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Ethnic groups

Persian | Azari | Gilaki & Mazandarani | Kurd | Arab | Lor | Baloch | Torkmen | Bakhtiaris | Ghashghai | Others
Gallery of Ethnic groups

    Based on the latest national survey (1996), Iran's population is 69,975,000 and growing fast. In 1956, the population was 19 million, but by 2015, Iranian authorities fear it will surge to a staggering 110 million. There has been a dramatic demographic shift from the countryside to urban areas, worsened by the upheavals caused by the Iran-Iraq War, when millions of war refugees headed for the large towns and stayed put. About 60% of the population now live in cities; and about 15%  squeeze into Tehran. More than 300,000 nomads still roam the plains and mountain pastures.

    Iran is by no means a homogeneous country. Its location at   the crossroads of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Central Asia, and the changing frontiers of the Persian Empire throughout the centuries, has ensured that a multitude of peoples make their home within Iranian borders. The sheer diversity of the Iranian population, combined with centuries of mixing and migration, have made it difficult to draw even the vaguest of boundaries for the various ethnic groups inhabiting present-day Iran.

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More than 51% of the inhabitants of Iran can be called Persians (Parsi). They are the descendants of the Elamite and Aryan races who first set up camp in the central plateau back in the 2nd millennium B.C., and gave Persia its name. Persians live in Tehran.


Azaris form the largest minority in Iran, with about 24% of the population. They speak a Turkic language, and mainly live in small villages in the Azerbaijan provinces.

Gilakis & Mazandaranis

Gilakis and Mazandaranis together are the third largest population in Iran (8% of total population). They live in the north of Iran, southern coasts of the Caspian sea.


Kurds are spread across a large area of the Middle East, including a good part of eastern Turkey (maybe 10 million), north-eastern Iraq and small pockets of Syria. Although they have been around longer than any other people in the region (at least since the 2nd millennium BC), Kurds have never enjoyed the status of nationhood. They are 7% of the total population.


About 3% of the population are Arabs (roughly 2.5 million).  Most live in Khuzistan province; on some of the smaller Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf; and along the southern coast, where they have become partly Persianised and are often known as Bandaris, from the Persian word for "port". Arab men usually wear the traditional floorlength shirt-dress which is called  Thobe or dishdasha, as well as the loose headscarf called  gutra. Most Arabs in Iran still speak a dialect of Arabic.


Representing about 2% of the population, Lors are thought to be part Persian and part Arab in origin, though they are probably a mix of the Kasits, who came to Iran about a couple of thousand years ago, and the Medes.


The Baluchis, whose name literally means "The wanderers", are one of the few peoples who largely retain a semi-nomadic way of life, perhaps because the extremely arid region where they roam, is hardly suited to sparsely populated desert region covering the far south-east of Iran and the far west of Pakistan. Very able riders, the Baluchis are famous for their camel races.


Of Turkic origin, Turkmen (who make up about 2% of Iran's total population) mostly live in the Torkman Sahra, the plain occupying much of the east of Mazandaran province and the north of Khorasan province; and next to the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan.


The Bakhtiaris, live in  remote parts of the provinces of Chaharmahal va Bakhteyari and Khuzistan, though many of them have now settled in villages and towns.

More on Bakhtiaris


The Ghashghis live mainly in the central province of Fars. Many are still nomadic. Like so many of the minority peoples of Iran, the Ghashghais are of Turkic stock, and have always been hard to subjugate.


Armenians and Hebrews are scattered throughout Iran, mostly in the cities. Armenians are particularly prominent in Tehran and Esfahan, and are renowned for their technical and business skills. Hebrews have lived in Iran for more than 2500 years, but only a few thousand remain in Tehran, Shiraz and Esfahan.

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A Ghashghayee girl

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Ghashghis's Dance

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Bakhtiari's Dance

top1.gif (1179 bytes)Gallery of Ethnic groups

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