The word nomad, of Greek origin, means "pasture" because the flocks, always looking for new pastures, give rhythm to the life of the nomads. Starting from the 10th century, the arrival of the nomads from the cold steppes, initially Turkish, then Mongols and Turkmen, radically changed the ethnic composition of the country. They found on the plateau an environment that was familiar to them, much comparable to that of Turkestan and lower Central Asia. It is therefore under the sign of the great nomadism that will live in Iran for many centuries, and its very dynasties are often of Turkish origin until the beginning of the 20th century. Its rulers settled in the urban capitals, but when summer came, they set out to camp under the tent.



After the Safavid period (1501-1722), especially in the 17th and 18th centuries, the vastly hierarchical nomadic confederations were gradually being built. Their purpose is to frame the nomadic population, codify the movements and itineraries among sedentary populations, and at the same time permanently guarantee, through their leaders, the political representation of the nomads in the central government, and exercise the necessary pressures on the latter. The nomads once provided the army with considerable force, and the state then supported itself mainly on these tribes. We know that in the 7th century, the nomads of the province of Fars helped the Sassanid kings (224-642) to repel the Arab army. This is how the powerful nomads are built in the place: starting from the 18th century, that of the Bakhtiari in Lurestan, and that of the Gashgai in Fars, then in the 19th century that of Khamseh also in the Fars.



To break their power, resist attacks by invaders or reign order and security in dangerous places, the kings exiled them or transferred them, which resulted in their dispersal throughout the country. It was sometimes the government that dismissed or appointed tribal leaders. In 1921, Reza Shah launched the first enterprise of forced sedentarization. The government encountered some difficulties, the nomads did not always understand why they had to leave the tent and build a house in a position not chosen by them. Of course, they were set at altitudes where severe winter brought considerable losses of livestock. The great nomadic groups quickly resumed their traditional transhumances and their influence in favor of the weakening of central power in the 40s. We had to wait until 1957 to see the beginning of a second attempt by Mohammad Reza Shah.


The way of life of the nomads was completely overthrown by the sedentarization and agrarian reform of 1962 and by the redistribution of the lands that followed them. The traditional pastures narrowed under the pressure of the farmers and the country's political borders, hermetically closed, prevented nomadism in a wider space. In 1986, Iran had 1,152,099 migrant nomads, distributed in 96 tribes. This number is no more than 211.406 in 1996. Nowadays, the nomads make their way to the cold regions in autumn and settle in the hot regions in early spring. In the nomadic language, sardsir (the cold country) is the opposite of garmsir (hot country). The nomads spend the summer in the valleys of the mountainous regions, climbing up to 2500 m, and winter they go to shelter from the cold at the foot of the mountains and in the villages. In general, the autumn transhumance is shorter than that of spring, since in autumn there is less grass and water along the route.

For some nomads, the journey of spring is different from that of autumn. Emigrations lead groups hundreds of kilometers from their place of origin. The journey that the nomads make is different from one group to another, is generally from 200 (short transhumance) to 600 km (long transhumance) and lasts from 20 to 40 days. If the transhumance had traditionally taken place on foot, cars are waiting to be seen next to the tents awaiting the next move. A colorful spectacle, always appreciated by the traveler, is that of the flocks of sheep and goats that are pressed in the parades, mixed to the assemblages by women and children, or the sight of newborn lambs, the luggage of the transhumans, tents and cauldrons. In Iran, some invasions, such as the Turkish-Mongol invasions, have led to emigration, the invaders that devastate the countryside and which force a part of the sedentary population to become nomadic. Unlike the Arab or Sahara deserts traveled by nomadic tribes, the Iranian deserts are almost uninhabited, and only the borders are crossed in winter by the flocks, which are quick to leave them with the arrival of the first heat. In Iran, the nomads are in the mountains and not in the desert. In every province of the country, there are nomadic tribes of which the most famous are the Bakhtiari, the Gashgai, the Shah Savan, the Khamseh, the Afshar, the Baluci, the Turcmeni and the Arabs.

The Bakhtiari


The Bakhtiari are of Iranian origin. Today, the majority of Bakhtiari live in the Ciarmahal regions of Bakhtiari and Khuzestan. They spend the summer in Ciarmahal va Bakhtiari (in the Zagros mountains) and winter in the low plains of Khuzestan. Most of the Bakhtiari is expressed in luri, a Persian dialect, and practices Shia worship. We point out that the Bakhtiari played an important role in the establishment of the Constitution in 1907. The mountainous route of the Bakhtiari is very difficult to travel, which uses the mule to move their luggage.

The Gashgai

The dominant ethno-linguistic group in the Fars is that of the Gashgai who settled in the Fars in the 18th century. They are of Turkish descent and organized in a confederation. Traditionally, the Gashgai spend the winter at the foot of the Zagros Mountains, to the south and west of the Fars, climbing in the spring to the mountains north of the same region. The longest route between garmsir and sardsir is that of Gashgai Darreh Shuri. It is 670 km long. They travel in 40 days. The gashgai confederation was powerful enough in the 19th and early 20th centuries to play an important role at the regional level and also at the national level, the provincial authorities counted on them to ensure order and security in rural areas. At the time qajar (1795-1925), they constituted the incontestable power of the region. Between the 1950s and 1960s, the Gashgai, with nearly 150,000 people, was to be the largest organized nomadic group on the planet. In the 1960s, Mohammad Reza Shah broke their power by disarming them and nationalizing their pastures. Since then, many of the Gashgai are sedentary or have become semi-nomadic. The gabbeh (a type of simplified carpet) is the Gashgai handicraft specialty.

The Shahsavan

The Shah Savan (literally "those who like shah") live in the Ardebil region and differ from other ethnic groups due to their formation due to a government decision at the beginning of the 17th century. In fact, Shah Abbas І (1598-1628) created, starting from tribes of different origins, mostly of the Turkish language, a tribal confederation that was to serve to control the uprisings of the other nomads especially those of the Turks Ghezel Bash (red head) who had considerable power in the army and in the government. Shah Abbas not trusting them, tried to diminish their power. Like the Turcmeni, the Shahsavan saw their territory cut in two by the closure of the border with the former The Shahsavan spring transhumance lasts 15 days (300 km) and the autumn transhumance lasts 45 days. The Shahsavan spend spring at the foot of the mountains and in summer they rise higher. The Shahsavan folk literature is very rich. Their craft specialty is the kilim suzani. They are Shiites.

The Khamseh

The Fars region also includes a confederation that of the Khamseh, formed in 1858 by the Qajar rulers to balance the power of the Gashgai. The Khamseh is a confederation that groups five tribes of Iranian, Arab and Turkish origin (Khamseh means in Arabic "five "). The Khamseh are for the most part Shiites and they dress like the Arabs. They oscillate between the shores of the Persian Gulf and the mountains until they reach Ispahan. The Khamsehs were fearsome powers, weighing on the citizens who traded with the gulf a threat that was constant until the 20th century. The policy of sedentarisation was conducted here with some firmness.

The Afshar

Entered into the service of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722), the Afshar were led to occupy the posts in the four chants of the empire. This led to a division of their population. The main groups are in Azerbaijan, Qazvin, Hamedan and in a region between Kerman and Bandar Abbas. Afshar traditionally practice great pastoral nomadism, but many have become farmers today.

The Baluci



The most important nomads to the south-east of Iran are the Baluchis. Baluci adopted great nomadism, passing the summer on the heights of the country and returning to the coast in winter, until the agrarian reform and the sedentarization he does not force them to work in urban centers like Zahedan.I Baluci remain semi-nomadic today and they live in the extreme south-east of Iran, in Balucestan.I Baluci are of Iranian origin and Sunni confession. Emeritus knights, excel in camel racing.

The Turkmeni



Traditionally practicing the great nomadism, the Turkmens way of life was regulated by their geographical environment. They became sedentary from 1925. The closure of the border with Russia from 1928 considerably changed their way of life. Today, most Turkmens are largely sedentary and have become farmers and fishermen. They live in the extreme north-east of Iran, in the Khorassan and Golestan regions, near the Turkmen Sahra. The adoption of Shiism as an official religion in Iran triggers, starting from 1510, a return to mass to Iran of the Turkmen nomads of Anatolia, the Qara Qoyunlu and the Aq Qoyunlu, their Shiites, eager to leave the Sunni Ottoman ( the Turkmens of the north-east are Sunnites). Among the ten important tribes, 3 are now in Iran and 7 in the Republic of Turkmenistan. The Qara Qoyunlu, Aq Qoyunlu and Yamut tribes are very famous. The Qara dynasty Qoyunlu ruled from 1275 to 1468 in the northwest, and was later replaced by the Aq Qoyunlu (1434-1514).

The Arabs


The headquarters of the Arab tribes is west of Khuzestan near Iraq. They are native to Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Some arrived as early as the 1st century and others after the 7th century Arab invasion. The best known tribe is called bani ka'b and has been established around the Shatt-el-Arab.

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