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|State of Minorities in Iran
State of Minorities in Iran
Objective and aims
The main aim is to introduce minorities of Iran to international community. It can be a unique resource for activists, journalists, academics and world decision makers. It will provide a profile of contemporary situation of minorities and indigenous people of Iran . Iranian rulers should come clear firstly; to recognize all minorities of Iran constitutionally, and secondly; to consider their cultural & civil rights, political demands and human rights and implement them on the ground in practice.
Why should people be discriminated against because they are minority? Everybody has something positive to contribute; working together and respecting each others, we all learn from one another in favor of prosperity and progress for a better life.
Who is minority?
Those ethnic, religious and linguistic communities, who may not necessarily be numerical minorities but their rights, are denied by state rulers and they are non-dominant. Those indigenous people, tribal, and migrant nomadic people (Ashayer), who do not wish to be classified as minorities for various reasons but nationalities, are also non-dominant (9).
Minorities of Iran
Iran is an ethno-linguistically and religiously diverse country. Shia majority amounts about 82% and Sunni minority about 13% of the state total population and the other religions are about 5%. The Sunnis includes; Baluchis, Turkmen, and large number of the Kurds, Talyshis and some Arabs (16).
Minorities of Iran are not homogenous, most of them are from different nationalities; they face further oppression and marginalization due to religious, cultural & linguistics, illiteracy, politic affairs, poverty, gender and some other factors. Government has also implemented a systematic and organized policy of integration of all minorities, and assimilation of their culture and languages (22).
Minorities in Iran are the poorest and most marginalized people in the society. They lack access to political power, with no political parties and no cultural forums, face discrimination and severe human rights abuses, and there is development policies imposed upon them. What they want is: their basic rights to be protected and promoted by international community. It is crystal clear that recognition of minority and indigenous peoples' rights is crucial to establishing and maintaining just, stability and peaceful societies (9).
There are 11 main ethno-linguistic minorities in Iran , which is as following:
Persian ( Fars or Pars)
Lur & Bakhtiyari
Figure 1: map of minorities in Iran .
The term Persia was adopted by the West through the Greeks and was used as an official name for Iran until 1935. Therefore, Iran 's history, will label many non-Persian Iranian’s as Persians, which is untrue and unfair. And also historically the use of the term "Persian" has included all the various regional languages of Iran , which is also untrue, because other main ethno-linguistic minority groups are not Persian (16).
Persian people’s language is called Farsi (Parsi or Persi), which is used as an official language and also in academic curricula currently (all other languages are totally banned in schools and academia) in Iran . Persian people mainly live in some of the State’s central Provinces such as Isfahan (about 3.7 million), Kerman (about 2.5 million), Qom (about 0.5 million), central province (about 1.3 million), Fars Province (about 3.7 million), Razavi & southern Khorasan Province (about 3.5 million), Semnan Province (about 0.6 million), Yazd Province (about 1 million) and also in Tehran (5 million, about 36% of Tehran’s population is Persian), and about 3 to 4 million are scattered in other provinces across the state. All of the borders’ provinces of Iran are not Persian (7, Figure 1, 3 & 4, Graph 1&2, Table 1).
Persian ethnic’s population in Iran estimates roughly around 34.5% of all Iran’s population which in figure become about 25 million from the total population of about 71million (Table 1).
Persian people are most heavily concentrated in central, south central and North-eastern of Iran . The dialects of Farsi speakers are based on the Provinces they live, such as: Tehrani, Shirazi, Qazvini, Hamadani, Kashani, Isfahani, Semnani, Kermani, Araki, jahromi, Shahrudi, Kazeruni, Mashadi, Bushehri, Yazdi, and Bandari.
Farsi is hugely dominated upon all other languages as the central government has got an organized and systematic policy by spending large amount on it. It is needless to say that the minority’s revenue and their natural resources income are used against them by ultra centralised government. All cultural and civil activities across the state must be in Farsi; this discrimination is marginalising minorities’ talents and squandering minorities’ cultures, languages and traditions.
Cyrus the Great (Persian hero), 560 BC.
From Pasargad tribe, Hakhamanesh clan.
2 - Azeri Turks
Azeri people speak Azerbaijani Turkish or Azeri Turkish. The most majority of Azerbaijanis are Shi'a Muslims.
Iranian Azerbaijanis mainly live in the Northwest provinces such as: East Azerbaijan Province, West Azerbaijan Province [Eastern part of it, which is marked from the middle line of Urmiya Lake (meaning the eastern part of the median course of the Lake)], Ardabil Province, Zanjan Province, Qazvin Province, Hamadan Province (northern part of it) and also many Azeris live in Tehran (23, 16, Map1).
There are an estimated of 28 to 30 million Azerbaijanis in the world, but census figures are difficult to verify. A diaspora Azeri, possibly numbering in millions, is found in neighboring countries and around the world (8, 14).
The vast majority of Azeris live in Azerbaijan Republic (Approximately 8 million) and Azerbaijan of Iran. About 19 million Azeris live in Iran , mainly in the Northwestern provinces and also in Tehran .
The populations of Iranian Azeri Turks in Azeri dominated cities are: East Azerbaijan (3.600.000), West Azerbaijan Province [about less than 50% of the Province is Azeri; in figure it becomes about; 1.500.000, [Eastern part of the Province is Azeri’s inhabited which is historically marked from the middle line of Urmiya Lake (meaning the Eastern part of the median course of the Lake, there is a debate on this between either sides’ elites)], Ardabil province (1.250.000), Zanjan province (about 980.000), Qazvin Province (about 1.150.000), Hamadan Province (if about 50% of the province be Azeri Turks; in figure it becomes about 850.000), and about 33% of Tehran (Population of Tehran is 13.450.000) is Azeri Turks; which in figure becomes about 4.5 million (4.500.000), (7, figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
The sum of all Azeri Turks in dominated Provinces becomes about 14 million (14.000.000). According to some nationalist Azeris; there are about 2.5 to 4.5 million Azeri Turks who are scattered in other provinces across the state and also far suburban of Tehran . If this be the case, then all population of Azeri Turks in Iran is about 18.5 million (about 25% of the State population is Azeri Turks).
While population estimates in Azerbaijan Republic are considered reliable due to regular censuses taken, the figures for Iran remain questionable. Since the early twentieth century, successive Iranian governments have always avoided publishing statistics on ethnic minorities for political gains.
Generally, until the Pahlavi ruling period in the twentieth century, "the identity of Iran was not exclusively Persian, but supra-ethnics". Resentment came with Pahlavi policies of making one state /one nation, and by that the minorities’ languages and cultures suppressed with brutality in local government, local areas, schools, and totally banned in the press and audio/video media. However with the advent of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, emphasis shifted away from nationalism as the new government highlighted religion (Shiism) as the main unifying factor.
Within the Islamic Revolutionary government there emerged an Azeri nationalist faction led by Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, who advocated greater regional autonomy, 1979 AC. He wanted the constitution to be revised to include secularists and opposition parties; this was denied. On today there is some civil unrest due to the systematic policies of the Iranian government upon Azeris demands.
Azeri musicians in performance. Map 1: Iran ’s Azeri inhabited region.
3 – Kurds
3(A) – Kurds; in the West & Northwest of Iran
The lack of an internationally recognised state of Kurdistan has not prevented the Kurds to consider themselves as a separate nation from the countries their territory is divided amongst. The just struggles of Kurdish nation in the last few decades for the recognition of their rights are well documented.
The oil reserves of Kurdistan region in Iran is in Kermanshah . Kurdistan has got a fertile land.
Kurdish wedding dance, Sanandaji. Kurdish girl from Mahabad.
Although Kurdistan is a geographically homogenous land, politically it was first divided in 16th century amongst the two powers of the time, the Safavi and the Ottomans Empires. After the First World War, 400 years after its first division, Kurdistan was further divided by the Powers of the day ( France and Britain ) amongst the three newly established states of Turkey , Iraq and Syria . This was contrary to the agreement of Sever which recognised the formation of an independent state in Kurdistan . The division of Kurdistan into four parts was formalised in 1923 in the treaty of Luzan.
Unfortunately, those countries that Kurdistan is divided amongst are reluctant to admit the presence of Kurds in the country (except in post Saddam Iraq ). Only Iran Officially names a province as Kurdistan, which is a small portion of the Kurdish territory in Iran . In Turkey and Syria the presence of Kurds in the country was totally denied until recent years. In Iraq although the 1958 constitution recognised the Kurd and Arab to live side by side in the country, all their right was denied during the previous regime and they were subjected to genocide. After the first Gulf war of 1991, the Kurds in Iraq have entered a new era. The favourable international situation has resulted in a de-facto Kurdish government in Iraqi Kurdistan to be formed.
As it is explained above, although Kurdistan has been divided into four parts, Kurdish people during these long years have used every opportunity to express their dissatisfaction and struggled for their just rights. Contemporary Kurdish history is full of stories of Struggle, hope, disappointment, devastation of the land and sacrifice of their youth for a better life for the people in their ancestral land.
The Kurds of Iran since 19th century have had their fair share of the struggle for a just society in Iran . The uprising of Sheikh Ubaidullah and Hamza Aga Mangur (1880 – 1881 AC), the uprising of Ismail Simko (1920 AC) as well as few smaller regional uprising are examples of this struggle. Through out the contemporary history of Iran , Kurdistan has been a bastion for the progressive forces within Iran (Figure 1, 2).
After the establishment of the constitutional monarchy in 1906 AC, some of the demands of the nationalities of Iran , such as formation of regional assemblies were included in the constitution but have never been implemented.
Through out the 50 years rein of the Pahlavi dynasty ultra centralisation of power, militarisation of the region was the main government policy, and the struggle of Kurds for their rights continued. Only briefly during the Second World War, when Iran was occupied by the allies, the Kurds took this opportunity and formed their first structured political organisation (Komalai - J K) which later became the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Under the leadership of the KDP in February 1945 an autonomous republic in Iranian part of the Kurdistan was formed which lasted 11 month. The leadership of the republic, Qazi Mohammed and his comrades were executed in 1946 by Reza Shah’s government. Despite its short life, the Kurds still look at the Republic as a turning point in the history of Kurdish nation (22).
Kurdish people along with other nationalities of Iran fully participated in the revolution of 1979, which resulted in overthrow of the monarchy and establishment of a republic. They thought this is an ideal opportunity to resolve all the problems with the new government and to put an end to decades of injustice. Despite plenty of good will from the Kurdish part and many months of negotiation, the newly established Islamic government imposed an unwanted war on the Kurdish people which resulted in many death and destruction. Now 29 years later, Kurdish people in Iran are not any closer to realising their dream of a democratic Iran that recognise the rights of all Iranian minorities.
Accurate population censuses are difficult to come by, as the consecutive governments in Iran distorted the published figures for their benefits. The total population of Kurds in Iran (Kurdistan regions and other major cities in Iran , except Khorasan region) are estimated to be more than 7 million, which is about 10% of the total population of Iran (1, Figure 1 & 2).
The most majority of Kurds live in five provinces: Kurdistan Province(1.7 million), West Azerbaijan Province [more than 50% of the Province is Kurds; in figure it becomes more than 1.500.000, (Western part of the Province is Kurdish territory which is historically marked from the middle line of Urmiya Lake (meaning the Western part of the median course of the Lake)], Kermanshah province (2.2 million), Ilam Province [about 0.25 million (Northern part of the province)], Hamadan Province [about 0.4 million (western part of it)], and Luristan Province [about 0.2 million (Northern part of Luristan province)], all in the west of Iran. The total population of Kurds in the Kurdish dominated area in the Northwest and West of Iran estimates between 6 and 6.5 million (7, Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
There are a considerable number of Kurds that estimates approximately 1.5 -2 million who is living in Major cities in Iran, such as: Tehran (about 7% of Tehran & Karaj’s population is Kurds), Varamin and Firoozkoh, Mazendaran Province (countryside of Cities such as: Daylaman, Sari, Kurdkoy and Noor), Gilan Province (Cities such as: Kalardasht, Roodbar, Manjil, Hashtpar and Assalem regions), and Kuhak region in the South of Qom.
There are also about 1.5 million Kurds who are living in Khorasan Province in North-east of Iran. This is descendents of the Kurds who were forcefully resettled there approximately 400 years ago by the Iranian government of the time.
The total population of Kurds in all over the state estimates between 8.5 to 9 million, which is about 12% of the total population of Iran .
Figure 2: Kurdish inhabited regions.
3(B) - Khorasani Kurds
Kurdish tribes forced to move to Khorasan region / North-east of Iran during Safavian Dynasty about 1598 AC (or 1602 AC according to some texts), (Figure 2).
By the beginning of the 16th century, the Shiite Safavid (Iranian) Empire had emerged as a rival to the Ottoman Empire . The Kurds found themselves in the middle of the territories claimed by the Sunni Turkic Ottomans and the Shiite Persian Safavids. The two empires fought at the Battle of Chaldiran in 1514 AC, where the Ottomans defeated the Safavid Shah. The result of the battle established a boundary between the two empires that split the Kurds between Turkic and Persian empires.
About more than 60,000 Kurdish families and tribes forced to move to Khorasan region / North-east of Iran during Safavian Dynasty 1602 AC, and the reason for that was purely political. They were sent to Khorasan in order to defend the province from attacks by Uzbek and Kazakhs warriors, and also to weaken the Kurds in Kurdistan which their democratic demands were not in line of ruling tyrant. Kurds who are considered to be very determined and jingoistic people by nature did the job and pushed the warriors back to where they belong to and consequently the politic of Shah abbas Safavi had worked to perfection by using Kurds in order to preserve the integrity of the country and his ruling at the time. Therefore, Khorasani Kurds have rescued Iran from foreign occupation and continued to do so (Map2, 23).
Currently about 1.5 million Kurds are living in Khorasan (60% in villages, 35% in Cities and 5% as Nomadic migrants people / koçberî), the most majority of them talks in Kormanji dialect of Kurdish language (23).
In Northern Khorasan (with total population of 850.000); the population of Kurds is about 70% of the Province (about 595.000), Turks (who are the remnant of Uzbeks and Kazaks invaders of Iran, 16 Centaury) about 18% of the Province (about 153.000), Fars about 7% of the Province (about 60.000), and Turkmen is about 5% of the Province (about 45.000) who are in Jargalan rural district / border with Turkmenistan. About 500.000 Kurds live in the west and Northwest of the Razavi Province . About 13 to 15% of Mashhad population (Capital of Razavi Province, with the population of about 3.000.000) is Kurds, which in figure becomes about 400.000 as estimates. The total population of Kurds in Khorasan is about slightly more than 1.5 million (Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
The main Kurdish Cities in Khorasan are: Quchan, Shirvan, Esfarayen, Bojnurd, Kalat, Layeen, Daregaz & doroongar, Faroj, Bajgiran, Chenaran, Ashkhane, Mane-u-Similqan, Joveyn, Raz, Radkan, northern part of Sabzevar, also there is a large number of Kurds who live in Mashhad (7, 8, 12).
They are forgotten deliberately as they are separated from their homeland Greater Kurdistan for more than 400 years. It is needless to say that the lack of state investment has left the area in destitution, undeveloped with no prosperity; about 23% of Kurds in Khorasan are completely illiterate especially nomadic immigrants. Khorasani Kurds are not allowed to be educated in their own mother language, and the regional ruling officialdom is not from khorasani Kurds. There should be no organised Kurdish political, cultural, educational and civic centres or forums to improve and modernise the Kurdish culture, language and social affairs which is their logical basic civil rights. Khorasani Kurds does not have any radio or TV station in their language. Kurdish leaders, intellectuals and writers are prosecuted, insulted, oppressed and jailed (23).
Geographical coordinates of Khorasani’s Kurdish region is between N(36.5–38.5)˚ and E(56-60)˚. The area of Kurdish inhabited region in Khorasan is about 64144 square kilometres. The main River of Kurdish region in Khorasan is Atrak which starts from Hazar-Masjid mountains and ends to Caspian Sea . The main mountains of the Kurdish region in Khorasan are Hazar-Masjid in the East, Binalood in South-east, Shah-jahan in South, Aladagh in west, and Golil in the North. The oil reserves in Khorasani Kurdish region are based in Quchan and Raz.
A Kurdish girl from Khorasan (Kawanlu Tribe), Northeast of Iran, 2005.
Northern Khorasan’ Kurdish Nomadic people (Kowanlu Tribe), North-east of Iran , 2005.
Map2; Khorasani Kurdish tribes and their inhabited regions, 2008.
4 - Lor & Bakhtiyari
The Lur & Bakhtiyari people of Iran are living in the Central and South-western part of Iran . The city of Isfahan was their capital for a long time, but not any more. They had key and leading roles in the Constitutional Revolution. Dr Shapour Bakhtiar, last prime minister of the Shah of Iran, was also from this minority (2).
The minority of Lur & Bakhtiyari live in the West of Iran; mainly in Provinces of Lorestan, Chahar-mahale Bakhtiary, Northern part of Khuzestan, southern part of Hamadan, southern edge of Markazi Province, Some regions of Ilam, Kohgiloye va Boirahmady, and partly in Isfahan. From the geographical point of view their land is in North-eastern part of Zagross Mountains in the west of Iran (Ahwazi Arabs are in South-western part of Zagross Mountains ).
Lur & Bakhtiyari speakers’ inhabitant Provinces and cities include:
Khuzestan Province; Shushtar, Lali, Behbehan, Ramhormoz, Andimeshk, Izeh, Baqmalek, Masjed Soleyman, Dehdiz.
Lurestan Province; Khoramabad, Brujerd, Aligodarz, Azna, Dorud, Kohdasht, Poledokhtar.
Chahar-mahale Bakhtiyari Province; Ardal, Brojen, Farsan, Shar-e Kord, Kohrang, Naghan, Jaeman.
Ilam Province; Ilam, Mehran, Shirvan, Dehloran.
Kohgiloye va Boirahmady Province; Bahmayi, Gachsaran, Yasuj, Dehdasht.
Hamadan Province; Malayer, Nahavand, Toyserkan, Zand & Joykar.
Isfahan Province; Fereydan regions, Daran, Freydon-Shahr, Mogoyi regions, Zalghi regions.
Fars Province; Mamasani regions.
Bushehr Province; Dashtistan, Tangistan, Liravi, Kangan, Dashti.
They have migrated to this region 4000 years ago and established the Ilamite kingdom, which is known as one of the first human civilizations. They also established the Zandiya dynasty in Iran which brought prosperity and peace for a while. The Lur & Bakhtiyari have played significant roles in Iran in the last five hundred years (22).
There are approximately 6.5 million Lur & Bakhtiyari people in Iran , who live in the above mentioned dominated provinces plus neighbouring provinces. About 3 to 4% of Tehran ’s population is Lur & Bakhtiyaris (7, Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1&2, Table 1).
The main roads that connect South of Iran to the North and Centre of Iran go through Lur & Bakhtiyari’s land. Two main rivers of Zayande-Rood and Karoon originate from Zard-Kuh in Bakhtiary.
The main natural resources are: oil and gas. The first oil contract was signed between William Knocks Darcy on behalf of Britain with Bakhtiary leaders. Oil was discovered in Masjed Soleiman (Naftoon). A large portion of Iranian oil is extracted from this part but the people are among the poorest in the country. The main pipelines go through this region too.
Through suppression and dictatorship of the central governments, they have been deprived of their basic human needs and rights. Although they have huge natural resources and great human potentials to grow, but their people live under poverty and in indignity. They want their Language to be taught in schools (2).
Bakhtiyari’s traditional cloths. Greater Loristan (shadowed area), 2008 (2).
5 - Arab
Iranian Arabs mostly live in Provinces such as Khuzestan and Hormozgan. Arabs of Khuzestan Province, who live in South-west side of Zagros Mountains , along with the bank of the Shatt-al-Arab (Arvand Rood) .Over 3.5 million indigenous Arab people, live in the territory known as al-Ahwaz or Khuzestan and neighbouring provinces (Map 3).
For some 500 years, the region was called Arabistan of Iran by Persian rulers. The central government changed the territory’s name to Khuzestan in 1936. Al-Ahwaz or Khuzestan also borders Iraq , Kuwait and the Persian Gulf (15).
Since 1925, indigenous Ahwazis have been brutalized and deliberately kept backward by the successive regimes of Iran . While their land accounts about 80% of Iranian oil production, they benefit no revenue in return, with half of Ahwazi people in absolute poverty and 80% of Ahwazi children suffering from malnutrition (4).
The Ahwazis have been subjected to the eradication of their national identity, culture, and customs; and are faced with forced assimilation, and imposition of Persian language and culture. Ahwazis like other minorities cannot wear their national and ethnic dresses and costumes in official centres. Therefore, a dominant Persian minority influences in every respect of life, political, social, cultural and economical of not only the Ahwazis but all minority of Iran (16, 22).
It is estimated that approximately 5% of Iran 's population which means 3.5 million, is Arabic-speakers, of whom the majority live in Khuzestan Province ( Ahwaz region) and neighboring provinces. Of whom about 250.000 live in Hormozgan Province and Persian Gulf ’s bank and islands (Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
Khuzestan (former Iranian Arabistan)
They speak Arabic as their mother tongue, and Farsi as state official language. The variety of Arabic spoken in the province is Ahwazi Arabic, which is a Mesopotamian dialect shared by Arabs across the border in Iraq (9).
The cities with majority Arabs in Khuzestan include: Abadan , Omidia, Ahwaz, Bandar-Mahshahr, Khoramshahr, Dasht-Azadegan, Shadigan and Susa . About 60% of Khuzestan province is Arabic speakers, the total population of the Province is about 4.5 million. Total population of Arabs in Khuzestan Province estimates about 2.8 million. Ahwazi Arab is majority Shi'a Moslem with a Sunni minority (4, 7).
In Hormozgan Province the Arab population speaks various local dialects of Persian Gulf ’s Arabic. The Arabs of the Province are estimated to be about 10 % of the total population of Hormozgan (total population of Hormozgan is about 1.5 million).
Map 3: Khuzestan; Ahwazi Arab inhabited region. Ahwazi Arab cloths.
6 - Mazendarani / Tabari
Mazendaran is a Caspian province in the north of Iran . It is located in Southern coast of the Caspian Sea .
Mazendarani is the language of Mazendarani / Tabari people. Mazendarani or Tabari is Northwestern Iranian language. They live in the cities such as: Ramsar, Tonekabon, Chaloos, Noshahr, Noor, MahmoodAbad, Amol, Babolsar, Babol, Qaemshahr, Jooybar, Savadkooh, Sari, Neka, and Behshahr (7).
The population of Mazendarani people is estimated about 3.2 million. About 45.9% are as urban dwellers and 54.1% villagers (12, 14, Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1&2, Table 1).
7 - Gilaki
Gilaki people are an Iranian ethnic minority whose homeland is the Gilan Province . They are also found in the neighboring province of Mazendaran . Gilakis is one of the Caspian Sea peoples along with Taleshis, Mazendaranis and Turkmen people.
They speak in Gilaki language, closely related to Mazendarani. The population of Gilaki people estimates about 3.2% of all Iran ’s population which it’s figure is about 2.3 million. Northern part of the province is inhabited by Talyshis (7, 13 & 15, Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
Gilaki woman, tea farmer
Gilaki women, villagers
8 - Baloch
Baluch are Sunnis. They have their own distinct language, culture and history that make them different from other minorities in Iran . Their language, values and traditions are among the oldest and most constructive in the region but it is subjected to assimilation and elimination by Iranian rulers (3).
Population and geography
The Baluchistan of Iran has an area of about 182,000 km˛. The population of Baluch people in Iran is about 2.2 million. They live mainly in the province of Baluchistan , and also in some regions of Kerman , Hormozgan. The province is the largest in Iran . The main cities of the province are Iran-Shahr, Chabahar, Khash, Zabol (Sistan), Zahedan, Saravan, and Nik-Shahr (7, Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
A brief history
The Baluch people have rescued Iran twice from foreign occupation: once when the Baloch Parthians defeated the successors of Alexander and once when Yackob Leis Saffari defeated the Islamic Caliph and declared the independence of Iran . Baluchistan has given the region three extraordinary historical presents: Rostam, the national hero of Iran in the region, Zoroastrian philosophy and the Persian language.
Baluchistan is located on the northern part of Hormoz Straight at the eastern part of Persian Gulf . 40% of oil of the world is shipped through straight of Hormoz. Both Pakistan and Iran are competing to connect Central Asian countries to sea through Baluchistan .
Iran is considering constructing a gas pipeline through Baluchistan to export gas to Pakistan and India . Pakistan 's main ports are in Baluchistan . Iran is trying to develop the port of Chabahar in Baluchistan to shorten the root of the ships that carry different products to Iran . It also tries to build highways to promote trade in the eastern part of Iran , Afghanistan and Central Asian countries (22).
Baluchistan is the largest province of Iran . The Baluch people have been the victims of widespread discrimination, oppression, human rights violation and ethnic cleansing in Iran . They are crying out for their language to be taught in local schools (3).
Balochi Musician (dhol & Surna Players)
9 - TURKMEN
Turkmen people are living in the north-eastern of Iran , on the south-eastern cost of Caspian Sea, in Golestan province and Northern Khorasan (jargalan rural district in the border of Turkmenistan ).
Some call it Southern Turkmenistan and some say Turkmen – Sahra. Turkmen people live in cities such as: Gunbed–Kavus (central city ) , Bender–Turkmen , Agh–Ghala, Aidervish (kelala ) , Kumish–tepe (gomishan ) ,Marave–tepe, Anbarolum , Dashli–brun , Seemin-shahar , Negeen-shahar , Jergelan (state border line’s rural region in far North of Bojnord).
Turkmen’s religion is Hanafi Sunni Muslims. The total population of Turkmen counted to be about 870,000. Turkmen speak in Turkmeni language which is classified as a branch of Turkic languages (7, 22, Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
Turkmen has a prominent horse culture and heavily invest in horsemanship. Many Turkmen in Iran have remained at least semi-nomadic and traditionally work in agriculture/animal husbandry and the production of carpets.
The geographical location is situated west of Caspian Sea . From the east in border with Republic of Turkmenistan and province of Northern Khorasan , South to northern Alborz Mountains – forests (Figure 1).
The Ancient Land of Turkmen Was Divided by Acts of Colonial Governments that occupied in the last century. Russia and Great Britain dismembered their land under the treaty of Akhal in 1881.This treaty was signed by Russia and Iran, so land of Turkmen was divided into three parts: Russia, Iran and Afghanistan. Iran (Turkmen–Sahra), Afghanistan ( Northern provinces ), and independent Republic of Turkmenistan (was part of former Soviet Union ). The Iranian Turkmen have always resisted with protest and rioted against Iranian despotic governments (16).
In Reza shah era (1924) Turkmen were forbidden to speak their native Turkmen language and only Persian language was allowed.
The National Leaders of Turkmen People: Tumach, Makhtum, Vahedi and Gorjani were brutally killed by Islamic regime, 1980.
Many people were shot and many other people were arrested and were sent to notorious Iranian prisons. Turkmen don’t have any political party, cultural forums, civil societies allowed in Iran .
During the 29 years of domination by Islamic regime, not even one Turkmen was given a major or minor post in state administration. The none-native local authorities in Turkmen region do not recognize the Turkmen people culture and traditions. It is like a cultural genocide. There is an ethnic suppression and decimation upon Turkmen people.
Turkmen people have not got the right to read and write in their native and heritage language. Turkmen children even those who were in kindergartens are not allowed to talk in their mother tongue because of harassment. Discrimination is very wide spread and the cruelty is pervasive. “Sunni” Muslims Turkmen children have been forced to receive Farsi “shia” religious education. Discrimination is present even in getting a passport. If you had given or want to give your child native Turkmen names, you could not receive a passport, because passports with Turkmen names are not given at all, unless you chose a Shia name from a prepared book (22).
Turkmen traditional cloth
10 - Talyshi / Taleshi
Who are Taleshian (Taleshi people)?
Taleshian are as one of the oldest inhabitants of Caspian Sea . The word Caspian is derived from the name of the Caspi (in Farsi کاسی), an ancient people with light skin and blue eyes that lived to the west of the sea in around Talysh Mountains for thousands of years (20, Figure 1).
Taleshian have lived in Talesh land in old Persia and present Iran . Taleshian religion at present is Muslim, mostly Sunni and some Shia.
Taleshian speaks in Talyshi language as one of the Northwestern Iranian languages. It is spoken in the northern regions of the provinces of Gilan and Ardabil in Iran (Southern Taleshistan), and the southern parts of the Republic of Azerbaijan ( Northern Taleshistan ) (Figure 1).
The geographical areas of Talesh land (Taleshistan) at present include where Taleshian people live for instance; in some cities in Gilan province, some cities in Ardabil province, and some cities in Azerbaijan Republic . Southern Taleshistan has been divided in two regions:
Gaskarat region: include cities such as following:
Talesh, Masaal, Taskoh, Shanderman, Rezvanshar, Hashtpar, Asalem, Asttara, and rural areas of the Eastern part of Ardabil and khal-khal.
Foumanat region: include cities such as following:
Fouman, Masoleh, Shaft, Some'e Sara, Anzali, Kapur-Chal.
There are no statistical data on the numbers of Talyshi-speakers in Iran officially, but estimates show their number to be about 690,000 (7, Figure 3, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
The Azerbaijani’s State has also implemented a policy of forceful integration of all minorities, including Talyshi, Tat, Kurds and Lezgins (20, Map 4).
Map 4: Talyshstan of Azerbaijan , a member of UNPO (21). Talyshi Women, Iran .
City of Masouleh , 32 km west of Fuman , Iran .
11 - Qashqai / Ghashghai
Qashqai are a Turkic-speaking tribal minority in Iran . Qashqais mainly live in South Western of Iran. In the North of Fars province (especially around the city of Shiraz ), and southern part of Isfahan Province , and Eastern part of Chahar-mahal Bakhtiyari and some part of Khuzestan Province . They mostly live in cities such as Firozabad , Sepidan, Ardakan and Marv-dasht (15, Figure 1).
The Qashqai were originally nomadic pastoralists and some remain so today. The traditional nomadic Qashqai traveled with their flocks each year from the summer highland pastures (yeilaq) such as; Arjan-dasht in north of Shiraz roughly 480 km or 300 mile south to the winter pastures (qeshlaq) on lower (and warmer) lands near the Persian Gulf, to the southwest of Shiraz such as: Firozabad, Kazerun, Jehrom, Farashband. The majority of them however, has now settled, or is partially settled.
The Qashqai originate from Aghqoyonlu tribe ( Ardabil region, Safavian dynasty, 1500 AC) which is made up of a number of small tribes and sub-tribes including: Amalaeh, Darreh-Shuri, Kashkuli, Shesh (6), Baluki, Farsimadan, Qaracheh, Rahimi and Safi-Khani.
It is difficult to give exact statistics, but the population of Qashqai estimates roughly close to 600,000 (Figure 3 & 4, Graph 1& 2, Table 1).
The Qashqai were a significant political force in Iran during the early 20th centuries. The Qashqais revolted during 1962-1964 due to the land reforms of the White Revolution. The revolt was put down and within a few years many Qashqais had settled. Most of the tribal leaders were sent to exile. After the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 the living leader Khosrow Khan Qashqai moved back to Iran from Germany . He was soon arrested and executed in public for promoting an uprising against the government (2).
Qashqai Women, wool spinning. Qashqai tribe’s people.
Ghashghis's wedding dance.
12 – Others
Others includes: Zaboli (Sistani), Khorasani Turks, Assyrian, Afghani (Dari, Hazaragi), Sangisari, Tati, Armenian and Jews (8, 16).
Zaboli (Sistani): Zaboli-speaking people live in Sistan, their population estimates about 400,000. Sistan is a border region, in South-eastern Iran and South-western Afghanistan . One portion is part of the Iranian province of Sistan and Baluchistan , and the other portion is part of the Nimruz Province of Afghanistan.
Sistan is also called as Zabulistan, after Zabul, an Afghan province. Zabulistan was the homeland of the mythological hero-king Rostam (son of Zal and Roodabeh).
Khorasani Turkish-speakers: this dialect of Turkic language originates from Turks of Uzbekistan and or Kazakhstan , and it is a remnant of their invasion to Khorasan , Iran in 16 Century. It is midway linguistically between Azerbaijani and Turkmen, but not a dialect of either. Their population estimates about 300,000; they live in patchy forms in Khorasan Province (23).
Assyrian is a language of an ethnic (Christian, Nestorian) which its population is about 80,000 that mostly live in Urmiya region and Tehran .
Dari and Hazragi-speaking population has increased significantly due to the influx of refugees from Afghanistan throughout Iran , especially urban centres (9).
Sangisari-speakers mostly live in Semnan province and mainly in the Sangsar (Mahdi Shahr) town and in a several surrounding villages.
Tati language is now only spoken by different rural communities such as villages around Khalkhal and Ardabil, and also some in Zanjan and Qazvin provinces. Tati is closely related to Talyshi language.
Baha'is mostly lives in Fars Province and Tehran . Zoroastrians mostly live in Yazd , Kerman and Tehran . Jews and Christians mostly live in Kurdish regions and Tehran (12).
Basically there has never been any census on the number of Iran ’s ethnic groups. In the national census of 1986 there was a box asking people about the language spoken at home. But later, the officials changed their mind and asked people not to check that box.
But now it seems it is necessary to have a census to find out the number of Azeri Turks, Kurds, Baluchis, Persian, Arab, Talyshis, Gilakis, Mazendaranis, Lur & Bakhtiyari, and Turkmen people in order to determine accurately, Iran’s ethnic diversity.
United Nations has 191 members. About 179 of them are multinational countries. At the top of the multinational countries is India with 1300 nationalities.Only 12 countries have nearly one nation. Iran is among top ten multinational countries of the world with about eleven distinct major minorities / nationalities and some a few others.
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaimed that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Sadly, for all minorities and indigenous peoples in Iran , this inspirational text, with its emphasis on equality and non-discrimination, remains a dream, not a reality (9).
Iran is the remnant of an empire. Over 3000 sq km of Iran were seceded from it in18th and 19th centuries in wars with Russia and Britain after Shiism alienated millions of Sunnis. Iran is surrounded by Sunni countries that all of them except were part of it before. Afghanistan and a large part of Pakistan were separated from Iran when Sunni Afghans and Baloch refused to convert to Shiism.
The Sunni and Christian in republics of central Asia were adequately alienated by the Shia regime of Iran before Iran-Russian wars started. They preferred to accept a Russia that didn’t force them to abandon their religion. Afghanistan and Tajikistan are Farsi speaking nations that were separated from Iran . The Arabs are separated from the Arabs of Gulf. The Baloch are separated from Baluchistan , Pakistan . The Kurds are separated from Kurds of Turkey, Iraq and Syria . The Azeri Turks are separated from Azerbaijan . Turkmen have also separated from Turkmenistan (3).
Iran was called the United States of Iran (Mamalek-e Mahrooseh Iran with a decentralised system / Anjoman-haye Eyalati-va-Velayati). The name of Anjoman-haye Eyalati-va-Velayati of that day is reshaped and updated on today as Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI) at present time. The struggle of minorities in Iran for decentralizing the ruling system has taken a long time with very high prices so far, which is so sad, and it is time that some things to be done (22).
Iran has 30 provinces, which 20 of them are dominated by minorities such as; Arabs, Baluchs, Kurds, Lur & Bakhtiyari, Azeri Turks, Turkmen, Mazendarani, Gilakis and Taleshis. The others are mixed. Fore example: About 65% of the population of Tehran are from Iranian minorities (none-Persian). There are 11 provinces which have Sunni minority, and some of them are Sunni dominated. These Provinces include: Kurdistan, Baluchistan, West Azerbaijan, Northern Khorasan, Southern Khorasan, Golestan, Bushehr, Khuzistan, Kermanshah , Gilan (Talyshis areas) and Ilam (3, 18, 19, figure 1).
Figure 3: Iranian Provinces.
There are two cities in Iran that has got highly mixed minorities such as; Tehran and Karaj . Two holly cities of Mashhad and Qom are also a bit ethno-mixed. From the total population of Tehran and Karaj , the estimate of minorities population is; Persian (36%), Azeri (33%), Gilaki & Mazendarani (15%), Kurds (about 7%), Lur & Bakhtiyari (about 4%), Arab (about 1%), and all other minorities (plus foreigners) about 5%.
It is better to mention that the migration of minorities from western Provinces (such as Arabs, Kurds, Lur & Bakhtiyaris) to Tehran and Karaj was high especially during the war between Iraq and Iran and most of them were settled there.
نتايج سرشماري عمومي نفوس و مسكن، ایران 1385.
Figure 4: (Residence & Population census, Iran 2006).
اسامی استانهای ایران
Provinces of Iran
Sistan va Baluchistan
Chaharmahal va Bakhtiyari
Kohgiloye va Boyrahmadi
جمع کل Sum /
[However, the figures might be imprecise because state rulers have never allowed an honest census for political gains. Population growth rate in Iran is high and estimates about 0.663%, Iran has got a young population. Birth rate estimates: 16.57 births/1,000 population, Death rate estimates: 5.65 deaths/1,000 population (7, 18)].
There are 11 main ethno-linguistic minorities in Iran , which is as following:
1- Persian [(Fars or Pars), 34.5%], 2- Azeri Turks (25.7%), 3- Kurds (12%), 4- Lur & Bakhtiyari (8%), 5- Arab (4.8%), 6- Mazendarani (4.4%),7- Gilaks (3.2%), 8- Baloch (3%), 9- Turkmen (1.2%), 10- Talyshi (1%), 11- Ghashghayi [(Qashqayi), (0.8%)], 12- Others (1.5%), [Table 1].
% in Iran
Population in Iran
Persian / Fars
Farsi (Persian / Parsi)
Lur & Bakhtiari
Luri & Bakhtiari
Kurdish (Kormanji) in Khorasan
Table 1: Ethnic minorities’ languages and population in Iran , Dr. Afrasiab Shekofteh, 2008.
Graph 1: illustration of Iranian ethnic minorities’ percentages, 2008.
Graph 2: The percentages (%) of Iranian minorities’ population as plotted, 2008.
While, all of these ethnic minority have their own languages, cultures, and often literature, but their languages, traditions and cultures are banned without any prosperity, which has created an unpleasant situation for all minorities. Their differences usually emerge as political ambitions and demands (12).
The mosaic of peoples living in Iran reflects the geographical situation of the country throughout history. One of the major internal policy challenges during the centuries up until now for most or all Iranian governments has been to find the appropriate and balanced approach to the difficulties and opportunities caused by this diversity, particularly as this internal diversity has often been readily utilized by foreign powers.
International human rights organization should lobby the government of Iran and work to secure rights for ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous people in Iran . Minorities should be provided education and training in their own languages to enable them to claim their rightful place in their own society.
International human rights organizations and UN should take steps on behalf of minorities in the world for advancing the protection of them under international law.
This research represents a data on minority of Iran . I have sought to be as accurate as possible, and shared with some minorities’ expertise and members wherever possible. There might be some disputes about population size and issues of basic counting error. In future iterations of this study I hope to include many more details.
If Iran ’s rulers declares genuine amnesty and allows genuine participation of all minorities and their political organisations and ordinary citizens in democratic political process in Iran , then there would be no violence of any sorts including state terrorism. This is part of the peaceful nature and tolerant culture of all Iranian nationalities. This sort of participation can only be genuine and real if the Iranian constitution is amended to recognise all the diverse ethnic and religious elements of Iran .
There is no State’s TV stations and Radio in minority’s languages, no education in regional languages, neither in schools nor in universities and institutions of higher education.
Tehran’s ultra centralized development strategy has resulted in a wide socioeconomic gap between the centre and the peripheries, where there is also an uneven distribution of power, socioeconomic resources, and sociocultural status. The violence in remote regions such as Kurdistan, Khuzistan , Azerbaijan and Baluchistan clearly has ethnic components, but the far greater causes of the poverty and unemployment that vexes members of ethnic minorities are government organised corruption, inefficiency, and a general sense of lawlessness, which all Iranians, including Persians, must confront.
The policies like restriction on opposition’s political parties (minorities are not allowed to have any Political parties and cultural forums), stricture on minorities’ civil society, suppression of none-state media, subordination of the judicial system, and abolition of the direct election of regional minorities are absolutely routine actions.
The vast revenues that government accrues due to high global energy prices, not only gives more power to suppress minorities, but also the appeasement policy of Russia, China and also some EU (so called democratic) leaders and turning blind eyes on despotic Islamic rulers, is an indirect confirmation and encouragement to this inhumanity and discrimination.
Minorities’ oppression is evident in many parts of Iran . They have boiled over into bitter violence. The situation continues to deteriorate and they fear for their very survival, there were eye gouging in Khorasan on 2007, and limbs amputation in Baluchistan on 2008, and there are many executions by hanging them on the crane, and many cases of raping and severe torturing and so on. The crisis is deepening, as government-sponsored ideological armed forces (Pasdaran / IRGC) and Para-militia (Basijis) continue to carry out massive human rights abuses against minorities.
World leaders and policy makers must insist that the rights of minorities and indigenous people to be respected. The participation of minorities in the state affairs and electoral representation is essential if conflict is to be prevented and lasting peace to be built. This research as state of Iran ’s minorities could be an invaluable reference for policy-makers, academics, journalists and everyone who is interested in the conditions facing minorities and indigenous peoples in Iran .
The inclusion of minorities leads to the stronger and more cohesive societies. It is crystal clear that exclusion results in instability, conflict, and in the most extreme cases leads to genocide such as; gassing Kurds in Sardasht, mass grave in khavaran, and many other mass graves across Iran, oppression is on right now, which is so sad.
US, EU and UN should follow the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UN resolution 47/135 of 18 December 1992) and also the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and by that to pressurize the Islamic republic rulers to respect the obligations (10, 11).
I as a member of minorities want to ask international community to call on Iranian Government to respond with policies that to address effectively the widespread, entrenched and institutionalized discrimination, and the organized assimilation of languages & cultures in the society of Iranian minorities. United Nations independent experts should inspect the minorities’ situation, and also supervise the unfair elections that minorities have no real representatives. Iranian minorities have no cultural and civil forums, no political party is allowed to be built on their own, literary and academic curricula in their languages are violently banned.
IRGC (ideological armed forces which is separated from regular state armed forces) and Mullah’s performances as decision makers have been a dilemma so far, and it has been failed. Their term as state rulers demonstrates key characteristics of social injustice, unemployment, disorder, systemic corruption, nepotism, gender discrimination, inflation, fundamentalist monopoly, unaccountability and state intervention businesses. With no growth in infrastructure, the state remains undeveloped, especially in minorities regions. Opaqueness rather than transparency is dominating Iranian rulers’ policies. The rule of law remains too weak, with no desire to reform.
Middle East has been the centre of civilization and incivility throughout the history. After invasion of Islam to Iran , the Shiite envy and reactionary fundamentalist rivalry has played a major role in changing civilized Iran to uncivil one, whenever they got power.
On today as the globalisation era, apparently the rivals feel that it is just the time to change the course again but this time globally. In this critical time it is important to remind all civilised parties about their uncivil behaviours and blueprint, so they come to their senses, and with a suitable rapprochement they should be off the power once for ever in favour of popular secularism and democracy based on human rights.
Dr. Afrasiab Shekofteh - London, UK, March 2008
1- Abdullah Mohtadi, Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan.
2- Faramarz Bakhtiyar, Bakhtiyari & Loristan Union Party.
3- Dr. Reza Hosseinborr, Baluchistan United Front.
4- Yosef Azizi Bani-Turoof (Ahwazi Arab), speech at Industrial University of Isfahan, 1999.
6 - www.minorityrights.org/download.php?id=119.
7 - http://www.sci.org.ir/portal/faces/public/census85/census85.natayej.
11- G J McDougall, UN independent expert on minority issues.
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