote from the website of the Armenian dance troupe KARIN; http://karinfolk.am/?lang=en# “Tamzara is a wedding song-dance. It is found in many Armenian settlements. There have been listed more than 17 variants of this dance, but none of those who performed the dance, could explain its meaning. The word “Tamzara” is used in H.S. Eprikyan’s “Native Illustrated Dictionary” as a name of Armenian settlement. Besides “Tamzara”, this settlement was also called Tamarza, Tumarza. According to some investigators, the name comes of the name of Tovma Artsruni who allegedly founded the settlement. Quite possible that the name of the song-dance is to some extent connected with the name of the settlement, as stated by Acharyan in “Regional Dictionary”. According to Komitas, “Tamzara” is a wedding song-dance, where the main role belongs to the head of dance and his assistant. The bride had to stand beside the godfather. Nowadays “Tamzara” has nearly lost its ceremonial meaning and is performed in nearly all community occasions and feasts.”
- 2. “Regarding the word “tamzara”, it is ancient Armenian word means, do it right and fast, it is full of meanings, that is why I do not translate it.” I’ve lost my source for this quote – a comment to some YouTube. Apparently, Armenian has several layers of meaning in its words.
- 3. Tineke van Geel relates this story “The leader of a village offered his guests his hospitality and always called for his daughter-in-law-Zara to serve them Tan (yoghurt mixed with salt and water). Therefore he called her by saying ‘Tan, Zara!’ Acording to the ancient storytellers, from then on the village name was changed to Tanzara.”
TAMZARA THE SONG
Another Tamzara melody, this one sung by Tom Bozigian, which he called Tamzara Pampooreeg http://www.bozigian.com/index.html
LYRICS – I have several sets of Armenian lyrics, and a few sets of English translations. The lyrics don’t match any of the above YouTubes, and the translations don’t make much sense (those layers of meaning?) Anyone who can help with either will be credited in my update.
TAMZARA THE DANCE
The Armenian Tamzara can be a very simple dance, as shown in this Vimeo https://vimeo.com/202970087 I have only seen YouTubes of this version danced by Armenian expats in the USA.
In Armenia the country an elaboration of that simple dance, as taught by Gagik Ginosyan of the Karin Ensemble, seems to be standard. From the notes to the CD “Traditional Dances of Armenia” by the Shoghaken Ensemble: “The heavy 9/8 of the Tamzara, (here played on the zurna, dham, duduk, and dhol struck with sticks),
its driving rhythmic incantation similar to the shoror, is instantly familiar to Armenians everywhere. Its precise regional origin is uncertain, but historically there were numerous local variations among Armenian communities throughout eastern Anatolia and into central Armenia – danced in a line or circle, mixed gender or all female…..Based on a solemn ritual wedding dance performed by bride and groom and others of the wedding party, (the bride and groom, dancing in four directions, forming a cross), the tamzara developed into a popular group dance performed at weddings, festivals, and other gatherings. The most common form of the dance features mixed groups of 2 or 3 dancers, arms clasped around each other’s backs, or shoulder-to-shoulder with pinkies interlocked, the dancers following the parpashi, bending and straightening their knees, leaning forward in a deep arc, stomping their feet and pivoting on their heels, all with heavy, slow motions.”
Armenians associate Tamzara with the Hemshin – considered the purest direct ancestors (at least linguistically) of modern Armenians. See https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/ethnicity-history-geography/hemshin-hamshen-armenians-turks/ Tak-Tanzara is the Hemshin version of Tamzara. Although originating in Anatolia, (near the red dot in the map above) most Christian-Armenian Hemshin now live in Georgia, Armenia and Russia (where they’re called Amshenskaya).
Armenians are scattered all over the world, have been for at least 1700 years, but especially since the 20th century genocide. According to Wikipedia, of 11 million Armenians worldwide, only 3 million live in the country of Armenia. The largest populations outside of Armenia live in Russia and the USA, in that order. Other significant populations, in descending order, live in France, Georgia, Ukraine, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Argentina, Syria, Canada, and Greece, plus lesser numbers in over 60 other countries. Although Tamzara is considered one of the most universally-known dances of Armenians, each pocket of the diaspora may have its own version, depending on what part of Armenia it came from, and what has influenced the group in its newly-adopted country. The United States has major pockets of Armenians in Los Angeles and Fresno, New, York, Boston, New Jersey, Detroit, and several other states.
Other Tamzara’s were taught at Stockton by Tineke van Geel in 1998, and by Erik Bendix in 2006. I can find no YouTubes of these dances, in Armenia or elsewhere.
A final word about Armenian dance in Armenia and Russia. From the 1920’s to 1990’s, when Armenia was a Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union, the central government in Moscow ‘encouraged’ each ethnic group to have its own state-supported dance company, ostensibly to display the particulars of each ethnicity’s dances. Armenia was no exception. However, these troupes were in fact expected to display only those particulars that were both 1. in harmony with what the Soviet government deemed movements appropriate for the ideal Soviet citizen, and 2. movements considered esthetic, tasteful, and entertaining by artistic bureaucrats in Moscow. The results were a distortion, reduction, and homogenization of each ethnicity’s dance culture. I now present to you a ‘display’ (in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia) of Tamzara by one such company. Notice the obvious ballet training of the dancers, from which they and/or their choreographer can’t seem to escape. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jN71b72qL9w.
Because of the distortion of Armenian dance inflicted by Soviet performing groups, (who also had influence over the education system) expats have tended to ignore or dismiss Armenia the country as a source of ‘authentic’ Armenian dance. An example would be one of my favorites, Daronee, which I now consider 2nd Generation. However the past 20 years have seen a renewed commitment inside Armenia to scholarly research and the promotion of dances with a valid historical pedigree, and believable ‘village’ motions. A leader of this movement appears to be Gagik Ginosyan of the Karin Ensemble, on display many times above.
About the same time the Assyrians were entering Anatolia from the south, Greeks were coming by sea along the north coast (2800 years ago). Actually, (there is some debate about this) – many claim the Greeks originated in Anatolia. There’s linguistic evidence the Greek language is an offshoot of Armenian, (who originated in eastern Anatolia) or that both split about the same time from an earlier language. Also, recent genetic evidence points to a significant strain of Iranian (eastern Anatolia) genes among the Greeks, as there are in the Armenians. Whatever their origins, we know Greek speakers were in southern Greece over 4000 years ago, and from there began colonizing the entire Black Sea coast of Anatolia. As Pontus was a Greek personification of the Sea, the Black Sea coast became known as Pontus, and Greek residents there were called Pontians. They called their major port Trapezus, which later became Trebizond, and now is called Trabzon.
Pontian Greeks learned many dances from their Armenian, Hamshin, Georgian and Laz neighbours. Tamzara was certainly one of them, though Pontian Greeks don’t think of it as a core dance. Pontian Greeks who had lived in Anatolia for centuries were victims of the genocide of Christians by the Turks during WW1. Those who survived were shipped to Greece in the massive population exchange of 1922-23. They ended up mostly in Greek Macedonia and Thrace, where they were settled in housing abandoned by expelled Turks, Bulgarians, etc. Serres is a region rich with Pontian Greeks.
For the Greeks, I can only find YouTubes of performances of the dance – none of what I would call a Living Tamzara. However, the Greeks have YouTubes of what they consider 3 types of Tamzara –
Is Tamzara a Turkish dance? Turks seem to think so, as I have 13 YouTubes from Turkey labeled Tamzara, and in the comments sections, many are calling Tamzara a Turkish dance. Ah, but who is a Turk? When the Ottomans, a Turkic-speaking tribe, conquered Anatolia in the 1400’s, they were a minority in a land of many ethnicities. A 500-year occupation, which includud many ethnic cleansings, has reduced the Christian proportion of the population. Conversion to Islam, forced or voluntary, by many non-Turks, plus intermarriage have over time both spread and diluted Turkish blood. Many Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians and others learned to speak Turkish and pass themselves of as Turks in order to survive or to advance themselves economically. When Mustafa Kemal rescued the Ottoman Empire from total collapse in the 1920’s, he decided to call his new country Turkey and decreed that all of its inhabitants be called Turks. This act confused most of its inhabitants, for they thought of themselves first as Muslims. Little was known of their origins on the steppes of Asia.
Folk dance is very popular in Turkey. There are many professional, semi-professional, and amateur dance groups. Performances and contests are enthusiastically supported. All dances performed are called Turkish dances – no distinction is made of their ethnic origins. It is against the law. It has been this way for 5 generations, so many Turks sincerely believe it is true, just as they sincerely believe the genocides never happened. They have never been presented with evidence to the contrary. Some educated Turks know differently, but it takes courage to speak against orthodoxy, especially in the age of Erdogan. Among performing groups, Tamzara is just another Turkish dance, from the eastern regions.
Although Tamzara is not a core dance for the Turks, it still lives in pockets. Only one melody seems to be used (see below), and the choreography is consistent. Who are these old men dancing Tamzara, Turks or someone else preferring to not draw attention to their ethnicity? After 600 years living among Armenians and Assyrians, even pure-blood Turks are bound to have learned their neighbors’ dances, and possibly lost track of their origins. All I know is these YouTubes are posted in Turkish.
As well as the country named after them, Azerbaijani’s form significant populations in Iran and Turkey. They are another Turkic-speaking tribe, but their genes are a mix of Caucasian, Iranian, and Turkic origins. Hence the dance name Tamzara exists among them, but the dance shown on the only 2 YouTubes I could find with that name bears no resemblence other Tamzaras.
Several comments on Turkish Tamzara YouTubes mention Kurds as dancing Tamzara. However, I could find no Kurdish YouTubes showing them dancing it, nor any mention of it among my limited lists of Kurdish dances. Nevertheless, it stands to reason Kurds would know the dance. Anybody out there have anything? To be continued……
John Uhleman writes: March 7, 2019 at 5:22 pm This is a great traversal of this topic. Oddly, the only one of these I have seen is the version the Armenians in Detroit do – which is the same as the one in the video from Sheffield, England. We do it in St. Louis. It is similar to the one Vyts Beliajus taught years ago. The 45 RPM recording he used was a pirate from a Monitor LP of Turkish music.