Ethnic composition of Iran. Turkic-speaking people of Atropatene Province

11 m.   |  2019-05-22

The population of Iran is not homogeneous, it consists of various ethnic and religious groups. Moreover, the formation of a majority of ethnic groups took place in the territory of Iran. Therefore, it’s too difficult to distinguish between ethnic minorities and ethnic groups. For studying the composition of Iran’s population and for clarifying the existing issues it would be better to consider those issues in three dimensions. First one is the religious factor. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran does not recognize national or ethnical minorities. Under the Constitution of Iran, the country’s population is divided into Muslims and non-Muslims, to be more correct into religious minorities. It has its historical reasons: after the adoption of Islam and later during the Safavid period, when Shiism was adopted as a state religion, “Shia” and “non-Muslim” features began to be used for distinguishing between the composition of Iran’s population. Over the centuries, Shiism becomes so strong in Iranian society, that the Iranian becomes identical to Shia, hence by saying Shia, we mean Iranians. This thesis gradually developed and now the theories are presented in the Iranian Scientific circles. As a result, the terms “Iranism” and “Islamism” (“Islamiat” and “Iraniat”) were formed.

Even now when saying a Persian we first of all refer to Shiites. That’s why it’s too difficult to differentiate the society according too its ethnic groups in the religious level, as they are Muslims in unity. The same definition was spread on religious minorities. It is noteworthy, that a merging of religious and national identity took place in case of Armenians as well. For instance, a Christian in Persian means “Masihi”. When saying Masihi in Iran they, first of all, refer to Armenians. All this at the first religious level.

Secondly, if the Constitution of Iran do not recognise national minorities it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any national or ethnic groups. A number of Iranian people reside in the territory of Iran, and the Persian language unites all of them and it is through the influence of Persian that we call the population of Iran Persians. Whereas many people, living in that territory, have their own language, culture and these people are part of the common Iranian civilization and culture, but besides this each of them is a bearer of its culture and its native language. Under the Constitution of Iran, although the official language is Persian, all the ethnic groups are allowed and freely use their native language and by the law they are allowed to publish newspapers and broadcast radio programs. However, the official documents are in Persian.

The third factor is linguistic. The population of Iran can be divided into two basic groups: Iranian speaking people and Turkic-speaking people. Of course, they are also people speaking in Semitic languages, which comprise a smaller number. We will mainly refer to the Iranian speaking people and to Turkic-speaking people and in that context we will present our main topic, which is related to the Atropatene State and to Atropatena Turkic or to the Atropatene Turkic-speaking population. Persian is the common and official language of the Iranian-speaking people, but each one has its own language. Among Iranian speaking ethnic groups are the Tats, Talysh, Kurds, Baluchs and etc., who in their daily life communicate in their native language, and Persian is usually used when communicating with different ethnic groups. As for the Turkic-speaking population of Iran, their issue is often deliberately speculated, and frequently as a result of ignorance some problems arise. First of all, let’s clerify the states, where the Turkic-speaking population lives. That is the historic Atropatene State, which is testified in the Armenian sources and we do not have any problems distinguishing that name of place. It is written Azerbaijan in Persian, that is to say it is identical in spelling and pronunciation with the current name of the Republic of Azerbaijan and very often there arise problems caused by it. For instance, “Iranian Azerbaijan”, “Azerbaijani Community of Iran”, “Iranian Azeris” and other such kind of formulations, which are disputable. It would be better to use each one correctly in its propper place.

Thus, the population of the Atropatene region of Iran is Turkic-speaking, but it is necessary to clearly understand, that they are not Turks but Iranians, who passed into Turkism in the 16 th to 17 th centuries. When the Safavid dynasty was formed in Iran, the palace’s language was Turkish, hence Turkish was gradually spread in that region, like the classic Persian at some historical period, which was a palace’s language in Khorasan and later it spread in other places as well. The same is in case of the first problem, which should be paid attention to and should be used properly and that are the“ Turkic-speaking population of Atropatene” and “Iranian Turki-speaking population” phrases. Thus, referring once again to Atropatene, I would like mention, that they are Iranians and until the 15-16 th centuries, before the spread of the Turkic language in that state, people here used to speak in different Iranian dialects and people of Atropatene are Iranians in identity. If in case of Azerbaijan, the orientation passed to the Turkic-speaking, in case of Iranian population it passed to Iranian. Of course, at different statges that state has undergone administrative divisions: currently the Atropatene Province is divided into East Atropatene and West Atropatene. The East Atropatene State borders Armenia and is our immediate neighbouring border. The State of Ardabil is also full of Turkic-speaking population and in 1990s (it coincided with the years of the Artsakh War ) the State of East Atropatene was devided into two parts forming the Ardabil State. This is about the Atropatene and about that territory.

Now let’s refer to the total Iranian Azeris and to their numbers. As to the number of Turkic-speaking people, it can be very often found, that about 25 mil. of so-called “Azeris” live in Iran, and even scientific articles show that the majority of Iran’s population is Turks and so on. Now lets refer to the numbers. Referring to their numbers, if accounting in general, West Atropatene has 3-3.5 mil. population, a part of which are Kurds (all of them are not Turkic-speaking or Turkic-speaking Azeris), East Atropatene has about 3 mil. people and Ardabil has about 1.5 mil.. These are the main regions, where the Turkic population is concentrated. Besides the above mentioned regions, Turkic-speaking people live in Zanjan, Qazvin, as well as in Tehran. The whole number is 8-9 mil. on average, so saying that “25 mil. Turks” live in the Atropatene region of Iran is not so realistic. This Turkic-speaking is widespread in the whole territory of Iran, however, this is also an interesting development. For instance, a person born in Tabriz, who moves to live in Tehran, and his descendants who pass into the Persian language after two-three generations, it is too hard to say whether they are “Persians” or “Turks”. This mistake is also frequently made by Iranians. When referring to Turkic-speaking people, they call them “Turks”, when you are trying to find out whether they are “Turks” or Turkic-speaking, they mention that certainly Turkic- speaking, meaning that they are “Turks”. By saying simply Turk, they mean Turkic- speaking. In this regard, an interesting movement under the headline “The Atropatene is not Turk but Turkic-speaking” was formed in recent years, within the framework of which books are published, aiming to inform that though the territory is Turkic-speaking, it’s not Turkish.