Iran is a diverse country consisting of people of many religions and ethnic backgrounds cemented by the Persian culture. The majority of the population speaks the Persian language, which is also the official language of the country, as well as other Iranian languages or dialects. Turkic languages and dialects, most importantly Azeri language, are spoken in different areas in Iran. Additionally, Arabic is spoken in the southwestern parts of the country. Religion in Iran is dominated by the Twelver Shi’a branch of Islam, which is the official state religion and to which about 90% to 95% of Iranians belong. About 4% to 8% of Iranians belong to the Sunni branch of Islam, mainly Kurds and Iran’s Balochi Sunni. The remaining 2% are non-Muslim religious minorities, including Bahá’ís, Mandeans, Hindus, Yezidis, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians.
Perhaps the most visible mark of Iran’s Islamic leanings is the conservative dress expected of its citizens. Although normal, Western style clothing is acceptable in private homes, when in public women are required to cover everything but their face, hands and feet.The most common uniform consists of a head scarf (roosari, to conceal the head and neck, a formless, knee-length coat known as a roo-poosh and a long dress or pair of pants. In and around holy sites, you will be expected to dress even more modestly in a chādor, a full length swathe of black cloth designed to cloak everything but your face from view. The dress code can be daunting during your preparation, but roo-saris, roo-pooshes and chādors can be bought cheaply in Iran. Watch or ask friendly Iranian women for guidance and marvel at how young women are pushing the boundaries of modesty with colourful head scarves that cover only a fraction of their hair and figure-hugging roo-pooshes that reveal every curve of their bodies. Men have a slightly easier time of things. Short-sleeved shirts and t-shirts are acceptable for daily wear. Shorts and three-quarter length pants are only acceptable on the beach.
Aryan tribes migrated into the Iranian plateau in the 2d millennium BC. There are over 1.5 million nomads in Iran today. Many of these tribes such as the Kurds, Bakhtiyaris (Bactrians), Lurs, Guilaks, and the Baluchs are descendants of the original invaders who came from Central Asia to settle in the Iranian Plateau. Most of the tribes of Central Iran are pure Aryan, while others such as the Arabs of Khuzestan and Khorassan, the Qashqai, the Turkmen (decendants of Mongols), Shahsevan and Afshar tribes of Azarbaijan had ancestors who passed through Iran. By 1920 nomadic pastoral tribes were over a quarter of Iran’s population. Their number declined sharply as a result forced settlement in the 1920s and 1930s. Continued pressure as well as the lure of the cities and settled life has resulted in a further sharp decline since the 1960s. The largest tribal groups are the Kurds, who live in the province of Kurdestan in the northern Zagros region, the Lurs and the Bakhtiari, who live in the southern Zagros region, the Qashqai in Fars, the Turkoman in the northeast, and the Baluch in the southeast. There are over one hundred different nomadic tribes today, each with its own dialect, style of dress and housing, and its own chief or leader. The Bakhtiari tribe, which numbered more than 1 million in 1997, inhabits an area of approximately 67,000 Km (25,000 Mi) that straddles the central Zagros Mountains.
They speak a dialect of Persian called Luri, are Shiite Muslims, and about one third of the tribe is nomadic. Their migration is among the most spectacular known among nomadic pastoralists anywhere. The Qashqai are a Turkish-speaking tribe of pastoral nomads in southern Iran. They migrate between winter pastures near the Persian Gulf and summer pastures on the Iranian Plateau. The Baluch, whose name means “wanderers’ retain a semi-nomadic way of life today. They habitate the far south-east part of Iran, the Mokran region, and far West Pakistan, which is a desert region. The Baluch share a common identity based on Baluchi—an Iranian language—and adherence to Sunni Islam. They are famous for camel races and rugs. Many of the Ghashgha in Fars province are still nomadic and of Turkic origin. The Lur are considered the most intact tribe, retaining their virility, robustness and tall stature. Mostly farmers and shepherds living in the Luristan area. Guilaks are among the most original tribes of Iran who speak a pure Persian dialect. Afshars are pastoral nomads residing in the Azarbaijan and Hamadan region in the summers and the Caspian coast in the winter. The Shahsevans live in the northeastern Azarbaijan. The Khamseh (Arabic for “five together”) is a federation of five tribes of pastoral nomads in the province of Fars in southern Iran. The five tribes, numbering more than 75,000, are the Persian-speaking Arab and Basseri and the Turkish-speaking Ainalu, Baharlu, and Nafar. With their sheep and other livestock, the Khamseh nomads migrate semiannually across the Zagros Mountains between the low-lying valleys and plains close to the coast of the Persian Gulf and the high, summer pastures on the Iranian Plateau.
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