Are Iranians Arabs?

When you live in the middle east you know very well the meaning of stereotypes and mixing right and wrong ideas and information. One of the biggest stereotypes that I get from foreigners when I travel abroad or on the first day when I greet my foreigner guests, is that Iranians are Arab and Iran is an Arab country. well that it not entirely true and in this article I am going to explain this.

Middle east, the bleeding heart of the planet

Iran is located in one of the most important geopolitical regions of the world, where most of the oil production and exportation of the planet is happening. This capacity has turned into a curse during the last decades and the oil not only has lightened the fire of power plants but also the fire of war and chaos in this region. many countries and empires were divided, new countries were born, old kingdoms disappeared and new regimes came after one another to keep the conflict going on. Iran has been also playing a major role from the very beginning of the discovering of oil, although never becoming a colony but the foot print of English, Russian, and American soldiers and diplomats can be seen all over the history pages of this country until this very moment!

However, the problem in the surrounding countries is more critical, in Afghanistan since the war 1979 the people are living in the horror of terror and war; in Iraq since the American invasion the country is suffering. Pakistan is the other neighbor that is also suffering under the shadow of extremism and terrorism, although in recent year there have been great efforts to raise from that ad improve the image of the country.

On the other hand, our neighbors on the other side of the Gulf, such as Oman, Kuwait and Emirates, have experienced decades of prosperity and progress thanks to selling oil to westerners; however, the political relations with Iran is not always the best and the most complicated one is of course with Saudi Arabia. This was an image of the middle east and the countries involved in the conflicts.

Southern Khorasan Costume

Where does the stereotype come from?

As explained, Iran is at the center of the middle east where there are also some Arab countries. Therefore, it is easy to mix them all into one ethic, one religion and one language, and part of the problem comes from the lack of knowledge about this region. and also partially, there is the media to blame to use only the name of region instead of the countries in the negative context which influence all of the countries of the region and around.

Another point of ambiguity is the religion, the official religion of Iran is Islam, the same as the official religion of the many countries in the region, such as Iraq, the Gulf countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey etc. again the problem is mixing up religion and ethnicity, not every Muslim is Arab and not every Arab is Muslim. As simple as it may seem but it is still the case for many in the western hemisphere of the planet the everyone living here is Muslim and therefore Arab. While being unaware the great diversity of the people of this region in terms of language, religion, culture and ethnicities.

Iran under magnifier; Who are Iranians?

Iran is a country with an area of 1,648,195 km2 and more than 82 million populations, it is truly a vast country. Iran has witnessed many wars and invasions as well as many cultural exchanges and influences through the history, from Alexander and centuries of conflict with Roman empire, the Arab invasion in 7th century, the Mongols and Tamerlane and the Afghans. Everyone has passed through this land has left something and turned into what we call homeland now with diverse ethnicities.

The majority of the population of Iran are Persian People (61%) who are the native speakers of the modern Persian language, which is also the official language of the country. second largest group are Azeries (16%) who are mostly in the northwestern and western provinces of Iran and speaking Azeri language which is really close to Turkish language.

Another great group of Iranian population are the Kurds (10%), mostly locate in the western provinces of Kurdistan and Kermanshah and they speak Kurdish as their mother tongue. This population as Iranian as they are, are also a part of the big Kurdish ethnic that continues in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Furthermore, we have some Kurd population in eastern regions of Iran. There another ethnic group known as Lurs (6%) who have also their own language and culture. However, it was only part of the diverse ethnicity of Iran and there are other groups such as Turkmens in northeastern Iran, Qashqai who are tribal Turkic in the center of the country, the Gilaks, Talishis and Mazanis in the Caspian shore, and of course Arabs in the southern and southwestern provinces of the country, Baluches in the southeastern Iran and also Armenians, Georgians, Assyrians etc.

Baluch men and women are still respecting their traditional costumes in daily life

Although it requires a whole separated article, but this diverse ethnicity comes with diverse religions and cultures which is the great and powerful point of this country. The majority of the country, as says the official status are Muslim Shi’a, there are also Muslim Sunnit mostly in the borders of the country. Besides Islam, there is another religion which was born in ancient Persia, the Zoroastrianism, before the Arab invasion in the 7th century, this religion was the official religion of Persia, as one of the most ancient monotheist religions, the Zoroastrians are still practicing their religion in Iran mostly at the center of the country in Kerman and Yazd provinces.

There are also Christians of different churches such as Armenians, Catholics and Assyrians.  The community of Jewish Iranians, although shrinking after the revolution of 1979 but is still present in some cities such as Tehran, Hamadan and Shiraz. There are also smaller group of ancient faiths such as Yaresanism in western Iran and among Kurds and Mandaism in southwestern regions.

Arab tribes living in the southwestern and southern regions of Iran

The Celebration of Diversity and Tolerance

Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of civilizations.

Mahatma Gandhi

As I explained, very briefly, Iran enjoys such a great diversity in religion, in culture, in ethnicity and the manner of thinking and living. The fact might not be as beautiful as pictured here, where there is diversity, there are conflicts, there are racists and totalitarians. This is ordeal to reach unity in diversity and be civilized and tolerance. However, the common point of all of these ethnics is Iran and the love we all share for this land.

Hopefully, this time when you look at the map and you see Iran, you see beyond the stereotypes.

Ethnicities and religions in Iran (wikipedia)