i. In Pre-Islamic times.

ii. Persians in India.

iii. Persians in Southeast Asia.

iv. Persians in Ottoman Turkey.

v. Persians in the Caucasus and Central Asia in the late 19th and early 20th century.

vi. Persians in Iraq.

vii. Persians in southern ports of the Persian Gulf.

viii. In the Post-revolutionary period.

ix. Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

x. Afghan refugees in Persia.




The Achaemenid empire attained its fullest extent under its first three kings; and for the next two centuries or so Iranians colonized in numbers the most attractive of its non-Iranian territories. Alexander’s conquest of the empire in the 4th century B.C.E. led, under his successors, to those colonists being cut off from Persia, but they proved generally able to maintain their ethnic and cultural identity under alien rule for many generations. Those who settled in Babylonia and Armenia are not considered here as part of this diaspora, because Iran in time regained those lands, and Babylonia in particular became an integrated part of the Parthian and Sasanian empires. Information about the original colonists is meager, but at its best for Egypt (largely from Aramaic papyri) and Asia Minor (from notices by Greek writers, a small number of tomb-carvings, Aramaic inscriptions, and significant devices on satrapal coins). There is also the evidence of personal and place names. That of personal names can only be safely used, however, to identify Iranians where there is additional information, or when such names occur in groups, or in significant associations and settings, because during the Achaemenid period Persian names were sometimes adopted quite extensively by their non-Iranian subjects (e.g., in Lydia; Zgusta; Boyce and Grenet, p. 206). Even in post-Achaemenid times some Persian names (notably Miθradāta/Mithradates, and other Mithra-names) were used by non-Iranians in western regions. Conversely, some individuals of Persian descent under Macedonian rule are known to have adopted Greek names. The hereditary high priests (archimagoi) of the temple of Anaitis at Hypaipa in Lydia provide a striking instance (Robert, 1976, pp. 31-33; Boyce and Grenet, p. 224). For all regions except Egypt most of the evidence for the Iranian diaspora comes from post-Achaemenid times.

Most satrapies of the empire were governed by Persians, the wealthier and most important ones being generally entrusted to royal princes; but some of the minor non-Iranian satrapies became hereditary fiefs in the families of Persian nobles, who settled permanently there. Damascus may have been one instance, but the certain examples are Dascylium and Eastern Armenia. All satrapal courts would have been frequented by the local Iranian nobility, and, reflecting the customs and manners of the imperial court, would have been centers of Persian culture. In foreign parts which were attractive to Iranians many Persian landowners received their estates from the king with the duty of rendering military service when called on. Many of these fiefdoms were probably granted as a result of confiscations after conquest, but the smaller populations of those days would also have allowed for new estates to be created in fertile areas. The Iranians were not an urban people, and the way of life which these expatriates followed appears to have reflected that of Iran itself, with the nobles living for much of the year on their estates. In Cappadocia, with important highroads and passes that needed guarding, many hilltop fortresses are recorded (Strabo 12.2.9), a number of which were presumably from Achaemenid times the seats of Persian nobles. In Lydia, with its fertile river-valleys, the only dwelling of a Persian landowner to be described (Xenophon, Anabasis 7.8.9-23) was a fortified manor house on his own estate. He had armed retainers in his service, as well as slaves to work the land; and when the house was attacked by Greek raiders, a beacon was lit which brought a Persian neighbor to his aid, with his own body of fighting men. Some official forces also responded to the alarm, and the marauders were driven off. The incident suggests a number of Persian estates in this, and doubtless other, fertile regions of western Asia Minor, with mutual support among the landowners and in general effective Persian vigilance and control.

The royal road which led from Sardis, Lydia’s capital, east to Susa and Persepolis was said to pass for its whole length “through country that is inhabited and safe” (Herodotus 5.52.3). This great highway made much of central Asia Minor accessible to Iranian colonists, who were attracted by its valleys and wide plains. Noble fiefholders naturally had an interest in developing their estates, and this interest was quickened in them as Zoroastrians, for whom good cultivation of the land is a religious duty. Cyrus the Younger, when satrap in Asia Minor, is reported to have given incentives to “anyone that was a skillful manager, ... stocking the land of which he had the direction and securing income from it” (Xenophon, Anabasis 9.16) and to have been ready himself to labor on his own estates, planting for instance fruit trees with his own hands (Xenophon, Oeconomicus 4.24). It seems that nobles must have brought skilled farmworkers with them from Iran, for in the 4th century C.E. many villages scattered about Cappadocia were entirely inhabited by Iranians, descendants of the original colonists (St. Basil, Letter 258). A satrapal coin from Level Cilicia (a rich and favored area for Iranian settlement) shows on the reverse a ploughman in Iranian clothes, driving a team of oxen (Starr, p. 92). Such country people, living in small, culturally unified communities, appear to have been among the most stable and conservative groups in the Iranian diaspora.

Among them were to be found ex-soldiers. Great centers of imperial power, such as Memphis or Sardis, and important frontier posts were garrisoned by imperial troops, Iranians among them, whose Persian officers formed another element in the provincial aristocracy. Sometimes groups of Iranian soldiers were given grants of land with the obligation to serve again if called on. Achaemenid armies were generally accompanied by women, and the long survival of some of these settlements must owe much to their being, like those of the peasant farmers, ethnically and culturally homogeneous, founded by Iranian families. It is thought that the Hyrcanians who gave their name to Hyrcanis in Lydia (Strabo 13.4.13) were such a group of military colonists, as were the Maebozani of Gölmermere (Robert, 1982; Boyce and Grenet, p. 218). A Greek poet of the 4th century B.C.E. spoke of “Bactrian maidens dwelling beside the Halys river,” that is, in Cappadocia (Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 14.636), and they may well have been among the descendants of Bactrian ex-soldiers.

In nobles’ households there were scribes, probably mostly of Iranian stock and certainly of Iranian cultural heritage, who used Persian chancellery Aramaic as a written language, and whose distant descendants were still to be found in eastern Asia Minor in Roman imperial times, writing letters on their lords’ behalf (Diodorus 19.23; Russell, pp. 47-48.), or drawing up the texts of inscriptions (Grégoire, pp. 434-47; Boyce and Grenet, pp. 268, 272-74). Other scribes must have staffed the satrapal chancelleries and judicial courts, where the most distinguished of their order would have sat as judges. There are records of Persians as members of Babylonian judicial panels (Cook, p. 174). In a trilingual inscription at Xanthos, capital of Lycia (where there is abundant evidence from monuments and personal names of an Iranian presence), the Aramaic text has a sprinkling of Persian words. Recording a religious foundation, it sheds light by its choice of terms on the local Zoroastrianism (Dupont-Sommer; Humbach, pp. 30-32; Boyce and Grenet, p. 476). In the first century C.E. an inscription from near Amorion in Phrygia (by then, at that place, in Greek) records the endowment by a local landowner of an annual soul-ceremony (a characteristic Zoroastrian observance) during the festival of Mehragān (Ramsay; Vermaseren, I, pp. 50-51; Boyce and Grenet, pp. 259-60).

Zoroastrian priests themselves were an important element in the Iranian diaspora. Armies would have been accompanied by many priests, some ministering to officers, others to men, and when ex-soldiers were settled on the land, their priests with their families presumably remained with them. Other priests are likely to have come out with the peasant farmers, and more exalted ones with the nobility. Originally they were known collectively in eastern Mediterranean lands as magousaioi, a Greco-Semitic plural for Persian magu “Mage, priest” (Cumont, 1896-99, I, p. 9, n. 5; Telegdi, p. 229; Boyce and Grenet, p. 256); but in time, locally at least, this term came to be used for Persian colonists generally (Bardesanes, apud Cumont, 1896-99, I, p. 10, n. l.; St. Basil, Letter 258), with Greek magoi used for the priests themselves. As these usages suggest, to outside observers all Iranians were Zoroastrians, ethnic and religious labels being used interchangeably, and this probably reflects the broad reality.

As in Persia, so in the diaspora, in addition to priests who ministered to lay families in the traditional way, there were temple priests. There is a fair amount of information about Zoroastrian sanctuaries in Asia Minor, the oldest according to tradition being at Zela in Pontic Cappadocia, founded in the 6th century B.C.E. by Cyrus II the Great himself or his generals. According to the Iranian custom of worshipping in high places, the sanctuary was established on a hill, banked up yet higher and encircled by a wall (Strabo 11.8.4; Julius Caesar, The Alexandrian Wars, chap. 77; Cumont, 1906, p. 191). Later this hill bore one of the imposing temples to Anāhīd, by which the presence of Iranians is strikingly attested in Asia Minor. One other temple has been identified in Cappadocia, from a fragmentary inscription at ancient Nitalis (Harper), but most are known from Lydia and south-west Phrygia. There were two royal foundations, built by Cyrus the Younger and Artaxerxes II at Hiera Kome (Hierocaesarea) and Hypaipa, and others, probably founded by Persian nobles, at Celenae-Apamea, Gölmermere, Kula, Philadelphia and Sariçam (see Boyce and Grenet, index, s.vv.). Achaemenid foundations have been excavated at Hypaipa, but otherwise the meagre remains (including inscriptions) come from imperial Roman times, when peace returned to the region after many vicissitudes. These temples “of the Persian goddess” flourished then and were wealthy. Their priests were culturally Hellenized (the inscriptions are all in Greek), and the high priests took part in the public life of what was then the Roman province of Asia. But it is recorded that at Hierocaesarea and Hypaipa the liturgies were in an unknown language, presumably Avestan, and sacred fires were reverently maintained (Pausanias 5.27.5-6). The continuance of traditional forms of worship down to this time is attested also for Cappadocia, where there were separate sanctuaries for sacred fires and cult statues (Strabo 15.3.15). The existence of fire temples in the 3rd century C.E. in Syria, Cilicia, Cappadocia, and Armenia is attested in the inscription of the Sasanian high priest Kartīr at Kaʿba-ye Zardošt (l. 8). Temples were clearly important in enabling expatriate Iranian communities to maintain their identity by providing them with centers for religious and social life, while the great holy places, by attracting pilgrims for their annual feast-days, would have brought together Iranians from wide areas. In western Asia Minor records of “Persian” temples cease from the 3rd century C.E. when they were suppressed by Christian edict, but still in the 6th century Ḵosrow I Anōšīravān negotiated with a Byzantine emperor to have fire temples rebuilt in his domains, most probably in Cappadocia (Ṭabarī, I, pp. 1000-01; Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 288; Boyce and Grenet, p. 257).

In the 2nd-3rd centuries C.E. Bardesanes wrote of “the descendants of Persians who lived out of Persia” as being still numerous in Egypt, Phrygia, and Galatia, and maintaining their traditional customs there. Traces of them in Egypt generally amount to little more than proper names, but from the 3rd century B.C.E. there is reference to a mithraion - presumably a Zoroastrian sanctuary - in Fayoum (Wilcken, pp. 71-72.), and there is record from the 4th century C.E. of “Basilios the Persian” practicing, presumably as a member of a community, what appears to have been a popular form of Zoroastrianism (Cumont, 1896-99, II, p. 20, n. 7; Boyce and Grenet, p. 359).

The use of Greek by educated Persians of the western diaspora made possible the circulation of Zoroastrian ideas in the eastern Mediterranean world in Greco-Roman times. Persian poets, may have helped, descendants of the minstrel-poets who undoubtedly found a living among Iranian expatriates of earlier times. The existence has been traced of Persian Sibyllists oracles, probably the first non-Greeks to adopt the genre of Sibylline oracles, through which they conveyed Persian prophecies and expectations (Boyce and Grenet, pp. 370-81). In time such oracles grew generally into longer poems, through which doctrine could be conveyed. It thus appears to have been through Persians of the western diaspora that Zoroastrianism made a powerful contribution to religion and thought in the Hellenistic world.

In the east Iran lost Arachosia and Gandhara under Seleucus I to the Mauryan empire. These were lands of ancient Iranian settlement, which received new colonists in Achaemenid times. Light is shed on the Iranians there chiefly by inscriptions of the 3rd century B.C.E., consisting of translations or paraphrases of the decrees of the emperor Aśoka. These were written in good Persian chancellery Aramaic, with some local usages, and show the scribes to have interpreted Aśoka’s concepts in the light of Zoroastrian beliefs (for references see Boyce and Grenet, pp. 136-45). They evidently had a good knowledge of Northwestern Prakrit; and these eastern Iranians are the likely agents for the postulated contribution of Zoroastrianism to Mahayana Buddhism. Later, under Muslim rule, Zoroastrians of this eastern diaspora are known to have maintained themselves in some numbers locally, but in ever-increasing poverty, down to at least the 17th century C.E. (Firby, p. 70; Boyce, p. 161 n. 35).

Trade took some Iranians further east in the Sasanian period, and small Zoroastrian communities existed in China down into medieval times (Lieu, index s.v. “Zoroastrians”; see CHINESE-IRANIAN RELATIONS i). Their numbers appear to have been increased by fugitives after the Arab conquest of Persia, but little is known of them.


St. Basil, Collected Letters, Loeb Library, 1934, IV, pp. 34-47.

M. Boyce, Zoroastrianism. Its Antiquity and Constant Vigour, Columbia Lectures on Iranian Studies 7, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1992.

M. Boyce and F. Grenet, A History of Zoroastrianism III, Leiden, 1991.

J. M. Cook, The Persian Empire, London, 1983.

F. Cumont, Voyage d’exploration archéologique dans le Pont et la Petite Arménie, n.p., 1906.

Idem, Textes et monuments figurés relatifs aux mystères de Mithra, 2 vols., Brussells, 1896-99.

A. Dupont-Sommer, in Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, 1974, pp. 132-49.

N. K. Firby, European Travellers and Their Perceptions of Zoroastrians in the 17th and 18th Centuries, Berlin, 1988.

H. Grégoire, “Note sur une inscription gréco-araméenne trouvée à Faraša (Ariaramneia-Rhodandos),” Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, 1908, pp. 434-47.

R. P. Harper, “A Dedication to the Goddess Anaitis at Ortaköy (Nitalis ?),” Anatolian Studies 17, 1967, p. 193.

H. Humbach, “Die aramäischen Nymphen von Xanthos,” Die Sprache 27, 1981, pp. 30-32.

S. Lieu, Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China, Manchester, 1985, 2nd ed., Tübingen, 1992.

L. Raditsa, “Iranians in Asia Minor,” Cambr. Hist. of Iran III/1, pp. 100-15.

W. M. Ramsay, “Inscriptions d’Asie Mineure,” Revue des études grecques 2, 1889, pp. 17-37.

L. Robert, “Types monétaires à Hypaipa de Lydie,” Revue numismatique 18, 1976, pp. xx-xx.

Idem, “Mermere antique et moderne. Les carrières, les iraniens,” Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 106, 1982, pp. 367-73.

J. R. Russell, Zoroastrianism in Armenia, Harvard Iranian Series 5, 1987.

N. V. Sekunda, “Achaemenid Colonization in Lydia,” Revue des Études Anciennes 87, 1985, pp. 7-30.

Idem, “Persian Settlement in Hellespontine Phrygia,” Achaemenid History III, ed. A. Kuhrt and H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg, Leiden, 1988, pp. 175-96.

Idem, “Achaemenid Settlement in Caria, Lycia, and Greater Phrygia,” ibid., VI, Leiden, 1991, pp. 83-143.

A. Shahbazi, Irano-Lycian Monuments, Tehran, 1975. C. G. Starr, “Greeks and Persians in the Fourth Century B.C., Part 2,” Iranica Antiqua 12, 1977, pp. 49-115.

S. Telegdi, “Essai sur la phonétique des emprunts iraniens en araméen talmudique,” JA, 1935, pp. 177-256.

M. J. Vermaseren, Corpus Inscriptionum et Monu-mentorum Religionis Mithriacae, The Hague, I, 1956.

S. Wikander, Feuerpriester in Kleinasien und Iran, Lund, 1946.

U. Wilcken, “Papyrus-Urkunden,” Archiv für Papyrusforschung 7, 1924, pp. 71-72.

L. Zgusta, “Iranian names in Lydian inscriptions,” Charisteria Orientalia praecipue ad Persiam pertinentia. Festschrift J. Rypka, ed. F. Tauer et al., Prague, 1956, pp. 397-400.








The first major migration of Persians to Anatolia in the Islamic era occured in the 13th century when the invading Mongol armies laid waste much of the country. The majority (including Najm-al-Dīn Dāya and the family of the mystic and poet Rūmī) were from Khorasan, which was totally devastated by the Mongols. The next wave of the Persian diaspora to Anatolia started under the Safavids due to the religious persecution of the Sunnis in Persia and the Ottoman occupations of Azerbaijan and the susequent deportation of skilled workers to Anatolia. The third wave took place in the 19th century, this time due to favorable commercial conditions after the opening of the Tabrīz-Trabzon-Istanbul trade route in the 1830s (Zarrinbaf-Shahr, 1993, pp. 207-08). In the 19th century the most numerous groups of Persians in Ottoman Turkey were merchants who traveled constantly between the Persian commercial centers and the Ottoman cities. Some of them eventually settled permanently in the Ottoman empire.

The Mongol empire, linking China to Persia and Russia, stimulated trade between the East and the West. The silk route started in China and passed through Central Asia and Persia, ending up in Anatolia. With the rise of the Ottoman state, the trade route shifted farther west to Bursa, the Ottoman capital. In the 15th century, caravan trade between Tabrīz and Bursa increased greatly in volume. Persian merchants, mostly from Tabrīz and Gīlān, dominated the silk trade between these two commercial centers. They had their own caravansary (ʿajam ḵānī) in Bursa, which was built by Bayezid II in 1490 (Inalcik, p. 52).

The beginning of Ottoman-Safavid conflict inflicted heavy economic losses on the Persian merchants in Bursa, many of whom chose to settle in Aleppo and Istanbul, where Selim I’s ban on the sale of Persian silk was not effective (Masters, pp. 29-30). The third most important Ottoman center for Persian merchants was the city of Izmir, which became an important commercial center in the 17th century and offerred new trading opportunities with the Venetian, French, Dutch, and British merchants who were turning to Izmir in increasing numbers (Goffman, p. 141).

The treaty of Erzurum in 1238/1823 initiated a new era in Persian-Ottoman relations. It reduced and regularized the customs rates on Persian goods. Persian merchants were required to pay only 4 percent customs duties on their goods, a rate equal to that charged to Ottoman Muslim merchants. Besides, they became exempt from all extra dues, tolls, and taxes. A later treaty signed in 1263/1847, entitled the two governments to appoint consuls (bālyūz) in each other’s major cities and ports to protect the interests of their subjects (Ecnebi, pp. 4, 8). The opening of the Istanbul-Trabzon-Tabrīz route in 1830 provided a major boost to trade between the two states. Trabzon became the entrepôt for Tabrīz, which had suffered an economic setback due to a shift in the trade route to the Persian Gulf in the 17th century. Europeans also carried on the bulk of their trade with Tabrīz via this route (Zarinebaf-Shahr, 1993, p. 208). The number of Persian merchants in Istanbul rose greatly in the second half of the 19th century. According to Ḵān-Malek Sāsānī (pp. 94-95, 107-08), the Persian consul in Istanbul , the number of Persian families residing in Istanbul had grown to about 4,000 families by the end of the 19th century, 80 percent of whom were from Azerbaijan. They included prosperous rug merchants, booksellers, factory owners, shopkeepers, coachmen, etc. Merchants were concentrated in the Valide Hani at the commercial heart of the city, where they also held religious processions in the month of Moḥarram. It became an active center for the dissemination of news about Persia during the Constitutional Revolution (1324-27/1906-09).

According to Table 26, major concentrations of Persians in Anatolia were in commercial centers located on a trade route stretching from Erzurum to Izmir. The sharp drop in their number within thirty-one years may be explained by the decline in trade between the two countries and a rise in the number of those who took Ottoman citizenship. According to Sāsānī (pp. 95-97), the Young Turk government encouraged the Azeri Persians to become Ottoman citizens and did not enforce on them the regulation preventing Persians from marrying Ottoman subjects. This regulation, established in 1286/1869, provided that the children of Persians from an Ottoman mother automatically became Ottoman subjects (Ecnebi, I, p. 17). Persians of Istanbul had their own cemetery in the Asian part of the city. The cemetery is said to have been constructed originally by the daughter of Shah Sultan Ḥosayn, Ḥūrī Solṭān, in 1774 (Zarcone, 1992). It was enlarged in 1290/1873. A study by Thierry Zarcone shows a sharp increase in the number of tombs in the 19th century. Zarcone has estimatd that three-quarters of the deceased were from Azerbaijan (1992, p. 2).

The well-established and prosperous Persian community in Istanbul attracted many Persian intellectuals who feared persecution in Persia on the eve of the Constitutional Revolution. The Persian newspapers Aḵtar and Šams, which were printed in Istanbul, voiced the discontent and the political demands of the Persian community there. Following Moḥammad-ʿAlī Shah’s coup in the summer of 1326/1908 (see EIr VI, pp. 176-87), the number of Persian refugees in the Ottoman Turkey increased again. They formed the political association, Anjoman-e saʿādat, which was active promoting the Constitutional Revolution.


Aḵtar (newspaper), nos. 1-10, 1908-09.

Cevdet dahiliye 4312. Ecnebi defteri I, pp. 1-26.

S. Deringil, “The Struggle against Shiʿism in Hamidian Iraq,” Die Welt Des Islam 30, 1990, pp. 45-62.

E. Glassen, “Muharrem Ceremonies (azādāri) in Istanbul at the End of the 19th and the Beginning of the 20th Centuries,” in Th. Zarcone and F. Zarinebaf-Shahr, eds., Les Iraniens D’Istanbul, Louvain, 1993, pp. 113-40.

D. Goffman, Izmir and the Levantine World, 1550-1650, Seattle, 1989, p. 141.

H. Inalcik, “Bursa I. XV Asir Sanayi ve Ticaret Tarihine Dair Vesikalar,” Belleten 24, 1960, pp. 45-65.

A. Ḵān-Malek Sasānī, Yādbūdhā-ye sefārat-e Estānbūl, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975.

B. Masters, The Origins of Western Economic Dominance and the Islamic Economy in Aleppo, 1600-1750, New York, 1988.

M.-A. Rīāḥī, Zabān o adab-e fārsī dar qalamrow-e ʿOṯmānī, Tehran, 1369 Š./1990, pp. 150-70.

Šams (newspaper), nos. 2-7, 1880-81.

T. Zarcone, “The Persian Cemetery of Istanbul,” paper presented at a conference entitled “Art funeraire et cimetiere dans le monde Islamique,” Istanbul, September 1991.

Idem and F. Zarinbaf-Shahr, eds., Les Iraniens d’Istanbul, Louvain, 1993.

F. Zarinebaf-Shahr, Tabriz under Ottoman Rule, 1725-1730, Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of Chicago, 1991.




The number of Persians in the Russian empire or its territories increased steadily in the second half of the 19th century. They consisted primarily of migrants from Persia’s northern provinces (chiefly Azer-baijan), who traveled to Caucasus and, to some extent, to Central Asia in search of employment. Although the bulk of migrants were involved in some form of short-term or circular migration, many stayed in Russia for longer periods or even settled there.

The first traces of migration were recorded as early as 1855. The British consul in Tabrīz, K. E. Abbott, reported more than 3,000 passes issued by the Russian consulate in two months alone (Seyf, pp. 161-62). However, the process gathered pace after the 1880s, and by the turn of the century it had achieved a scale and consistency that was sufficient to win the attention of many scholars, travelers, and commentators of the time (Orsolle, p. 49; Gordon p. 9; Wigham, p. 402; for a study of the phenomenon see Hakimian, 1985 and 1990) .

According to the returns from the first national census of Russia, some 74,000 Persian subjects were enumerated in the various parts of the empire as of 28 January 1897 (see Table 27). Of these roughly 28 percent (21,000) were females. The largest single grouping was in the Caucasus region, which accounted for 82 percent of the total. Within the region the four major towns of Baku, Elisavetpol (Ganja), Erivan, and Tbilisi accounted for as many as 53,000 or about 72 percent of all Persians in the whole empire. Next to Caucasus in numbers of Persian residents was Central Asia, where numbers surpassed 10,000. According to the same source, Persian-speakers (as distinct from Persian subjects) numbered only about 32,000, suggesting the predominence of Azeri-speaking Azerbaijanis among the migrants.

Other records of the migratory movements or of Persians residing in Russia are not as systematic and reliable as those in Table 1. Many travelers’ accounts and political memoirs attest to the importance of the numbers involved, yet they are often contradictory or incomparable. Further useful information is, however, available from data on passports and visas issued at the Russian consulates in Tabrīz, Mašhad, Rašt, and Estarābād (Ethner, p. 60). These data reinforce a picture of consistently rising numbers of Persian travelers to Russia, averaging about 13,000 per year for the period 1876-1890 and rising to over 67,000 at the turn of the century. By 1913 over a quarter of a million Persians (274,555) were reported to have entered Russia (Entner, p. 60). However, this excludes illegal migration, which by many accounts was also substantial (Sobotsinskii, apud Entner, p. 60, gives the figure of 200,000 illegal immigrants for 1911; Belova, p. 114). Equally large numbers of Persians were reported to have left Russia each year (e.g., 213,373 in 1913). It has been estimated that net immigration to Russian territories amounted to about 25,000 each year on average between 1900-13. The total number of Persians in Russia before World War I is thus likely to have been about half a million (Hakimian, 1990, pp. 49-50).

Characteristics. An overwhelming majority of these migrants, and particularly those from Azerbaijan, were common laborers in pursuit of work. It is believed that the largest numbers left Persia regularly around April and September, when agricultural work in Transcaucasia was at its peak; movements declined subsequently in summer and winter (Minorsky, p. 206). The rest of the immigrants came from a variety of social background and included merchants, traders, artisans, etc. who traveled to Russian empire in the face of expanding economic relations between the two countries (Mašrūṭa, p. 85). Data on the social composition of migrants are rare, but according to Russian consular reports as high as 93 percent of the total 59,121 visas issued in Tabrīz in 1904 were issued to workers. For Rašt the corresponding figure was much lower, about 27 percent of a total of 3,027, suggesting the importance of trade and mercantile activities for travelers from the Caspian littoral (Minorsky, p. 205).

Minorsky’s visa data also show Azerbaijan as the principal Persian province from which migrants set off for Russia: 90 percent of all permits issued in 1904 were issued in Azerbaijan (59,121 in Tabrīz and 3,148 in Urmia compared with 5,459 in Mašhad, 3,027 in Rašt, and 652 in Estarābād respectively; Minorsky, p. 205). Parallel to this, many peasants left Khorasan each winter to seek work in Central Asia (Sykes, p. 392). Others departed from as far south as Sīstān, although their number was far more modest (Abdullaev, pp. 51-52).

Most Persians took up simple manual jobs in Russian towns or in the countryside. In some parts such as Elisavetpol, agricultural lands were almost exclusively operated by Persians who took up occupations normally refused by local workers on grounds of inferior pay and conditions of work (Belova, p. 115). Similar accounts are available from the Baku guberniya and Tbilisi, where many Persians worked in the cotton fields on a seasonal basis. Persians were also attracted to a variety of other occupations. In Baku they reportedly worked as shopkeepers, mechanics, masons, carpenters, coachmen, carters, and laborers (Gordon, p. 8).

As a measure of their dexterity, Persians had earned themselves a reputation of being the “best masons” in Transcaucasia (Orsolle, p. 49). Most new buildings in Tbilisi were attributed to Persian construction workers and masons. In Baku much loading and unloading of ships relied on porters from Ḵalḵāl and Ardabīl. Many also toiled on the roads and in railway construction (e.g., on the Trans-Caspian railway and the new railway from Tbilisi to Alexandropol and Kars; Gordon, pp. 8-9).

In many branches of production in the Caucasus Persians comprised sizeable proportions of the work force. In the Baku oil industry, for instance, their numbers and share in the work force rose steadily after 1893: from 11 percent in 1893 to 29.1 percent in 1915, constituting the largest single national grouping in the industry, which reached a total of 13,500 by 1915 (Abdullaev, p. 51). Similarly, in the province of Elisavetpol over a quarter of permanent workers in the copper smelting plant of Kedabek were Persians (Belova, p. 116).

The majority of these Persians, however, held low-paying jobs that had little or no security. Average daily earnings of unskilled Persians in 1904 are reported as 60-70 kopeks, or 20 kopeks lower than the general average rate of pay. Persian dock workers in Baku worked fifteen to eighteen hours a day (often at night), ate badly, and many slept under trees and in gardens (Belova, p. 118). According to another source, the fact that most Persians of Tbilisi shared one room among three or four people hampered attempts to contain the periodic incidence of cholera in the town (Dāneš, p. 316). Moreover, under a 1903 law, foreign workers were denied the protection of safety regulations at work. Even the oil workers in Baku were no exception to this. Their economic and political insecurity was highlighted during the 1905 labor unrests, when thousands were forcibly extradited (Belova, p. 121).

Causes. Much of the critical literature around the Constitutional period has identified growing economic hardship and political oppression at home, in particular affecting the peasant, as the principal forces behind the Persians’ drive into Russia in the closing decades of the last century (Marāḡaʾī, pp. 24-25; Reżāzāda Malek, p. 13; Chaqueri, IV, pp. 82, 99; Pavlovitch, p. 625; Kazemi and Abrahamian, pp. 294-95; Mašrūṭa, p. 85; Ādamīyat and Nāṭeq, pp. 378-96). Although relevant, however, it is doubtful whether economic and political factors alone can provide an adequate explanation of this phenomenon (Hakimian, 1990, pp. 55-57). Other writers have stressed the role of incentives, namely, savings opportunities in the face of better work prospects and differential earnings abroad, which were accentuated by the depreciation of the Persian currency (Gordon, p. 9; Gilbar, p. 153; Wigham, p. 402; Orsolle, p. 49). Russia’s powerful economic drive and industrial transformation in the closing decades of the century and the attendant critical labor shortages in the bordering provinces are thought to have reinforced these opportunities for migrants (Hakimian, 1990, pp. 57-62; Belova, pp. 115-16). Limited data on currency remittances by returning migrants seem to reinforce this picture. Minorsky gives a figure of 1.8 million rubles for Azerbaijani migrants alone in 1904 (p. 211); Entner cites 3 million rubles converted by the Russian Bank in 1909 (p. 61). Both figures exclude unofficial transactions.

Social and political significance. Interaction with the Russian society and polity in general helped to widen many migrants’ social and political awareness. It also fostered socialist thinking and values among them, leading some observers to attribute the emergence of an industrial working class in Persia to the migratory movements in these years (Abdullaev, p. 50). With the rise of the social democratic movement in the Caucasus Persian migrants, helped by the Hemmat organization in Baku (estab. 1904), founded the group Ejtemāʿīyūn-e ʿāmmīyūn (q.v.) with subsequent branches in Persian towns (Tehran, Mašhad, and Tabrīz; Chaqueri, I, pp. 16, 35-36). Revolutionary assistance to comrades in Persia included, inter alia, the delivery of printed propaganda from Caucasus and the despatch of militant workers from the Caucasus to fight alongside Sattār Khan during the seige of Tabrīz (Tria, pp. 324-33).

According to other accounts too, the politicization of Persian workers in Russia was extensive during a period beset by revolutionary turmoil in both countries. In the 1906 strike in the copper mines and plants of Alaverdi in Armenia about 2,500 Persian Azerbaijanis were believed to constitute the core of strikers (Abdullaev, p. 51). This politicization was also reflected in the forcible extraditions of 1905 referred to above (Belova, p. 121).

Persians also took part in political activities between World War I and the October Revolution. In 1914 workers residing in Baku took part in street demonstrations against the outbreak of war (Chaqueri, IV, p. 48). Soon after the October Revolution, a group of Persian workers in Baku founded the party ʿEdālat, which was to become the Communist Party of Persia in 1920.


Z. Z. Abdullev, “Bourgeoisie and Working Class, 1900s,” in Issawi, pp. 42-52; F. Ādamīyat and H. Nāṭeq, Afkār-e ejtemaʿī wa sīāsī dar āṯār-e montašer našoda-e dawrān-e Qājār, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977.

N. K. Belova, “Ob Otkhodnichestve iz Severozapadnogo Irana, v Kontse XIX- nachale XX Veka,” Voprosy Istoriĭ 10, 1956, pp. 112-21.

C. Chaqueri (Ḵ. Šākerī), ed., Asnād-e tārīḵī-e jonbeš-e kārgarī, sosīāl-demokrāsī wa komūnīstī-e Īrān I, Florence, 1969; IV. Āṯār-e Avetīs Solṭānzāda, rev. ed. Tehran and Florence, 1986. Mīrzā Reżā Khan Dāneš, Īrān-e dīrūz, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966.

M. L. Entner, Russo-Persian Commercial Relations, 1828-1914, The University of Florida Monographs 28, Gainsville, 1965.

G. G. Gilbar, “Persian Agriculture in the Late Qajar Period, 1860-1906.

Some Economic and Social Aspects,” Asian and African Studies 12, pp. 312-65.

E. Gordon, Persia Revisited, London, 1896.

Ḥājj Zayn-al-ʿĀbedīn Marāḡaʾī, Sīāḥat-nāma-ye Ebrāhīm Beg, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974.

H. Hakimian, “Wage, Labor and Migration. Persian Workers in Southern Russia,” IJMES 17/4, 1985, pp. 443-62.

Idem, Labour Transfer and Economic Development. Theoretical Perspectives and Case Studies from Iran, Hemel Hempstead, 1990.

Idem, in IJMES 17/4, 1985, pp. 443-62.

C. Issawi, ed., The Economic History of Iran 1800-1914, Chicago, 1971.

F. Kazemi and E. Abrahamian, “The Non-revolutionary Peasantry of Modern Iran,” Iranian Studies 11, 1978, pp. 259-304.

V. Minorsky, “Dvizhenie persidskikh rabochikh na promysly v Zakavkaze,” Sbornik Konsulskikh Doneseniy (Consular Reports) 3, St. Petersburg, 1905.

E. Orsolle, La Caucase et la Perse, Paris, 1885.

M. Pavlovitch, “La situation agraire en Perse à la veille de la révolution,” RMM 12, December 1910, pp. 616-25.

R. Reżāzāda Malek, Ḥaydar Ḵān-e ʿAmū Oḡlī, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973.

A. Seyf, Some Aspects of Economic Development in Iran, 1800-1906, Ph.D. dissertation, Reading University, U.K., 1982.

P. Sykes, A History of Persia, 2 vols., II, London, 1930.

T. Tria, “La caucase et la Révolution Persane,” RMM 13, 1911, pp. 324-33.

N. Troinitsky, ed., Premier re-censement général de la population de l’Empire de Russie, 1897. Relevée général pour tout l’Empire des resultats du depouillement des données du premier recensement de la population en 1897, St. Petersburg, 1905, I, pp. 236-37, 244-45; II, pp. 6-7, 24-25, 42-43, 60-61, 78-79.

H. J. Wigham, The Persian Problem, London, 1903.




Shiʿite Persian merchants first came to Iraq during the two periods of Safavid occupation of the country (914-40/1508-33 and 1032-48/1622-38), procuring a good share of the commerce of Baghdad (Longrigg, pp. 19, 57). Early in the 17th century there were still no Persians in Baṣra, the population of which was composed mainly of Arabs and some Turks (Teixeira, pp. 27-30). At that time there were a few thousand Persians in Karbalā, Najaf, Kāẓemayn, and Baghdad. Many of them, however, escaped to Persia following the second Ottoman occupation of Baghdad in 1048/1638, which had resulted in the killing of some 1,700 Persians (ʿAzzāwī, IV, pp. 229, 234-35). The Persian colony in Iraq until 1638 was composed mostly of merchants and other individuals who came to the country in search of economic opportunities. There were no significant numbers of Persian students and ʿolamāʾ in Iraq at that time, since the main Shiʿite academic centers were in Persia.

It was only from the 18th century that Persian ʿolamāʾ and students arrived in Iraq on a massive scale. The capture of Isfahan by the Sunni Afghans in 1135/1722 displaced hundreds of families of ʿolamāʾ, many of whom fled to Iraq during 1135-77/1722-63. The center of Shiʿite scholarship shifted from Persia to Iraq, first to Karbalā and then to Najaf. At that time the Persian language gained much ground in Karbalā, Najaf, Baghdad, and Baṣra. In Karbalā and Najaf, the Persian religious families managed to overshadow the Arab ʿolamāʾ and succeeded in dominating the religious circles (Kerkūklī, pp. 52-63; Amīn, II, pp. 22-25; ʿAzzāwī, IV, pp. 269-70; Perry, pp. 172, 220; Cole, pp. 5, 20, 22, 26). By the 20th century Persians were also to be found in significant numbers in Baghdad, Baṣra, and Tawayrej. The socio-economic and religious position of Persians in Iraq was bolstered by Ottoman-Qajar agreements (e.g., Treaty of Erzurum in 1823, see Hurewitz, I, p. 220) which facilitated the influx of pilgrims, and regulated the corpse traffic, from Persia to the shrine cities. Their privileged status, relative importance, and large proportion among the population of the shrine cities, most notably in Karbalā, gave the Persians an advantage over the Arab Shiʿite population of Iraq, enabling the Persians to retain their vested economic interests and strong socio-religious links with their families and co-religionists in Persia.

The Persian community in Iraq enjoyed the status of Persian subjects, over whom Persian consular offices held extra-territorial jurisdiction. The status of Persians in the country was a major cause of strained Ottoman-Qajar relations even after their privileges were officially confirmed in 1292/1875. An agreement between the two states recognized the status of Persian consuls and consular dragomans in the Ottoman empire as carrying the same privileges enjoyed by their European counterparts. The exclusive authority of the Persian consuls over Persian subjects in matters of civil and criminal law and of succession was affirmed by the 1875 agreement. While Persian subjects were declared amenable to the jurisdiction of Ottoman courts in cases of violation of the law, and in mixed civil and commercial cases, certain powers of assistance and protection in the proceedings were reserved for the Persian consular representatives. The agreement also established the exemption of Persian subjects from taxes to which Ottoman subjects were liable. Although it was declaired that all provisions relating to Persian subjects in the Ottoman empire should equally apply to Ottoman subjects in Persia, Persians were the main beneficiaries of the agreement (Lorimer, Gaz-etteer I, pt. 1B, p. 1425).

The formation of the modern state of Iraq in 1921 changed the privileged status of Persians. Iraq was no longer the frontier to which Persian nationals could emigrate as easily as in the past. The state’s advocacy of Pan-Arabism also served to undermine the position of Persians. The blow to their status was reinforced by the policies of the Iraqi government and by Persia’s diminishing influence in Iraq. Following the establishment of the monarchy, both British officials and successive Iraqi governments gave much attention to the question of Persians in Iraq. British Officials argued that there was no need to accord Persians the privileges and capitulations enjoyed by European nationals under the Anglo-Iraqi agreement of 1924 (Nakhash, p. 100).

The Iraqi government was anxious to diminish Persian influence in the country. In an effort to abolish the privileges and immunities enjoyed by Persian nationals in Iraq, successive Iraqi governments adopted and implemented a series of laws and regulations. The Iraqi Nationality law of 1924 had an impact on virtually every person of Persian origin residing in Iraq. Under this law, Persians were automatically considered Iraqi nationals unless they themselves renounced such status by a fixed date, which was extended twice until set for January 1928. The Iraqi Nationality law was followed by the introduction in 1927 of a law prohibiting the employment of foreigners in government posts. A law regulating the appointments and promotions of civil as well as religious judges was introduced in 1929. Among other things, it prohibited the appointment of persons who had not acquired Iraqi nationality and did not have a good knowledge of Arabic as religious judges (qāżīs) in the religious (šarʿī) courts. In December 1935 the Iraqi parliament passed a law which prohibited foreign nationals from practicing certain trades and works. It applied to various crafts and professions traditionally practiced by Persian residents in the shrine cities. Holy shrine regulations 25 of 1948 and 42 of 1950 had a direct impact on Persian functionaries and servants at the shrines. The administration of the shrines was given to the director general of awqāf and it was stipulated that all servants of the shrines should be Iraqi nationals subject to the Directory of awqāf (Dāʾerat al-awqāf; Nakash, pp. 100-02).

The number of Persians in Iraq on the eve of the formation of the monarchy was put by the British rough census of 1919 at 80,000 (FO 371/4152/175918). It may very well be, however, that the number of Persians in Iraq was higher than 80,000, particularly if one takes into account cases of mixed marriages and families whose members resided in Iraq for several generations. The number of Persians in Iraq decreased markedly under the monarchy. The decrease was most noticeable in Karbalā. Whereas early in the 20th century Persians constituted some 75 percent of the city’s population, by 1957 their percentage had decreased sharply to some 12 percent (Iraq census of 1957, I, pt. 3, p. 75). Persians had either accepted Iraqi nationality or left the country.

The position of Persians in Iraq was further undermined under the Baʿṯ regime (1968). It was estimated that some 60,000 Shiʿites of Persian origin were deported from Iraq to Persia in 1974. Further deportations took place in the period leading up to the Iran-Iraq war and in the month that preceded the war in 1980, when some 35,000 Shiʿites of Persian origin were said to have been deported from Iraq to Persia (Gotleib, p. 154; The Washington Post, 11 April 1980, p. A18). The deportation of Shiʿites who were accused of being of Persian origin, was facilitated by the introduction of Law no. 666 of May 1980. This law enabled the government to abrogate the Iraqi citizenship of every citizen of a foreign origin who was found disloyal to the state. Implementation of this law resulted in massive deportations of Shiʿites who were accused of being of Persian origin (ʿOḏrī, pp. 281-94).

See also ʿATABĀT; IRAQ.


M. Amīn, Maʿāden al-jawāher wa nozhat al-ḵawāṭer II, Beirut, 1981.

ʿA. ʿAzzāwī, Taʾrīḵ al-ʿErāq bayna eḥtelālayn IV-V, Baghdad, 1949-53.

F. Barrak, al-Madāres al-yahūdīya wa’l-īrānīya fi’l-ʿErāq. Derāsa moqārena, Baghdad, 1984.

J. Cole, “Shiʿi Clerics in Iraq and Iran, 1722-1780.

The Akhbari-Usuli Conflict Reconsidered,” Iranian Studies 18, 1985, pp. 3-33.

Gotleib, “Sectarianism and the Iraqi State,” in M. Curtis, ed, Religion and Politics in the Middle East, Boulder, 1981, pp. 153-56.

Iraq Census, Modīrīyat al-nofūs al-ʿāmma. al-Majmūʿa al-eḥṣāʾīya le-tasjīl ʿāmm1957, Baghdad, 196.

J. C. Hurewitz, ed., The Middle East and North Africa. A Documentary Record, 2 vols., 2nd ed. New York, 1975.

R. Kerkūklī, Dawḥat al-wozarāʾ fī taʾrīḵ waqāʾeʿ Baḡdād al-zawrāʾ, Beirut and Baghdad, n.d.

Y. Nakash, “The Shiʿites of Iraq, Princeton, N.J., 1994.

ʿA.-K. ʿOḏrī, Moškelāt al-ḥokm fi’l-ʿErāq, London, 199.

J. Perry, Karim Khan Zand: A History of Iran, 1747-1779, Chicago, 1979.

P. Teixeira, The Travels of Pedro Teixeira, tr. W. Sinclair, London, 1802.

1919 Census of Iraq by Religion, FO 371/4152/175918.




The history of Persian settlement on the southern coast of the Persian Gulf dates from as early as the Sasanian period. Early settlers have to some extent been absorbed into the local population, whereas many of the immigrants of modern times are still considered as Persian nationals.

Immigration of Persian nationals to the Arab coasts of the Persian Gulf in more modern times began in the mid-19th century when the Qāsemī family’s rule in Sharjah expanded and its influence in the Musandam Peninsula grew wider. Its ties with the Qāsemīs of Bandar Lenga in Persia encouraged many Persian families of the coastal regions of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Gulf of Oman to migrate to the opposite coasts. The early immigrants were of the merchant class who initially settled in Sharjah. As the silting up of Sharjah’s creek affected its commercial significance in the early 20th century, the Persian merchants gradually left Sharjah for the growing town of Dubai. Immigration of Persians to Kuwait and Bahrain also increased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Hay, p. 120).

Under Karīm Khan Zand (1163-93/1750-79) Persia recaptured the port of Baṣra from the Ottomans in 1190/1776, which caused British merchants and many of Baṣra residents to leave this city for Kuwait (Taylor, pp. 26-27). When Baṣra was reoccupied by the Ottomans at the turn of the 19th century, Kuwait continued its new significance as a commercial center of the Persian Gulf. This commercial significance, together with the interactions between Kuwait and the Persian provinces of Ḵūzestān and Fārs, encouraged a number of Persian merchants to migrate to Kuwait. Bahrain’s political predicament vis-à-vis invasions of the Omanis, the Wahhābīs, the Turks and the British in the mid-19th century drew Bahrain closer to Persia in general and the governorates of Būšehr and Lenga in particular. When in the 1860s Bahrain’s authorities established close ties with Persia as a dependent state, a sizable number of Persians moved there (Qāʾemmaqāmī, p. 42). The next wave of Persian immigrants moved to Bahrain in the 1920s.

Sweeping reforms under Reżā Shah Pahlavī (1304-20 Š./1925-41), including the banning of women’s traditional veil and introduction of compulsory military service, encouraged the more traditionalist families of the southern regions of Persia to move across the sea to Kuwait, Qatar, and the Trucial States (now United Arab Emirates; Hay, p. 120). Traveling between Persia and the ports of the southern coast of the Persian Gulf was, up to the year 1324 Š./1945, free of any restrictions. In fact economic and social ties between the two shores were so close that any attempt to restrict frequentation was doomed to fail. Everyone from the southern coast was entitled to a boundary pass permit and could remain in Persia indefinitely (Hay, p. 148). Persia introduced some regulations in 1324 Š./1945, and in 1338 Š./1959 restriction of movements to and from Persia was implemented (Hay, p. 148).

The success of the first groups of new immigrants in the southern coast resulted in their supremacy over the economy, especially in Dubai, where the state became dependent on its mercantile interaction with the Persian coast, which in turn led to exceptionally friendly relations with Persia. The socio-economic success of early Persian immigrants of the modern times encouraged new waves of Persian immigrants, which began in the 1950s when Persia was going through a long period of economic and political uncertainty. An economic boom in the Arab Emirates in the 1950s and 1960s provided further incentive for immigration, which continued until the early 1970s when the Persian economy started to prosper. Of the new immigrant families, the Behbahānī and Maʿāref of Kuwait, the Jawaherī and Ḵonjī of Bahrain, the Darvīš of Qatar, and the Galahdārī of Dubai have substantial economic and political influence (Mojtahed-Zadeh, 1993, p. 9).

Persian immigrants in Kuwait, the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain, experienced a great deal of ethnic and religious confrontation, but not in Dubai and other emirates (Mojtahed-zadeh, 1994, p. 173). The 1970 census of the state of Kuwait placed the number of Persian immigrants at 39,129, which comprised 5 percent of a total population of 800,000 (Population Census, Kuwait, 1970).

With the influx of immigrants from other countries to Kuwait in the 1950s, about 40-50,000 of older generations of Persian immigrants found it necessary to assume Kuwaiti nationality to keep their economic stronghold (Razavian, p. 150). The number of Persian immigrants in Kuwait was put at 19,919 in 1957; 30,790 in 1965; and 39,129 in 1970 or 9 percent of the total population (Population Census of Kuwait, 1970). Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait (August 1990-January 1991) led to the displacement of about half of Kuwait’s population of 2 million. Of these, about 5,000 Persian fa-milies went to Persia (Echo of Iran, p. 3). Restoration of the state of Kuwait in January 1991 was followed by the adoption of a new policy of reducing that emirate’s population to about 1 million. Implementation of this policy has made it difficult for most of the displaced Persian families to return to Kuwait (Mojtahed-zadeh, 1994, p. 75).

Of Bahrain’s total population of 217,000 in 1972 (Bahrain’s Population Census 1972), 35,000 were Baharinahs (Baḥārena, i.e., Shiʿites of Bahrain). Of this total, only 5,000 were ʿOṭūbī Arabs, to which the ruling Ḵalīfa family belongs. The remaining 177,000 were regarded as immigrants, of which 37,000 were classed as non-Bahrainis. Of these, 5,000 were re-garded as Persians who were still subjects of the Persian government. The percentage of Persian nationals fell from 8.4 percent in 1941 to 2.3 percent in 1971 (Razavian, p. 308). This was mainly owing to the political difficulties created by Persia’s renewal of sovereignty claims to Bahrain.

Dubai’s total population was estimated in 1973 at 100,000, of which 80,000 were said to have been foreign immigrants. Of this figure, 50 percent were Persian immigrants of the more recent decades (Dubai Municipality Statistics, 1973).

With Persia’s economic boom of the 1970s, immigration to the southern coast of the Persian Gulf di-minished. There were even instances of voluntary repatriation among the immigrants of the recent decades. Persia’s Revolution of 1357 Š./1978-79 resulted in the introduction of new measures in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf restricting Persian immigration to those countries, whereas Dubai became one of the most popular exit routes for the political refugees from Persia.


Echo of Iran, Echo Publications 38135, London, 1990.

R. Hay, The Persian Gulf States, Washington, D.C., 1959.

P. Mojtahedzāda (Mojtahed-Zadeh), tr. Ḥ. R. Malek-Moḥammadī Nūrī as “Kešvarhā wa marzhā dar manṭaqa-ye žeopolītīk-e Ḵalīj-e Fārs,” The Institute for Political and International Studies, Tehran, 1993, p. 173.

Idem, “Negāh-ī be tārīḵ-e Ḵalīj-e Fārs,” Eṭṭelāʿāt-e sīāsī wa eqteṣādī 8/79-80, March-April 1994, pp. 4-9, 75.

J. Qāʾemmaqāmī, Bahrayn wa masāʾel-e Ḵalīj-e Fārs, Tehran, 1962, p. 42.

M. T. Razavian, Persian Communities of the Persian Gulf, Ph.D. dissertation, University of London, 1975.

Brief Notes of Captain Robert Tylor, Assistant Political Agent in Turkish Arabia,” Records of the Bombay Government, N. S., 24 .




Migration waves. This article presents a statistical profile of the Persian diaspora worldwide. In general, Persian immigration came in two distinctive waves before and after the Revolution of 1978-79. Persians who emigrated before the Revolution were mostly students while those who left after the Revolution were mainly exiles or political refugees (Bozorgmehr and Sabagh, 1991; Jones). The industrialization drives of the Shah in the 1960s created a need for educated and skilled labor in Persia. Despite a rapid growth in the enrollment of college students, Persian universities could not absorb the large number of high school graduates. Thus, Persia became one of world’s premier exporters of college and university students, most of whom pursued higher education in the advanced industrial countries of Europe and North America. In comparison to students, there were fewer economically motivated immigrants since employment opportunities were abundant in Persia. Although students initially were temporary migrants, they formed the original links in the subsequent migration chains of Persians. Improved personal incomes enabled the parents and relatives of students to visit them abroad, paving the way for immigration and family reunification. After the Revolution, many students decided to settle abroad. Although Persian emigrants are increasingly visiting Persia, and even returning, there is no evidence to suggest that the majority of exiles will repatriate unless conditions change drastically in their homeland.

The second wave consisted of a more sizable number of Persians than the first. While the earlier exiles fled the Revolution, the later ones included draft-age men escaping the Iran-Iraq war. The exile outflow has continued to this day. For instance, in spite of the difficulty and expense of immigration from Persia to the United States, roughly the same proportion (29%) immigrated during 1985-1990 and 1975-80. As a result, with an estimated 270,100 refugees, Persia ranked tenth among principal sources of the entire world’s refugees in the late 1980s (World Refugee Survey, 1988 in Review, Table 4).

Worldwide distribution. Since there are no reliable data on the total Persian diaspora population in the world, the estimates of this population are exaggerated. For example, according to one source, “More than a million, and perhaps, as many as two million [Persians], remained in exile.” This source further quotes Ayatollah Ḥosayn-ʿAlī Montaẓerī, a high-ranking official, as saying, “we have several million refugees abroad” (World Refugee Survey, 1988 in Review, p. 73). In the absence of comprehensive worldwide data, the data presented here are culled from national population censuses of some of the receiving countries. Table 28 shows the distribution of Persians in countries with recent census data on Persians available at the time of this writing. Around 1990 there was a total of half a million Persians in Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, USA, Canada, Australia, and Israel, but if we include Turkey, they could well exceed one million.

With 285,000 Persians in 1990, the USA has by far the largest number of Persian immigrants among the above-mentioned countries, with the exception of Turkey, for which no reliable data are available. According to the World Refugee Survey 1989 (in Review, p. 67), “although Persians probably comprise the largest refugee population in Turkey, little is known about them since their refugee status ... is not recognized and they are not provided shelter or other services.” The number of Persians in that country is estimated at between several hundred thousand and a million. The next two largest Persian concentrations are in Israel (121,300) and Germany (89,700). France only has 7,000 Persians despite the disproportionate attention it gets as the main center of Persian political opposition. Germany, Sweden, and Norway emerged as important destinations only after the Revolution because their lenient asylum policies have attracted Persians (Table 28, above; Kamalkhani, pp. 30-31). On the other hand, Israel, the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and France were countries of significant Persian immigration even before the Revolution.

Population trends in destination countries. The Persian population in the United States more than doubled from 121,500 in 1980 to 285,000 in 1990 due to natural increase and immigration. Of the Persians in the United States, half are concentrated in California. The contiguous states of New York/New Jersey and Washington, D.C./Maryland/Virginia contain the next two largest numbers of Persians. Only twelve states have about 84 percent of the Persian population of the United States; the remaining states each contain fewer than 3,000 Persians. California, especially Los Angeles, is the most ethnically diverse Iranian center in the country, including Muslims, Jews, Christians (Armenians and Assyrians), Bahais, and Zoroastrians (Bozorgmehr and Sabagh, 1989; Kelley and Friedlander; Light et al., 1993; Dallalfar; Hannasab; Hoffman; Naficy, pp. 81-88). New York is the only other state which, in addition to Persian Muslims, has a sizable number of Persian Jews. About 80,000 Persians reside in Los Angeles, making it by far the largest concentration of this group in the United States, and one of the largest outside Persia (Sabagh and Bozorgmehr).

Persian immigration to Canada continues unabated; the Iran-born population increased from 13,950 in 1986 to 30,715 in 1991. According to Canada’s single-response classification (i.e., persons only of one ethnic origin), there were 38,920 Persians in Canada in 1991. There were an additional 4,300 persons who gave a multiple response to the ethnic origin question, i.e., Persian and other origins (Statistics Canada). One province (Ontario) contained 22,510 or over half (58%) of all Persians in Canada. Like those in the United States and Canada, Persians in Australia are heavily concentrated in one region; over three-fourths live in the two states of New South Wales and Victoria (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

The Persian population in United Kingdom increased drastically from 8,200 in 1971 to 28,070 in 1981, but only slightly to 32,300 by 1991. Persian immigration to Israel is not a recent phenomenon (Pliskin, pp. 37-44). Almost 41 percent of Persians currently living in Israel immigrated before the establishment of the state in 1948; only 15 percent have done so from 1975 to 1991. The median year of immigration for Persians to Israel is 1958 (i.e., half arrived before and half after this date; Israel Central Bureau of Statistics). Although the influx of Persians to Australia dates back to the 1970s, there were only 3,670 Persians in this country in 1981 and 7,500 in 1986 (Adibi, 1993).

Family reunification. In the absence of surveys, sex ratio (the number of males per 100 females) is used as an indicator of family reunification. The more balanced the sex ratio, the higher the likelihood of family reunification and, in turn, settlement in the receiving country. As a consequence of family migration (reunification) and natural increase since the Revolution, the sex ratio of the Persian diaspora has become more balanced in most countries. Over half of the population of Persian ethnic origin in Israel were born there, resulting in a very balanced sex ratio. According to the 1991 Canadian census, Persians in Canada had a balanced sex ratio (58% male and 42% female). The Australian Persian population also had a balanced sex ratio. In the United States, males made up 57 percent and females 43 percent of the Persian population (Table 29).

Demographic and socioeconomic characteristics. Since the most extensive data on the Persian diaspora in any country are available for the United States, Table 29 presents data on selected demographic, social, and economic characteristics of this population in 1990. The most interesting new demographic development among Persians is the emergence of the generation born in the United States and the one born in Persia but raised in the United States. The age distribution of Persians shows that there are 69,080 Persians under 15 years of age (Table 29, above), of whom 47,670 were born in the United States and the rest were born in Persia and raised in the United States.

Many of the Persians residing in the United States are former college students and educated exiles; half of Persians twenty-five years and older have a bachelor’s or higher degree. This high level of edu-cation accounts for the heavy concentration of Persians in the top two occupations of managers and professionals (i.e., 43% of employed persons 16 years and over). A substantial clustering in sales (20%) reflects Persians’ high rate of self-employment (21%). This self-employment proclivity is partially accounted for by the presence of entrepreneurial minorities from Persia, especially Jews and Armenians. As a whole, Persian males have a higher level of education, hold more prestigious jobs, and are more entrepreneurial than Persian females.

The statistical profile of Iranian immigrants in the United States shows them to be even more educated, skilled, and entrepreneurial than Americans, as well as most other foreign-born groups in the United States. According to the 1990 U.S. census, Iranian-born persons ranked third in educational achievement after Indians and Taiwanese among major immigrant groups in the United States. Reflecting this high level of education, Iranians once again ranked third after Indians and Taiwanese in holding the top occupations of managers and professionals. By comparison, only 20 percent of the native-born population of the United States had a bachelor’s degree or higher, and only 27 percent were employed in these two top occupations. The median household income of Iranians ($36,000) ranked fifth in the United States, and was higher than that of the native-born ($30,000).

The data on Iranians in the United States show the extreme socioeconomic selectivity of this population vis à vis Persia’s population. There is some evidence that Persians in the United States are of higher status than Persians in Turkey, Germany, and Australia (Bauer, pp. 77-101; Adibi, 1993). Yet Persians in Australia were more educated than the native-born Australians in 1986; 27 percent of Persians were employed in managerial and professional jobs. An equal proportion of Persians were employed as plant and machine operators and as laborers, a slightly higher percentage than that of the total Australian population. The rest held para-professional, trade, clerical, personal services and sales occupations (Adibi, 1993).

The rapid population growth, concentration in a few countries, and high overall socioeconomic characteristics of the Persian diaspora call for more research on the adaptation of this population.


H. Adibi, “A Study of the Iranian Population in Australia,” unpub. paper, 1993.

A. Ansari, The Making of the Iranian Community in America, New York, 1992.

Bauer “A Long Way Home. Islam in the Adaptation of Iranian Women Refugees in Turkey and West Germany,” in A. Fathi, pp. 77-101.

M. Bozorgmehr and G. Sabagh, “High Status Immigrants. A Statistical Profile of Iranians in the United States,” Iranian Studies 21/3-4, 1988, pp. 5-36.

Idem, “Survey Research among Middle Eastern Immigrant Groups in the United States. Iranians in Los Angeles,” MESA Bulletin 23/1, 1989, pp. 23-34.

Idem, “Iranian Exiles and Immigrants in Los Angeles,” in A. Fathi, pp. 121-44.

A. Dallalfar, “Iranian Women as Immigrant Entrepreneurs,” Gender and Society 8/4, 1994, pp. 541-6.

A. Fathi, ed., Iranian Refugees and Exiles Since Khomeini, Costa Mesa, Calif., 1991.

F. Gilanshah, “Iranians in the Twin Cities,” Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs 7/1, 1983, pp. 117-23.

S. Hannasab, “Acculturation and Young Iranian Women. Attitudes Toward Sex Roles and Intimate Relationships,” Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development 19/1, 1991, pp. 11-21.

D. Hoffman, “Cross-Cultural Adaptation and Learning. Iranians and Americans at School,” in H. Touba and C. Delgado-Gaitan, eds., School and Society, New York, 1988, pp. 163-80.

A. Jones, “Iranian Refugees. The Many Faces of Persecution,” Issue Paper, U. S. Committee for Refugees, Washington, D.C., 1984.

Z. Kamalkhani, Iranian Immigrants and Refugees in Norway, Bergen, Norway, 1988.

R. Kelley and J. Friedlander, eds., Irangeles. Iranians in Los Angeles, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1993.

I. Light et al., “Internal Ethnicity in the Ethnic Economy,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 16/4, 1993, pp. 581-97.

Idem, “Beyond the Ethnic Enclave Economy,” Social Problems 41/1, 1994, pp. 65-80.

J. Lorentz and J. Wertime, “Iranians,” in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Cambridge, MA, 1980, pp. 521-24.

J. Momeni, “Teʿdād o naḥwa-ye tawzīʿ-e Īrānīān dar Ayālāt-e Mottaḥeda-ye Āmrīkā dar sāl-e 1980,” Īrān-nāma 2/2, 1984, pp. 17-21.

H. Naficy, The Making of Exile Cultures. Iranian Television in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, 1993.

K. Pliskin, Silent Boundaries. Cultural Constraints on Sickness and Diagnosis of Persians in Israel, New Haven, 1987.

G. Sabagh and M. Bozorgmehr, “Are the Characteristics of Exiles Different from Immigrants? The Case of Iranians in Los Angeles,” Sociology and Social Research 71/2, 1987, pp. 77-84.

Idem, “Secular Immigrants. Religiosity and Ethnicity among Iranian Muslims in Los Angeles,” in Y. Haddad and J. Smith, eds., Muslim Communities in North America, Albany, NY, 1994, pp. 445-73.

World Refugee Survey, 1988 in Review, 1989 in Review, United States Committee for Refugees, New York, 1989, 1990.




Since the coup d’etat of April 1978 and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan beginning the following year, over 5 million refugees have fled Afghanistan. Of these refugees as many as 3.5 million settled in Pakistan. Before limited repatriation began in 1992, there were 3.2 million registered and perhaps another half million unregistered Afghan refugees in Pakistan (N. Dupree, p. 852). Historically, Afghans have moved back and forth across the Afghan-Pakistani border, and before 1978 there were Afghan communities in most cities of Pakistan.

Refugees arrived in Pakistan in waves. A small number left Afghanistan as early as 1973 after the coup that deposed Moḥammad-Ẓāher Shah (see AFGHANISTAN x). Approximately 80,000 refugees trickled into Pakistan during 1973-78. The flow dramatically increased after the 1978 coup that established the Communist government of Nūr-Moḥammad Tarakī. The heavy-handed efforts of the Tarakī government to effect social change and the resulting anti-government violence was the major impetus for the refugee migration. By the end of 1979 the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan had reached 400,000 (N. Dupree. p. 850).

The Soviet presence in Afghanistan beginning in late 1979 opened the flood gate. By 1984 the refugee population in Pakistan had reached 3 million, and two years later the official count was 3.2. million (N. Dupree, p. 852). Although refugees came from all over Afghanistan, most of them were from the areas of heavy fighting near the Pakistani border. In addition, the people in the Afghan-Pakistan border areas are largely Pushtuns who share a common ethnic heritage with the Pushtuns living in Pakistan. Eighty-five percent of the refugees in Pakistan are ethnic Pushtuns (N. Dupree, pp. 861-62).

Settlement in Pakistan. Most of the Afghans in Pakistan are housed in 320 refugee camps called refugee tentage villages. Two-thirds of these camps are in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, with some camps also in Baluchistan. A few camps were established in the Punjab, but historical animosity between the Punjabis and the Afghans dissuaded Pakistani officials from settling Afghans there. Each camp was originally planned to house 10,000 refugees, but most of them now hold many more. The refugee camp at Sorḵāb, Baluchistan is reported to contain 150,000 refugees (N. Dupree, p. 863).

Three-quarters of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan are estimated to be women, the elderly, and children under fifteen years of age. Forty-eight percent are children (N. Dupree, p. 863). The high ratio of women and children is partly due to the high mortality rate among men as a result of the war, partly because of high birth rates in the camp, and partly because men migrate to cities looking for jobs. Most of the refugees in the camps are farmers, traders, or pastoralists. Refugees from the small Afghan middle class, primarily from Kabul, stayed only briefly in the camps, settling either in Pakistani cities or resettling in the West (Farr, 1988, p. 142).

The movement of Afghans is not restricted in Pakistan, nor are Afghans confined to the camps. As a result, many refugees have moved to major cities to work and establish businesses. Most cities of Pakistan, particularly Peshawar and Quetta, now have large Afghan settlements. Some Pakistanis find the presence of Afghans in urban areas objectionable, since the Afghans in the cities are largely young men and crowd the already overloaded municipal facilities. Pakistanis blame the Afghan refugees for the increased crime and violence in Pakistan and for the worsening drug problem (Farr, 1990, p. 138).

Camp life. Refugees have found it difficult to maintain much of their traditional lifestyle. Traditional family structure is therefore challenged. It is difficult, for instance, to maintain living arrangements for extended family. The seclusion of women becomes more difficult in the camps, as they play a more active role because men are often absent or have been killed in war. Marriage becomes more difficult since it is harder to find the appropriate spouse. A very limited number of intermarriages with the Pakistani community have taken place.

Traditional age stratification is also threatened in the Afghan refugee community, since the young must take a more active leadership role, threatening the traditional status of the elders. The younger male adults are often better able to operate in the refugee setting, where knowledge of modern ways and the ability to deal with international agencies are important.

Economic life. Despite attempts by Pakistani officials to provide work in the camps, Afghan refugees have consistently penetrated the local Pakistani economy. Although this has occurred primarily in the areas of high refugee concentration, Afghan laborers, shopkeepers, truck drivers, craftsmen, and traders are now found in most parts of Pakistan. Trucking and shipping has been an important means of income to the Afghans. Many refugees brought with them their heavy trucks now used in Pakistan. Afghans have also opened retail shops in major urban centers. Usually small and selling inexpensive items, these shops are nontheless gaining a growing foothold in the bāzārs of Peshawar, Quetta, and Islamabad. Many Afghan craftsmen now work in Pakistan; the best tailors of traditional clothes in Pakistan are now Afghans.

Refugee status. The Afghan refugees’ status in Pakistan depends in part on how the refugee situation is defined, both by the refugees themselves and by the Pakistanis. The refugees refer to themselves as immigrants (mohājerīn), which has a reference to the flight of the Prophet Moḥammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. This reference obliges the Pakistanis, as good Muslims, to offer them sanctuary (Farr, 1993, p. 119).

While there are differences between the Afghan and Pakistani Pushtuns, many of the refugees see themselves as simply traveling from one area of their ethnic homeland to another. Indeed, the Afghans have never accepted the Pakistan-Afghan border, known as the Durand Line and drawn by the British in 1893, as a legitimate international boundary. In addition, the Afghans have historically controlled much of the area where they are now refugees, especially the area around Peshawar. As a result the refugees feel that they are, to some degree, entitled to be in this area.

Reptriation. Since the summer of 1992 and the fall of the Najīb-Allāh government in Kabul, some repatriation of the Afghan refugees has begun. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that by the fall of 1993 approximately 1.6 million Afghan refugees had returned to Afghanistan from the camps in Pakistan. Most have returned to the four border provinces of Qandahār, Paktīā, Nangrahār, and Konar, where the majority of them had come from and from which it is easy to continue doing business in Pakistan and even to return there quickly if things become difficult in Afghanistan. These refugees return to a very difficult situation where their chances of survival over the first year are marginal. The UNHCR has used the incentive of rewarding them with cash and wheat if they turn in their refugee cards, but with little success. Refugees from other parts of Afghanistan, especially the area around Kabul, are not returning, and refugee repatriation from Pakistan has ceased temporarily. In fact, additional refugees are now trying to leave Kabul as fighting has intensified between the rival parties. It is not known how many of the remaining 1.6 million Afghans in Pakistan will remain; certainly some will. As time passes and the refugees increasingly penetrate Pakistani society, find jobs, and adapt to Pakistani conditions, fewer will return. Already a generation of Afghans which has never seen Afghanistan has come of age in the camps.


Z. I. Ansari, “Hijra in the Islamic Tradition,” in E. W. Anderson and N. Dupree, eds., The Cultural Basis of Afghan Nationalism, London, 1990, pp. 3-20.

P. Centlivres and M. Centlivres-Demont, “Socio-Political Adjustment among Afghan Refugees in Pakistan,” Migration World 15/4, 1987.

L. Dupree, Afghanistan, Princeton, N. J., 1980 (general discussion on conditions in Afghanistan before the 1978 coup).

N. Dupree, “Demographic Reporting on Afghan Refugees in Pakistan,” Modern Asian Studies 22/4, 1988, pp. 845-65 (discussion of the refugee population and demographics).

D. Edwards, “Marginality and Migration. Cultural Dimensions of the Afghan Refugee Problem,” International Migration Review 20/2, 1986, pp. 313-38.

G. Farr, “The Afghan Middle Class as Refugees and Insurgents,” in G. Farr and J. Merriam, eds, Afghan Resistance. The Politics of Survival, Denver, 1988, pp. 127-50.

Idem, “Afghan Refugees in Pakistan. Definitions, Repatriation, and Ethnicity,” in E. W. Anderson and N. Dupree, eds., The Cultural Basis of Afghan Nationalism, London, 1990, pp. 134-43 (general discussion of camp life).

Idem, “Refugee Aid and Development in Pakistan. Afghan Aid after Ten Years,” in R. Gorman, ed., Refugee Aid and Development, Westport, Conn., 1993, pp. 111-26, (discusses Pakistan’s reaction to the refugees).

R. G. Wiring, “Repatriation of Afghan Refugees,” Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, 12/2, 1988, pp. 22-41.




Prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the majority of Afghans living in Persia were migrant workers. Their number in the 1970s was estimated to be around 200,000 to 250,000 individuals. The occupation launched waves of immigrants and refugees to Persia, most of whom moved to Khorasan while the educated settled in Tehran. In later years large groups moved to other provinces in the east, center, and south of the country.

Statistical Data. There are no precise statistics or demographic patterns for Afghan immigrants in Persia. Gathering reliable data about them is difficult because single men and heads of household constantly move between the two countries as well as inside Persia. The first official head count included in the census of 1986 showed the Afghan presence at 755,257 (56 percent male and 44 percent female), of whom 85 percent were under forty years of age (44 percent below 15 and 41 percent between 15 and 39). Roughly 84 percent had settled in Khorasan (56 percent), Tehran (16 percent), and Sīstān and Baluchistan (11.5 percent). Another 10 percent lived in the provinces of Isfahan, Kermān, Māzandarān, and Fārs; the remaining 6 percent were scattered in other parts of the country. About 50 percent lived in cities (Markaz-e āmār, 1365 Š., pp. 6, 72-73). It is likely that the immigrants’ ignorance of census-taking and fear of persecution on the part of those without identification cards resulted in a low count. A year later the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put the number of Afghan immigrants in Persia at between 2 and 2.5 million, 700,000 of whom were living in Khorasan (250,000 in Mašhad), 200,000 to 300,000 in Tehran, 250,000 in Sīstān and Baluchistan, 50,000 in Isfahan, and the remainder in other provinces (Refugees, no. 38, February 1987). In January 1988 the High council on Afghans (Šūrā-ye ʿālī-e Afāḡena) of the Ministry of the interior (Wezārat-e kešvar) released a figure of 2.2 million immigrants, of whom 24 percent lived in Sīstān and Baluchistan, 12 percent in Khorasan, 11 percent in Semnān, 9 percent in Isfahan, 8 percent in Kermān, 8 percent in the Central province, 7 percent in Yazd, 6 percent in Hormozgān, 5 percent in Fārs, 5 percent in Būšehr, and the remainder in other provinces. Figures for 1993 from the same agency show the number of refugees at 2.8 million. The majority have been absorbed into the job market and generally work in agriculture, construction, and the service sector, while a small percentage (roughly 3 percent) live in refugee camps. Afghan workers initially earned 20 percent less than their Persian counterparts, but with the greater need for manpower their wages have reached parity.

Education. Immigrant children carrying identification cards can attend public schools without fee, as Persian children do. Children with no identification cards may go to schools established in some cities (e.g., Mašhad, Torbat-e Jām, Tehran, Zāhedān) by immigrants themselves. Teachers of these schools, themselves refugees, often moonlight for extra income. There are also schools set up in the refugee camps. The rate of enrollment of Afghan children in schools and the literacy rate of the immigrant population are considerably higher than before their immigration to Persia.

Health and Hygiene. Immigrants carry into Persia illnesses such as tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, measles, sexually transmitted diseases, and skin ailments that are common in Afghanistan and often compounded by malnutrition and hunger (Refugees, no. 26, Feb. 1986). New arrivals are required to report to checkpoints and undergo medical examination and treatment, but many enter the country without reporting to any of the fourteen quarantine centers at the border. A joint study, conducted in the spring of 1988 by the UNHCR and the Ministry of health (Wezārat-e behdārī) of 2,800 Afghan households in 133 centers in the rural areas of Bīrjand and Qāʾen in Khorasan, found two-thirds of the centers without lavatories and hygienic drinking water supplies. The primary cause of death in early infancy (3-28 days) was tetanus (64 percent in Qāʾen, 37 percent in Bīrjand).

Legal status. Faced with the two fundamental issues of intermarriage between Afghan men and Persian women and Afghan ownership of property, the Ministry of the interior (Wezārat-e kešvar) instructed the Department of recording documents (Edāra-ye koll-e ṯabt-e asnād) that the identification cards issued to immigrants are solely for the purposes of identification, statistics, receipt of food ration coupons, and the purchase of tickets for domestic travel. They do not have the validity of birth certificates and, therefore, cannot be used for the conclusion of transactions (business and marriage/divorce contracts, power of attorney, etc.) that must be registered officially (directive 6847 M.P., 29 Āḏar 1359/20 December 1980). In practice, however, Afghan men have married Persian women in religious ceremonies not registered with the civil authorities and have assumed ownership or tenancy of property and business establishments with letters of agreement (qawl-nāma).

Crime. The presence of more than 2 million, mostly tribal, Afghans in Persia and the violent acts committed by some have created a stereotype, often associating them with violence. A broadcast by Radio Iran on 19 Esfand 1372/10 March 1994 put the number of Afghan prisoners in Persian jails at 3,776, about 4 percent of Persia’s prison population. A study of 730 Afghan prisoners in Mašhad (based on a random sampling of 10 percent) found that 40 percent were convicted on narcotics charges, 13.5 percent on murder, 12.5 percent on sexual crimes, 5.5 percent on illegal travel, 5.5 percent on weapon possession, 5.5 percent on assault and battery, and 5.5 percent on other charges (Tabrīzīnīā and Aržang, p. 105). A 1366 Š./1987 study found that out of 789 persons convicted of murder in Persia about 10 percent were Afghans (ʿAbdī, p. 49). While the rate of murder among the Afghan immigrants is higher than that among the host population, in 77 percent of the cases both perpetrator and victim were immigrants. The high rate of murder and outbreaks of violence among the immigrants may be due, on the one hand, to the weakening of the traditional order and patriarchal mechanisms for conflict resolution and, on the other, to the immigrants’ lack of faith in the machinery of justice and law enforcement in Persia. These factors holds true especially for the majority of the immigrants who do not have identification cards.

Return and repatriation. The repatriation of Afghan immigrants assumed primary importance after the Soviet evacuation of Afghanistan in 1989. The Persian government turned to the United Nations for assistance in their repatriation, although it had received minimal aid from the world body for refugee relief. Repatriation efforts, however, have been frustrated by the absorption of many into the Persian job market and by the lack of opportunity at home for a comparable lifestyle. On 31October 1992 the governments of Persia and Afghanistan and the UNHCR signed an agreement for the formation of a tripartite commission to oversee repatriation efforts, which met for the first time on 13 May 1993 in the Ministry of the interior. According to Persian officials, since 1992 every day about 1,500 refugees have returned to Afghanistan, while 400 of them reentered Persia (New York Times, Aug. 31, 1992).

Social, political, and cultural ramifications. Afghans living in Persia quickly adapted to their new environment and began to enjoy new opportunities which have permanently changed their lives. Considering the rural origins of the majority, urban life has been a major factor for change. Young immigrants now living in cities, for the most part single men far from their families and traditional patriarchal roots, have been quick to alter their social habits (dressing differently, consuming fast foods, attending movies, etc.). In a few areas with large concentrations of Afghans one can still find the traditional elder (kalān) presiding over the community affairs and settling disputes by virtue of his patriarchal mediation. The immigrants, even those living in refugee camps, have never clustered into ghettos. Camp residents are free to leave and reenter their temporary homes; children receive education and health care. Industrial workers have learned new skills, which will probably have an impact on the future economy of Afghanistan. A large number of immigrants find the atmosphere in Persia congenial to their religious traditions. With the desire of many parents to send their children to school the need for education among the immigrants is on the rise. Those who earlier had balked at sending their daughters to school are now inclined to do so. Another major change is the greater uniformity of pronunciation between the Persian spoken in Persia and the one used by the immigrants, as the latter gradually pick up the accent of their hosts. Immigrants without family names have been given surnames, based on place of residence, father’s name, etc., on their identification cards. Better health care in Persia has resulted in the abatement or disappearance of viral and skin infections and the reduction of infant mortality, particularly in the cities. Women who had never before consulted a physician are more likely to do so now. The presence of law enforcement agencies in Persia has encouraged refugees to go to authorities when they have complaint against anybody. The role of women, too, has been changing. Afghan women have been going beyond their traditional confinement to the home and are organizing and engaging in social and cultural activities in Persia. Whereas they had been opposed to having their pictures taken, even for identification cards, now, with the assent of their husbands, they appear in family photographs taken for official purposes.


ʿA. ʿAbdī, Masāʾel-e ejtemāʿī-e qatl dar Īrān, Tehran, 1367 Š./1988.

Markaz-e āmār-e Īrān,Sar-šomārī-e ʿomūmī-e nofūs o maskan. Mehr-māh-e 1365, koll-e kešvar, Tehran, 1370 Š./1991-92.

Š. Tabrīzīnīā and M. Aržang, “Mohājarat. Yak model-e āmārī,”Majalla-ye ḵāvarān, Ābān-Āḏar 1370 Š./Oct.-Dec. 1991.


(Mary Boyce, Fariba Zarrinbaf-Shahr, H. Hakimian, Yitzhak Nakash, Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh, Mehdi Bozorgmehr, Grant Farr, Čangīz Pahlavān)

Originally Published: December 15, 1995

Last Updated: November 28, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VII, Fasc. 4, pp. 370-387