|135–185 million Communities majorly in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Pakistan and also Georgia, Russia, Syria, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Armenia, lsrael, China (Xinjiang), United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, India, Germany, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Canada and the United States.|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Iran and Iranian Plateau, Anatolia, South Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and as immigrant communities in North America and Western Europe.|
|Iranian languages, a branch of the Indo-European family|
|Majority Sunni Islam and sizable Shia Islam, Irreligion, Agnosticism, Atheism, Orthodox Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Georgian Orthodox, Nestorians, Judaism, Bahá'í, Protestantism, Catholicism, Paganism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Other Indo-Iranian speaking groups|
The Iranian peoples or Iranic peoples are a diverse Indo-European ethno-linguistic group that comprise the speakers of Iranian languages. Their areas of settlement were on the Iranian plateau (mainly Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and certain neighbouring areas of Asia (such as parts of the Caucasus, Eastern Turkey, Northeast Syria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Oman, northern Iraq, Northwestern and Western Pakistan) reflecting changing geopolitical range of the Iranian dynasties and the Iranian history. Their current distribution spreads across the Iranian plateau, and stretches from the Caucasus in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south, and from the Xinjiang in the east to eastern Turkey in the west – a region that is sometimes called the "Iranian cultural continent", or Greater Iran by some scholars, and represents the extent of the Iranian languages and significant influence of the Iranian peoples, through the geopolitical reach of the Iranian empire.
The Iranian peoples comprise the present day Persians/Tajiks, Pashtuns, Ossetians, Kurds, Balochs, Zazas, Lurs, Pamiris and their sub-groups of the historic Medes, Massagetaes, Sarmatians, Scythians, Parthians, Alans, Bactrians, Soghdians and other people of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Iranian plateau. Other possible groups are the Cimmerians who are mostly supposed to have been related to either Iranian or Thracian speaking groups or at least to have been ruled by an Iranian elite.
- 1 Name
- 2 History and settlement
- 3 Demographics
- 4 Diversity
- 5 Culture
- 6 Genetics
- 7 See also
- 8 Literature and further reading
- 9 Gallery
- 10 References
- 11 External links
The term Iranian is derived from the Old Iranian ethnical adjective Aryana which is itself a cognate of the Sanskrit word Arya. The name Iran is from Aryānām; lit: "(Land) of the Aryans". The old Proto-Indo-Iranian term Arya, per Thieme meaning "hospitable", is believed to have been one of the self-referential terms used by the Aryans, at least in the areas populated by Aryans who migrated south from Central Asia. Another meaning for Aryan is "noble". In the late part of the Avesta (Vendidad 1), one of their homelands was referred to as Airyanem Vaejah. The homeland varied in its geographic range, the area around Herat (Pliny's view) and even the entire expanse of the Iranian plateau (Strabo's designation).
The academic usage of the term Iranian is distinct from the state of Iran and its various citizens (who are all Iranian by nationality and thus popularly referred to as Iranians) in the same way that Germanic peoples is distinct from Germans. Many citizens of Iran are not necessarily "Iranian peoples" by virtue of not being speakers of Iranian languages. Unlike the various terms connected with the Aryan arya- in Old Indian, the Old Iranian term has solely an ethnic meaning and there can be no doubt about the ethnic value of Old Iran. arya (Benveniste, 1969, I, pp. 369 f.; Szemerényi; Kellens).
The Avesta clearly uses "airya" as an ethnic name (Vd. 1; Yt. 13.143-44, etc.), where it appears in expressions such as airyāfi; daiŋˊhāvō "Iranian lands, peoples," airyō.šayanəm "land inhabited by Iranians," and airyanəm vaējō vaŋhuyāfi; dāityayāfi; "Iranian stretch of the good Dāityā," the river Oxus, the modern Āmū Daryā.
The term "Ariya" appears in the royal Old Persian inscriptions in three different contexts: 1) As the name of the language of the Old Persian version of the inscription of Darius the Great in Behistun; 2) as the ethnic background of Darius in inscriptions at Naqsh-e-Rostam and Susa (Dna, Dse) and Xerxes in the inscription from Persepolis (Xph) and 3) as the definition of the God of Iranian peoples, Ahuramazda, in the Elamite version of the Behistun inscription. For example in the Dna and Dse Darius and Xerxes describe themselves as "An Achaemenian, A Persian son of a Persian and an Aryan, of Aryan stock". Although Darius the Great called his language the Iranian language, modern scholars refer to it as Old Persian because it is the ancestor of modern Persian language.
The Old Persian and Avestan evidence is confirmed by the Greek sources". Herodotus in his Histories remarks about the Iranian Medes that: "These Medes were called anciently by all people Arians; " (7.62). In Armenian sources, the Parthians, Medes and Persians are collectively referred to as Iranians. Eudemus of Rhodes apud Damascius (Dubitationes et solutiones in Platonis Parmenidem 125 bis) refers to "the Magi and all those of Iranian (áreion) lineage"; Diodorus Siculus (1.94.2) considers Zoroaster (Zathraustēs) as one of the Arianoi.
The name of Ariana is further extended to a part of Persia and of Media, as also to the Bactrians and Sogdians on the north; for these speak approximately the same language, with but slight variations.
— Geography, 15.8
The trilingual inscription erected by Shapur's command gives a more clear description. The languages used are Parthian, Middle Persian and Greek. In Greek, the inscription says: "ego ... tou Arianon ethnous despotes eimi"("I am lord of the kingdom (Gk. nation) of the Aryans") which translates to "I am the king of the Iranian people". In the Middle Persian, Shapour states: "ērānšahr xwadāy hēm" and in Parthian he states: "aryānšahr xwadāy ahēm".
The Bactrian language (a Middle Iranian language) inscription of Kanishka the founder of the Kushan empire at Rabatak, which was discovered in 1993 in an unexcavated site in the Afghanistan province of Baghlan, clearly refers to this Eastern Iranian language as Arya. In the post-Islamic era, one can still see a clear usage of the term Iran in the work of the 10th-century historian Hamzeh Isfahani. In his book the history of Prophets and Kings writes: "Aryan which is also called Pars (Persia) is in the middle of these countries and these six countries surround it because the South East is in the hands China, the North of the Turks, the middle South is India, the middle North is Rome, and the South West and the North West is the Sudan and Berber lands". All this evidence shows that the name arya "Iranian" was a collective definition, denoting peoples (Geiger, pp. 167 f.; Schmitt, 1978, p. 31) who were aware of belonging to the one ethnic stock, speaking a common language, and having a religious tradition that centered on the cult of Ahura Mazdā.
History and settlement
The Iranians had domesticated horses, had traveled far and wide, and from the late 2nd millennium BCE to early 1st millennium BCE they had migrated to and settled on the Iranian Plateau. For approximately three centuries after arriving in the region, the Medes and Persians fell under the domination of the Assyrian Empire (911–609 BCE), based in nearby Mesopotamia. In 646 BCE, Susa and many other cities of Elam were plundered and wrecked by Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, allowing the Iranian peoples to become the predominant group in Iran.
After the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BCE, the Assyrian Empire began to unravel due to a series of bitter civil wars. In 616 BCE the Median king Cyaxares came into power, united the Medes and Persians, and in alliance with Nabopolassar of Babylon and the Scythians, attacked the Assyrian Empire. By 609 BCE, the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies had been defeated. This began the Iranian domination in the Iranian Plateau. Persians formed the Achaemenid Empire by the 6th century BCE, while the Scythians dominated the Eurasian steppe. With numerous artistic, scientific, architectural and philosophical achievements and numerous kingdoms and empires that bridged much of the civilized world in antiquity, the Iranian peoples were often in close contact with the Greeks, Romans, Peoples of the Caucasus, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Turks and Arabs. The various religions of the Iranian people, including Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism, are believed by some scholars to have been significant early philosophical influences on Christianity and Judaism.
The Iranians had domesticated horses, had traveled far and wide, and from the late 2nd millennium BCE to early 1st millennium BCE they had migrated to and settled on the Iranian Plateau. After falling under domination of the Assyrian Empire for nearly three centuries, the Median king Cyaxares came into power, united the Medes and Persians and in alliance with Nabopolassar of Babylon and the Scythians, attacked and vanquished the Assyrian Empire. This began the Iranian domination in the Iranian Plateau. Persians formed the Achaemenid Empire by the 6th century BCE, while the Scythians dominated the Eurasian steppe. With numerous artistic, scientific, architectural and philosophical achievements and numerous kingdoms and empires that bridged much of the civilized world in antiquity, the Iranian peoples were often in close contact with the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Indians, Armenians, Peoples of the Caucasus, Chinese, Turks and Arabs. The various religions of the Iranian people, including Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism, are believed by some scholars to have been significant early philosophical influences on Christianity and Judaism.
The language referred to as Proto-Indo-European (PIE): is ancestral to the Celtic, Italic (including Romance), Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Albanian, Armenian, Greek, and Tocharian languages.
'There is an agreement that the PIE community split into two major groups from wherever its homeland was situated (its location is unknown), and whenever the timing of its dispersal (also unknown). One headed west for Europe and became speakers of Indo-European (all the languages of modern Europe save for Basque, Hungarian, Estonian, and Finnish) while others headed east for Eurasia to become Indo-Iranians. The Indo-Iranians were a community that spoke a common language prior to their branching off into the Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages. Iranian refers to the languages of Iran (Iranian), parts of Pakistan (Balochi and Pashto), Afghanistan (Pashto and Dari), and Tadjikistan (Tajiki) and Indo-Aryan, Sanskrit, Urdu and its many related languages.' – (Carl C. Lamberg-Karlovsky: Case of the Bronze Age)
By the early 1st millennium, Ancient Iranian peoples such as Medes, Persians, Bactrians, Parthians and Scythians populated the Iranian plateau, and other Scythian tribes, along with Cimmerians, Sarmatians and Alans populated the steppes north of the Black Sea. The Saka, Scythian, tribes spread as far west as the Balkans and as far east as Xinjiang. Scythians as well formed the Indo-Scythian Empire, and Bactrians formed a Greco-Bactrian Kingdom founded by Diodotus I, the satrap of Bactria. The Kushan Empire, with Bactrian roots/connections, once controlled much of Pakistan, some of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Kushan elite (who the Chinese called the Yuezhi) were either a Tocharian-speaking (another Indo-European branch) people or an Eastern Iranian language-speaking people.
The division into an "Eastern" and a "Western" group by the early 1st millennium is visible in Avestan vs. Old Persian, the two oldest known Iranian languages. The Old Avestan texts known as the Gathas are believed to have been composed by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, with the Yaz culture (c. 1500 BCE – 1100 BCE) as a candidate for the development of Eastern Iranian culture.
Western Iranian peoples
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During the 1st centuries of the 1st millennium BCE, the ancient Persians established themselves in the western portion of the Iranian plateau and appear to have interacted considerably with the Elamites and Babylonians, while the Medes also entered in contact with the Assyrians. Remnants of the Median language and Old Persian show their common Proto-Iranian roots, emphasized in Strabo and Herodotus' description of their languages as very similar to the languages spoken by the Bactrians and Soghdians in the east. Following the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire, the Persian language (referred to as "Farsi" in Persian) spread from Pars or Fars Province to various regions of the Empire, with the modern dialects of Iran, Afghanistan (also known as Dari) and Central-Asia (known as Tajiki) descending from Old Persian.
Old Persian is attested in the Behistun Inscription (c. 519 BCE), recording a proclamation by Darius the Great. In southwestern Iran, the Achaemenid kings usually wrote their inscriptions in trilingual form (Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian) while elsewhere other languages were used. The administrative languages were Elamite in the early period, and later Imperial Aramaic.
The early inhabitants of the Achaemenid Empire appear to have adopted the religion of Zoroastrianism. The Baloch who speak a west Iranian language relate an oral tradition regarding their migration from Aleppo, Syria around the year 1000 CE, whereas linguistic evidence links Balochi to Kurmanji, Soranî, Gorani and Zazaki language.
Eastern Iranian peoples
While the Iranian tribes of the south are better known through their texts and modern counterparts, the tribes which remained largely in the vast Eurasian expanse are known through the references made to them by the ancient Greeks, Persians, Indo-Aryans as well as by archaeological finds. Many ancient Sanskrit texts make references to tribes like Sakas, Paradas, Kambojas, Bahlikas, Uttaramadras, Madras, Lohas, Parama Kambojas, Rishikas, Tukharas or Tusharas etc. and locate them in the (Uttarapatha) (north-west) division, in Central Asia, around Hindukush range in northern Pakistan. The Greek chronicler, Herodotus (5th century BCE) makes references to a nomadic people, the Scythians; he describes them as having dwelt in what is today southern Russia.
It is believed that these Scythians were conquered by their eastern cousins, the Sarmatians, who are mentioned by Strabo as the dominant tribe which controlled the southern Russian steppe in the 1st millennium CE. These Sarmatians were also known to the Romans, who conquered the western tribes in the Balkans and sent Sarmatian conscripts, as part of Roman legions, as far west as Roman Britain.
The Sarmatians of the east became the Alans, who also ventured far and wide, with a branch ending up in Western Europe and North Africa, as they accompanied the Germanic Vandals during their migrations. The modern Ossetians are believed to be the sole direct descendants of the Alans, as other remnants of the Alans disappeared following Germanic, Hunnic and ultimately Slavic migrations and invasions. Another group of Alans allied with Goths to defeat the Romans and ultimately settled in what is now called Catalonia (Goth-Alania).
Some of the Saka-Scythian tribes in Central Asia would later move further southeast and invade the Iranian plateau, large sections of present day Afghanistan and finally deep into present day Pakistan (see Indo-Scythians). Another Iranian tribe related to the Saka-Scythians were the Parni in Central Asia, and who later become indistinguishable from the Parthians, speakers of a northwest-Iranian language. Many Iranian tribes, including the Khwarazmians, Massagetae and Sogdians, were assimilated and/or displaced in Central Asia by the migrations of Turkic tribes emanating out of Xinjiang and Siberia.
The most dominant surviving Eastern Iranian peoples are represented by the Pashtuns, whose origins are generally believed to be from the province of Ghor, from which they began to spread until they reached as far west as Herat, north to areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan; and as eastward towards the Indus. The Pashto language shows affinities to the Avestan and Bactrian.
The modern Sarikoli in southern Xinjiang and the Ossetians of the Caucasus are remnants of the various Saka tribes. The modern Ossetians claim to be the descendants of the Alano-Sarmatians and their claims are supported by their Northeast Iranian language, while culturally the Ossetians resemble their Caucasian neighbors, the Kabardians and Circassians. Various extinct Iranian peoples existed in the eastern Caucasus, including the Azaris, while some Iranian peoples remain in the region, including the Talysh and the Tats (including the Judeo-Tats, who have relocated to Israel), found in Azerbaijan and as far north as the Russian republic of Dagestan. A remnant of the Sogdians is found in the Yaghnobi speaking population in parts of the Zeravshan valley in Tajikistan.
Starting with the reign of Omar in 634 CE, Muslim Arabs began a conquest of the Iranian plateau. The Arabs conquered the Sassanid Empire of the Persians and seized much of the Byzantine Empire populated by the Kurds and others. Ultimately, the various Iranian peoples, including the Persians, Pashtuns, Kurds and Balochis, converted to Islam. The Iranian peoples would later split along sectarian lines as the Persians (and later the Hazara) adopted the Shi'a sect. As ancient tribes and identities changed, so did the Iranian peoples, many of whom assimilated foreign cultures and peoples.
Later, during the 2nd millennium CE, the Iranian peoples would play a prominent role during the age of Islamic expansion and empire. Saladin, a noted adversary of the Crusaders, was an ethnic Kurd, while various empires centered in Iran (including the Safavids) re-established a modern dialect of Persian as the official language spoken throughout much of what is today Iran and adjacent parts of Central Asia. Iranian influence spread to the Ottoman Empire, where Persian was often spoken at court, as well to the court of the Mughal Empire. All of the major Iranian peoples reasserted their use of Iranian languages following the decline of Arab rule, but would not begin to form modern national identities until the 19th and early 20th centuries (just as Germans and Italians were beginning to formulate national identities of their own).
The following either partially descend from Iranian peoples or are sometimes regarded as possible descendants of ancient Iranian peoples:
- Azeris: Although Azeris speak a Turkic language (modern Azerbaijani language), they are believed to be primarily descendants of ancient Iranians. Thus, due to their historical ties with various ancient Iranians, as well as their cultural ties to Persians, the Azeris are often associated with the Iranian peoples (see Origin of Azerbaijani people and the Iranian theory regarding the origin of the Azerbaijanis for more details).
- Turkmens: The Turkmen people are believed to be a mix of Iranian and Turkic ancestry. Genetic studies on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) restriction polymorphism confirmed that Turkmen were characterized by the presence of local Iranian mtDNA lineages, similar to the Eastern Iranian populations, but high male Mongoloid genetic component observed in Turkmens and Hazara in east Iran and Afghanistan with the frequencies of about 20%. This most likely indicates an ancestral combination of Iranian groups and Mongol that the modern Turkmen have inherited and which appears to correspond to the historical record which indicates that various Iranian tribes existed in the region prior to the migration of Turkic tribes who are believed to have merged with the local population and imparted their language and created something of a hybrid Turko-Iranian culture.
- Uzbeks: The modern Uzbek people are believed to have both Iranian and Turkic ancestry. "Uzbek" and "Tajik" are modern designations given to the culturally homogeneous, sedentary population of Central Asia. The local ancestors of both groups – the Turkic-speaking Uzbeks and the Iranian-speaking Tajiks – were known as "Sarts" ("sedentary merchants") prior to the Russian conquest of Central Asia, while "Uzbek" or "Turk" were the names given to the nomadic and semi-nomadic populations of the area. Still today, modern Uzbeks and Tajiks are known as "Sarts" to their Turkic neighbours, the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz. The ancient Soghdians and Bactrians are among their ancestors. Culturally, the Uzbeks are closer to their sedentary Iranian-speaking neighbours rather than to their nomadic and semi-nomadic Turkic neighbours. Some Uzbek scholars, i.e. Ahmadov and Askarov, favour the Iranian origin theory.
- Bulgars: Some modern Bulgarian historians claim that the Bulgars were of Iranian origin and that they migrated to Europe from the region of today's northern Afghanistan – Hindukush mountains, from the Kingdom of Balhara. Their claims are based on medieval Armenian sources, the writings of ancient historians ("Ashharatsuyts" by Anania Shirakatsi; Agathias of Myrina, Theophylact Simocatta, Michael the Syrian) archaeological findings in modern Bulgaria, the similarities with Iranian languages (place names, people names, and Iranian words in modern Bulgarian), similarities with culture (e.g.: some buildings in Pliska were built in a Zoroastrian fashion; similarities in traditional music, dancing and carpet making) and the very close similarity of the DNA of Pamirian/Iranian peoples with that of modern Bulgarians According to Raymond Detrez, who is a specialist in Eastern European and Modern Greek history, such modern views are based on some periods of anti-Turkish sentiments, and the presence of Iranian words in the modern Bulgarian is result of Ottoman Turkish linguistic influence. Mainstream scholarship places the Bulgar language among the "Lir" branch of Turkic languages referred to as "Bulgar Turkic". Other sources also confirm the ethnic heritage or the influence of Iranian peoples on Bulgars.
- A few linguists suggest that the names of the South Slavic peoples, the Serbs and Croats, are of Iranian origin. Those who entertain such a connection propose that the Sarmatian Serboi and Horouthos tribes might have migrated from the Eurasian steppe lands to eastern Europe, and assimilated with the numerically superior Slavs, passing on their name. Iranian-speaking peoples did inhabit parts of the Balkans in late classical times, and would have been encountered by the Slavs. However, direct linguistic, historical or archaeological proof for such a theory is lacking. (See also: Theories on the origin of Serbs and Theories on the origin of Croats)
- Indo-Aryan speakers
- Speakers of Indo-Aryan languages share linguistic affinities with speakers of Iranian languages, which suggests a degree of historical interaction between these two groups.
- Shirazis: The Shirazi are a sub-group of the Swahili people living on the Swahili Coast of East Africa, especially on the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Comoros. Local traditions about their origin claim they are descended from merchant princes from Shiraz in Persia who settled along the Swahili Coast.
There are an estimated 150 to 200 million native speakers of Iranian languages, the five major groups of Persians, Lurs, Kurds, Baloch, and Pashtuns accounting for about 90% of this number. Currently, most of these Iranian peoples live in Iran, Afghanistan, the Caucasus (mainly Ossetia, other parts of Georgia, and Azerbaijan), Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish majority populated areas of Turkey, Iran and Syria, Tajikistan, Pakistan, also Uzbekistan. There are also Iranian peoples living in Eastern Arabia such as northern Oman and Bahrain.
The following is a list of peoples that speak Iranian languages with the respective groups's core areas of settlements and their estimated sizes (in millions):
|Persian-speaking peoples||Iran, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan||
|Pashtuns||Afghanistan and North-western parts of Pakistan||
|Kurds||Turkey, Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria, Armenia||
|Zaza||Turkey, Iran, Iraqi,Syria, Armenia||
|Baluchis||Pakistan, Iran, Oman, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, UAE||
|Gilakis & Mazanderanis||Iran||
|Lurs & Bakhtiaris||Iran, Kuwait, and Oman||
|Pamiri people||Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China (Xinjiang), Pakistan||
|Ossetians||South Ossetia, Georgia,
Russia (North Ossetia), Hungary
|Yaghnobi||Uzbekistan and Tajikistan (Zerafshan region)||
|Zoroastrian groups in India||India|
It is largely through linguistic similarities that the Iranian peoples have been linked, as many non-Iranian peoples have adopted Iranian languages and cultures. However, other common traits have been identified as well, for example, a stream of common historical events have often linked the southern Iranian peoples, including Hellenistic conquests, the various empires based in Persia, Arab Caliphates and Turkic invasions.
Like other Indo-Europeans, the early Iranians practiced ritual sacrifice, had a social hierarchy consisting of warriors, clerics and farmers and poetic hymns and sagas to recount their deeds.
Following the Iranian split from the Indo-Iranians, the Iranians developed an increasingly distinct culture. Various common traits can be discerned among the Iranian peoples. For example, the social event Norouz is an Iranian festival that is practiced by nearly all of the Iranian peoples as well as others in the region. Its origins are traced to Zoroastrianism and pre-historic times.
Some Iranian cultures exhibit traits that are unique unto themselves. The Pashtuns adhere to a code of honor and culture known as Pashtunwali, which has a similar counterpart among the Baloch, called Mayar, that is more hierarchical.
The early Iranian peoples worshipped various deities found throughout other cultures where Indo-European immigrants established themselves. The earliest major religion of the Iranian peoples was Zoroastrianism, which spread to nearly all of the Iranian peoples living in the Iranian plateau. Other religions that had their origins in the Iranian world were Mithraism, Manichaeism, and Mazdakism, among others.
Modern speakers of Iranian languages mainly follow Islam. Some follow Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and the Bahá'í Faith, with an unknown number showing no religious affiliation. Overall the numbers of Sunni and Shia among the Iranian peoples are equally distributed. Most Kurds, Tajiks, Pashtuns, and Baloch are Sunni Muslims, while the remainder are mainly Twelver Shi'a, comprising mostly Persians in Iran, and Hazaras in Afghanistan. Zazas in Turkey are largely Alevi, while the Pamiri peoples in Tajikistan and China are nearly all Ismaili. The Christian community is mainly represented by the Armenian Apostolic Church, followed by the Russian Orthodox and Georgian Orthodox Ossetians followed by Nestorians. Judaism is followed mainly by Persian Jews, Kurdish Jews, Bukharian Jews (of Central Asia) and the Mountain Jews (of the Caucasus), most of whom are now found in Israel. The historical religion of the Persian Empire was Zoroastrianism and it still has a few thousand followers, mostly in Yazd and Kerman. They are known as the Parsis in the Indian subcontinent, where many of them fled in historic times following the Arab conquest of Persia, or Zoroastrians in Iran. Another ancient religion is the Yazidi faith, followed by some Kurds in northern Iraq, as well as the majority of the Kurds in Armenia.
In matters relating to culture, the various Turkic-speaking ethnic groups of Iran (notably the Azerbaijani people) and Afghanistan (Uzbeks and Turkmen) are often conversant in Iranian languages, in addition to their own Turkic languages and also have Iranian culture to the extent that the term Turko-Iranian can be applied. The usage applies to various circumstances that involve historic interaction, intermarriage, cultural assimilation, bilingualism and cultural overlap or commonalities.
Notable among this synthesis of Turko-Iranian culture are the Azeris, whose culture, religion and significant periods of history are linked to the Persians. Certain theories and genetic tests suggest that the Azeris are genetically more Iranian than Turkic.
- J1-M267; typical of Arabian populations, was rarely over 10% in Iranian groups, but as high as 30% in Assyrian minorities of Iran.
- J2-M172: is the most common Hg in Iran (~23%); almost exclusively represented by J2a-M410 subclade (93%), the other major sub-clade being J2b-M12. Apart from Iranians, J2 is common in Mediterranean peoples (Greeks, Italians, Turks), in the Caucasus (Armenians, northern Turkey); whilst its frequency drops suddenly beyond Pakistan and northern India. In Europe, J2a is more common in the southern Greece and southern Italy; whilst J2b (J2-M12) is more common in Thessaly, Macedonia and central – northern Italy. Thus J2a and its subgroups within it have a wide distribution from Italy to India, whilst J2b is mostly confined to the Balkans and Italy, being rare even in Turkey. Whilst closely linked with Anatolia and the Levant; and putative agricultural expansions, the distribution of the various sub-clades of J2 likely represents a number of migrational histories which require further elucidation.
- R1a-M198: is common in Iran, more so in the east and south rather than the west and north; suggesting a migration toward the south to India then a secondary westward spread across Iran. Whilst the Grongi and Regueiro studies did not define exactly which sub-clades Iranian R1a haplogrouops belong to, private genealogy tests suggest that they virtually all belong to "Eurasian" R1a-Z93. Indeed, population studies of neighbouring Indian groups found that they all were in R1a-Z93. This implies that R1a in Iran did not descend from “European” R1a, or vice-versa. Rather, both groups are collateral, sister branches which descend from a parental group hypothesized to have initially lived somewhere between central Asia and Eastern Europe.
- R1b – M269: is widespread from Ireland to Iran, and is common in highland West Asian populations such as Armenians, Turks and Iranians – with an average frequency of 8.5%. Iranian R1b belongs to the L-23 subclade, which is an older than the derivative subclade (R1b-M412) which is most common in western Europe.
- Haplogroup G and subclades: most concentrated in the southern Caucasus, it is present in 10% of Iranians.
- Haplogroup E and various subclades are markers of various northern and eastern African populations. They are present in less than 10% of Iranians (see Afro-Iranians).
Two large – scale papers by Haber (2012) and Di Cristofaro (2013) analyzed populations from Afghanistan, where several Iranian-speaking groups are native. They found that different groups (e.g. Baluch, Hazara, Pashtun) were quite diverse, yet overall:
- R1a (subclade not further analyzed) was the predominant haplogroup, especially amongst Pashtuns and Tajiks.
- The presence of "east Eurasian" haplogroup C3, especially in Hazaras (33-40%), in part linked to Mongol expansions into the region..
- The presence of haplogroup J2, like in Iran, of 5–20%.
- A relative paucity of "Indian" haplgroup H (< 10%).
Internal diversity and distant affinities
Overall, Iranian-speaking populations are characterized by high internal diversity. For Afghanistan, "It is possibly due to the strategic location of this region and its unique harsh geography of mountains, deserts and steppes, which could have facilitated the establishment of social organizations within expanding populations, and helped maintaining genetic boundaries among groups that have developed over time into distinct ethnicities" as well as the "high level of endogamy practiced by these groups". The data ultimately suggests that Afghanistan, like other northern-central Asian regions, has continually been the recipient rather than a source of gene flow. Although, populations from Iran proper are also diverse, J2a-M530 likely spread out of Iran, and constitutes a common genetic substratum for all Iranian populations, which was then modified by further differential gene flows. In Iran, language was a greater determinant of genetic similarity between different groups, whereas in Afghanistan and other areas of northern central Asia, this was not the case.
Overall in Iran, native population groups do not form tight clusters either according to language or region. Rather, they occupy intermediate positions among Near Eastern and Caucasus clusters. Some of the Iranian groups lie within the Near Eastern group (often with such as the Turks and Georgians), but none fell into the Arab or Asian groups. Some Iranian groups in Iran, such as the Gilaki's and Mazandarani's, are genetically virtually identical to South Caucasus ethnic groups, while the small Iranian Baloch ethnic group, being the only outliers who have heavy pulls towards South Asia.
In Afghanistan, Iranian population groups such as the Pashtuns and Tajiks occupy intermediate positions amongst northwestern South Asian ethnic groups, such as along the Baloch, Brahui, Kashmiri's and Sindhi's, with a small minor pull towards West Asia.
Iranians are only distantly related to Europeans as a whole, predominantly with southern Europeans like Greeks, Italians, and Sardinians rather than northern Europeans like Swedes, Danes, English, or the Scottish. Nevertheless, Iranian-speaking Central Asians do show closer affinity to Europeans than do Turkic-speaking Central Asians.
Literature and further reading
- Banuazizi, Ali and Weiner, Myron (eds.). The State, Religion, and Ethnic Politics: Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East), Syracuse University Press (August, 1988). ISBN 0-8156-2448-4.
- Canfield, Robert (ed.). Turko-Persia in Historical Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (2002). ISBN 0-521-52291-9
- Curzon, R. The Iranian People of the Caucasus. ISBN 0-7007-0649-6.
- Derakhshani, Jahanshah. Die Arier in den nahöstlichen Quellen des 3. und 2. Jahrtausends v. Chr., 2nd edition (1999). ISBN 964-90368-6-5.
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