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Iran's Ethnic Groups

Iran's Ethnic Groups
Photo by Amin Karimi | TasteIran

Iran is a multicultural country where original ethnic and linguistic diversity is one of its attractive features. This ethnic and linguistic diversity stems from Iran's rich history and Iranian border pattern that has changed many times over the centuries.

Different ethnic groups are one of the boldest beauties of Iran as it mixes different cultures and put them all together in a united country. Political borders have separated most of the ethnic groups from their first race. The largest groups in this category include Persians or Fars group (the majority of Iran's population) and Turks, Kurds, Gilakis, Mazanis, Lurs, Turkmens, Arabs, Talyshis, Balochs and many more. Following up we aim to introduce the main ethnic groups of Iran.

1- Persian (Fars)

Iranian Persians, who make up the majority of Iran's population, dominate the people of Iran mostly in the central country. Iran used to be called "Persia" until 1935 that officially changed its name to be Iran. Persians live in major provinces in Iran such as Tehran, Isfahan, Mashhad, Kerman, Yazd, and Fars. Also, at least half of the populations in the bilingual cities of Kermanshah, Ahvaz, and Zahedan are Persian. 

Persians speak Farsi or Persian as Iran's official language in different accents. Persian is a West Iranian type of Indo-European family of languages; however, there are many different accents or vocal expressions that Fars folks speak. Most Persians are Shia Muslims. 

2- Azeri or Iranian Turk

Regarding the origin of Iranian Turks, there are two opinions. The first one says the Turk race has come to the Iranian Plateau in the 7th and 11th centuries during the invasion of Iran. The second one declares they are original inhabitants of Iran on whom the invaders have imposed their languages throughout wars and occupation. 

The Turkish language spoken in Iran is correlated with the Turkish spoken in the Caucasus, but it has changed in various regions. The Turks are the largest non-Farsi speaking ethnic group in Iran. Maybe that is because several Turkish dynasties have ruled over Iran in the past centuries, Including the Ilkhanids, Timurids, Ghaznavids, Seljuks, Safavids, Qajars.

The leadership of Iran's national-political movements, especially in the Persian Constitutional Revolution 1905- 1911, is one of the most important actions of Iranian Turks in Iran's history. Their principal role was in organising the constitutional movement. Also, continuing the armed resistance in Tabriz city, led by the famous commanders, Sattar khan and Baqir Khan, led to the capture of Tehran. This national action, following previous political records, implies their patriotic tendency and nationalism. This movement can be said to be the beginning of the establishment of a national government in Iran.

Mostly, Iranian Turks live in the northwest of Iran. However, they are scattered throughout many other cities.

qashqai turks women in a wedding
qashqai women wear the most colourful outfits among Turk ethnic groups, Bahman Mardanloo | TasteIran

3- Kurd

The Kurds reside mainly in the Kurdistan region. But the dispersion of the Kurd race in Iran is in Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Ilam, North Khorasan and West Azerbaijan. It is a vast region extending to a major part of the Zagros Mountains area. Including southeast Turkey, northeast Iraq, northwest Iran and parts of Russia, as well as Syria.

The origin of the Kurds backs to Medes, and they claim to be the oldest Iranian people in the region. Ferdowsi, the author of Shahnameh, Book of Kings, believed the Kurd tribe is the descendant of surviving Iranians from the tyranny of Zahhak or Azhi Dehak, an evil figure in the Persian mythology. The Kurds' origin backs to the Iranian race. The Kurdish language is a subset of the Iranian languages' western branch that owns different dialects.

Several Kurdish clans are inhabiting Iran. The notable ones are Major Jalali in northwest Azerbaijan, Kalhor and Gouran in Kermanshah and Malek Shahi in Ilam Province. Kurd's religion is commonly Shafi Sunnis, and some are Ahl-e Haq or Yaresan sects. Still, Qaderi and Naqshbandi types of Sufism are also common in some parts of the Kermanshah. The Kurd's residence in northeastern Iran is mainly Shia Muslim.

The Kurdish population in Iran is estimated to be around 7 million. But all the Kurdish community are more than 20 million.

Iranian Kurds
The Kurds of Iran honour their beautiful outfit traditions, Amin Karimi | TasteIran

4- Baluch

Balochs are among the Iranian ethnic groups generally occupy in the southeast and the eastern of Iran in Sistan and Baluchistan province, which is the second-largest province of the country.

But formally the southern parts of this province form Balochistan. A vast portion of Balochistan has parted from Iran in Qajar time over the British colonialism. Thus the Iranian Baluchistan is stretched alongside the Makran Sear or Oman Sea which has got direct way toward free international waters.  Balochistan has exceptional historical, mythical and natural backgrounds and 1000 years ago, Ferdowsi, the great poet of Iran mentioned the Baloch clan in Shahnameh, named them as a part of the Persian army.

Ernst Emil Herzfeld, a German archaeologist who excavated Persepolis and Pasargadae believes the world Baloch comes from a Medes term the means "a loud shout". But some others say Baloch is a combination of two words; Bal means hero and Ouch which means tall in Avesta, a collection of Zoroastrian's religious texts, that together Bal and Ouch indicate a lofty hero.

Balochs are broadly inhabited in southern lands of Balochistan that calls Makran, then South Khorasan Province, Razavi Khorasan Province as well as some regions in Hormuzgan and Kerman Province. Also, a group of Balochs migrated to Golestan Province and Turkmen Sahra regions due to the hard drought several years ago.

Balochs of Iran follow the Hanafi Sunni Islam. Balochi language is categorised in the western branch of Iranian languages that consists of two substations; the southern branch named Makourani, and the northern one calls Sar-Hadi. The prominent Baloch tribes are Rigi, Shah-Bakhsh and Shah Navazi.

Iranian Baloches
Baloch women design their clothing with stunning needlework, Amin Karimi | TasteIran

5- Arab

The first historical signs of Arabs' presence in Iran dates back to the 3rd century at the time of the Sassanian Empire. In a region between today Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran, lived an Arab clan named Lakhmi. Lakhmis were considered Iranian citizens, always have been a part of the Iranian army in The Roman-Persian wars. Ultimately, this barrier between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula broke, and the Persian Empire came to an end by the Muslim conquest of the Persian. Like the other tribes, Arabs are an inseparable part of the tribal body of Iran. Today only a few groups of Arabs from Khamseh tribe follow the nomadic lifestyle in Iran and have seasonal migration in Fars Province.

Arabs of Iran have three distribution in Iran: 

- Arabs of Khuzestan 

- The Khamseh Arabs in Fars

- Arabs of Khorasan

Iranian Arabs
Deshdasheh is commonly in white, Amin Karimi | TasteIran

The Arabs of Khuzestan country are divided into different tribes. One of the largest of them is the Bani-Kaab tribe inhabits around Khorramshahr, Shadegan on both sides of the Karun River. According to the geographical district, Arabs of Khuzestan locates in two categories. Kamari Arabs of Khuzestan settle in the north of Khuzestan and mountainous regions neighbouring the Bakhtiari Lur tribes. On the opposite Dashti Arabs of Khuzestan reside in the south and flatlands of the province. 

The two major clans of Khamseh Arabs are Sheybani and Jabbareh. Jabbareh tribe arrived in Iran in the early Safavid era and inhabited in central regions of the country.

Each tribe contains several families with the same ancestor called Ashireh in Arabic. At the top of each ashireh Sheikh is being respected by all the members of the tribe. The livelihood of Arabs in Khuzestan is on cultivation and livestock.

Mozif is one of the cultural elements of Arabs in Iran, which is a traditional guest room belonging to the Sheikh. Mozif is a place for treating guests, holding meetings and tribal consultations. There is no door built for the Mozifs because its door should always be opened to the guests, and it proves the original hospitality of the Iranian Arabs.

Mozif, the Arabs guest lodge
Mozif is constructed by cane batches, covered by straws, Amin Karimi | TasteIran

6- Lur

The Lurs of Iran resides in the west and south-west Iran in the Zagros mountain regions. Most of the researchers believe they are from the Iranian tribes and the ancestors of the Persian castes.

Lurs live in the exceedingly ancient areas once were the domination of great civilisations as Elamites. The Lurs are the actual inhabitants of Zagros. They speak in Luri dialect which has roots in the ancient Middle Persian and got different accents such as Bakhtiari luri, Mamassani luri, Feyli luri, etc. The Iranian lurs are divided into two general categories: The Major Lur (Lur-e Bozorg) and Minor Lur (Lur- e Kuchak). 

Lurish men wear loose black cotton trousers named Tonban Debit. The formal costume of the lur men is Chogha. Chogha is an open front overall which is woven by goat wool and has black horizontal stripes. 

Iranian lur ethnicity
Lur men dancing in a wedding ceremony wearing chogha costume, Mahmoud Raisi

7- Turkmen

In the provinces of Golestan and North Khorasan, the Turkmen tribes are inhabited. They are the descendants of the Central Asian Turks, who retained their ethnic identity during the Mongol invasion. According to Turkmens' stories, Aghooz Khan was the head of Turkmens, and he is regarded to be the same as Adam in their myths. 

The widespread arrival of Turkmen tribes in Iran happened in two different eras. The initial arrival started in the time of the Samanid Empire around the 10th century. The second migration then took place after the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. Turkmen tribes could establish several dynasties like Ghaznavids, Seljuks, etc. 

turkmen wedding
A Turkmen wedding, Ali Cheraghi | TasteIran

Turkmen history has had many ups and downs. The Russian Empire forced Turkmasn to migrate into the borders of Iran and made the nomadic life of these tribes collapse due to the preventing rules. After the Second World War, Turkmen tribes left the nomadic life. They settled down in the Gorgan plain, Golestan Province and North Khorasan. 

Turkmens are known for their honesty. They have been fond of horse keeping for centuries. They have been professional horsemen, so the horse has a specific place in their lives. Turkmen horse breed is worldwide famous. It is an Oriental horse breed that originated from the steppes of the Turkmen Sahra. 

By Reyhaneh Jafari / TasteIran


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