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Nomads

For decades, official concern over epidemics, child education, drug and arms smuggling, national security and taxation led to village-settlement programmes, while the 1960s White Revolution caused serious problems over grazing and water rights for the nomads. In XX century the Iranian government try repeatedly to settle Iran's nomadic tribes. For all their efforts, however, there are still about a million people living as nomads in Iran. They are mostly Turkic Qashqai and Bakhtiyari, but there are also nomadic Kurds, Lors, Baluchis and smaller groups such as the Khamseh of Bavanat. The Bakhtiyari are concentrated in an area extending southward from Lorestan province to Khuzestan province and westward from Esfahan to near the Iraqi border, moving their herds of sheep and goats between summer and winter pastures. They speak a dialect of Lori. For example, if travelling in Shiraz region in late April or mid/late October, you may still see one or more extended family groups, perhaps numbering as high as 75, accompanied by hundreds of sheep and goats, moving to fresh pastures.

A major ethno-linguistic group in Fars Province are the Qashqai, Shia Turkish-speakers organized into a confederation composed of five main tribes and a few smaller ones. Traditionally, the Qashqai wintered on pastures in the foothills of the Zagros to the south and west of Shiraz, near the Persian Gulf, and moved north to the mountains in the spring. Their migration routes are among the longest and most difficult of all of Iran's pastoral tribes, as they are often on the road for 45 days. The Qashqai confederation was sufficiantly powerful in the XIX and early XX centuries to play an important role regionally, and at times even nationally, as the provincial authorities frequently relied on the tribal leaders to maintain law and order in rural areas. In the 1960s, Mohammed Reza Shah attempted to reduce their power by disarming them and nationalizing their pastures. Since then, many Qashqai have been forced to settle or to become semi-nomads. In the 1950s they were estimated at about 400,000 but there are considerably fewer now who follow a traditional lifestyle; de-tribalisation by migration to the cities accounts for this demographic oddity. They have become famous for their production of simple rugs - gabbeh. Nomadic women wear long, colourfully layered dresses with much jewellery and no chadors. The men sometimes wear tall hats with a rounded crown. To visit them it is best to go with a guide.

Fars Province also includes a rival confederation, the Khamseh, formed in the middle of the XIX century by a rich merchant family from Shiraz who wanted to protect their caravans on the way to the Persian Gulf. The Khamseh are a confederation of five tribes (khamseh means five in Arabic), of Persian, Arabic and Turkish origin.

The Shahsevan, who live in the northeast of Iran, in the province of East Azerbaijan, differ from most other groups in that their formation was the result of a political decision and not a spontaneous movement on the part of the nomads themselves. In the XVII century, Shah Abbas I created a militia from tribes of diverse origins, most of them Turkish-speaking, that would serve to put down the rebellions of other nomadic groups. The Shahsevan tribal confederation survived the fall of the Safavid dynasty. Like the Turkmen, their traditional territory has been divided in halt by the closure of the frontier with the former USSR.

The Afshar arrived on the Iranian Plateau in two waves, first of all in the XI century under the Seljuks, and then in the XIII century with the Mongols. They served the Safavid rulers and were given posts all over the empire. As a result, the Afshar were split into several groups. Today, the main groups are to be found in Azerbaijan, between Lake Orumiyeh and Qazvin and Hamadan, and in an area between Kerman and Bandar Abbas, in the south of Iran. Traditionally, the Afshar are pastoral nomads but many have now settled down and become farmers.

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