Ethnic Groups

Iran’s current population is over 80 million people who are ethnically diverse (Poorolajal et al., 2017). The dominant population consists of Iranian Persians (Fars), who constitute 51% of Iran’s population. The rest of the population consists of Iranian Azeris (24%), Iranian Gilakis and Mazandaranis (8%), Iranian Kurds (7%), Iranian Arabs (3%), Iranian Lurs (2%), Iranian Balochs (2%), Iranian Turkmen (2%), and others (1%) (Ethnic_minorities_in_Iran Hassan et al., 2007).

Persians (Fars):

Iranian Persians, who make up 51% of Iran’s population, dominate the central government of Iran. Persians live in major provinces in Iran such as Tehran, Isfahan, Kerman, Yazd and Fars. A group of them also live in Mazandaran and Gilan, residing in the Caspian seaside villages separated from the Persians in Alborz by the northern climate conditions. Though they are originally Persian, their difference has resulted from their separation from Alborz and geographical climate conditions. Any differences present between Mazandarani and Gilaki people are not due to race, but entirely to environmental differences (Rashidvash et al., 2012).


The Azeri people are among the oldest of the Aryan race (Rashidvash, 2013a). Northwest of Iran has been a passageway and a residential region from the age of primitive humans, meaning many tribes emigrated from here to other places and others immigrated here. Most of the Azeri people resided in an area between the Caspian Sea and Lake Urumia, and from the Republic of Azerbaijan in the north to the latitude of Tehran in the south.

While there have been conflicting data in various journals, it has been stated that, at the turn of the 21st century, there were around 7.5 million Azerbaijani people in the neighboring area of Iran and more than 15 million Azeris in Iran (Rashidvash et al., 2012). Roughly one out of four Iranians are considered to be Azeri, making this the largest ethnic minority at over 18 million.


As an ethnic community, the Kurdish population is mainly spread across five countries in the Middle East: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Armenia. The distribution of the Kurdish population through the five Middle Eastern countries is thought to consist of 45% in Turkey, 20% in Iraq, 20% in Iran, 5% in Syria, 5% in Armenia, and 5% in other countries, although exact numbers are not available and are a matter of some debate and controversy. A significant population of Kurdish immigrants, an estimated 500,000 Kurds, live in Western European countries, namely Germany, the Netherlands, France and Scandinavia (Sirkeci, 2000).

Historically, the Kurdish population has resided in the Zagros Mountains area along the western frontiers of Iran with Turkey and Iraq, beside the Kurdish population in both countries (Rashidvash et al., 2013). They are found mainly in the western regions of the Iranian plateau (Farhud et al., 1991), such as Kurdistan and Ilam.

There are approximately 3 to 4 million Kurds living in Iran, compared to 12 million living in Turkey and 6 million living in Iraq (Farhud et al., 1991). As of 2008, the Kurds represented around 7% of the total population of Iran.


In 1986, there were around 530,000 Arabs in Iran. Today, they constitute around 2–3% of Iran’s population (Rashidvash, 2013b). The majority of this population live in Khuzestan, many along the Persian Gulf, and a number are scattered in central and eastern Iran. The Iranian Arab population has intermingled with Persians, Turks and Lurs who also live in those provinces, and so their population has been mixed with other ethnicities over time (Rashidvash, 2013b). Around 40% of the Arabs are urban, living in cities such as Abadan, Ahvaz and Khorramshahr (Rashidvash, 2013b). Iranian Arab communities have also been found in countries such as Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Qatar.


The Iranian Lur people live in the mountainous areas in the southwest of Iran, occupying areas of northern Fars and southern Zagros (Rashidvash, 2013b). The territories occupied by Lurs are Lorestan, Bakhtiari and Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad (Amanolahi, 2005). In addition, they also reside in other provinces such as Khuzestan, Fars, Ilam, Hamadan and Bushehr (Amanolahi, 2005).

In 2007, the total number of Lurs had been estimated to be close to 4 million people. As of 2008, the Lur population was reported to form 2–6% of the overall population of Iran (Rashidvash, 2013b).


Iranian Turkmen live in the Turkoman Sahra and in the Gorgan plains. This area is near Iran’s border with the Republic of Turkmenistan. It stretches from the Atrak river in the north, to the Caspian Sea in the west, the Quchan mountains in the east and Gorgan river in the south. Iranian Turkmen have been said to be living in Iran since 550 AD, with the first formed tribes from 750 AD (Rashidvash, 2013a; Iran Chamber Society).

The Turkman population has been reported to number 6 million people globally (Turkmen People). Almost one-third of that population, nearly 2 million Turkmen, live along the northern edges of Iran, close to the Turkmenistan border, while millions of others are found in other countries across the Middle East and central Asia.


Balochistan, located at the crossroads of India, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Persian Gulf, became a point of intersection for the peoples and cultures of South Asia. Over the centuries, the Balochi people were scattered across a wide range of territories, from Bushehr to Bandar Abbas, India, Afghanistan and Southeastern Iran.

In 1908, John Gordon Lorimer noted that the Baluch numbered around 20,000, many of whom were in Oman and who were also the dominant population in Persia (Kashani-Sabet, 2013).

In 2013, the Balochi population was estimated as 10 million people worldwide (DaBell, 2013).

Persian Gulf Islanders:

The Persian Gulf is home to many small islands, such as Qeshm Island, Tunb and Kish Islands. Iranian Arabs have been known to reside in this area of the Persian Gulf and Khuzestan, and who are pastoralists or fishermen on the Gulf (Rashidvash, 2012).


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Kashani-Sabet, F. (2013). Baluchistan: Nature, Ethnicity, and Empire in Iran's Borderlands. The Journal of the Middle East and Africa, 4(2), 187-204.

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