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Iranian peoples

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Iranian peoples
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Shapur I
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Bahman Ghobadi
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Total population
135–185 million Communities majorly in Iran and also in Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Oman, China (Xinjiang), India, Pakistan, United Kingdom, Germany and United States.
Regions with significant populations
Iran and Iranian Plateau, Anatolia, South Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus and as immigrant communities in North America and Western Europe.

Persian language and other Iranian languages, a branch of the Indo-European family


Majority Shi'a Islam and Sunni Islam, Orthodox Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Georgian Orthodox, Nestorians, Judaism, Atheism, Agnosticism and Bahá'í Faith.

Related ethnic groups

Other Indo-Iranian peoples

The Iranian peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group that comprise the speakers of Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family, as such forming a branch of the Indo-European-speaking peoples. Their historical areas of settlement were on the Iranian plateau (mainly Iran) and certain neighbouring areas of Central Asia (such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, western Pakistan, northern Iraq and eastern Turkey, and scattered part of the Caucasus Mountains) reflecting changing geopolitical range of the Persian empires and the Iranian history. Their current distribution spreads across the Iranian plateau, and stretches from Pakistan's Indus River in the east to eastern Turkey in the west, and from Central Asia and the Caucasus in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south – a region that is sometimes called the Iranian cultural continent, or Greater Persia by scholars, and represents the extent of the Iranian languages and influence of the Persian people, through the geopolitical reach of the Persian empire.

The Iranian group emerges from an earlier Iranian group during the Late Bronze Age, and it enters the historical record during the Early Iron Age.

The Iranians comprise the Persians, Medes, Scythians, Bactrians, Parthians, Sarmatians, Alans, Ossetians and their sub-groups. The Iranians had domesticated horses, had travelled far and wide, and from the late 2nd millennium BCE to early 1st millennium BCE they had migrated to, and settled on, the Iranian Plateau. They moved into the Zagros Mountains (inhabited by Gutians, Kassites and others, home of the Mannaean kingdom) above the indigenous non Iranian Elamite Kingdom. For approximately three centuries after arriving in the region, the Medes and Persians fell under the domination of the Assyrian Empire (911–609 BCE), based in nearby Mesopotamia. In 646 BCE, Susa and many other cities of Elam were plundered and wrecked by Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, allowing the Iranian peoples to become the predominant group in Iran. After the death of Ashurbanipal in 627 BCE, the Assyrian Empire began to unravel due to a series of bitter civil wars. In 616 BCE the Median king Cyaxares threw off the Assyrian yoke, united the Medes and Persians, and in alliance with Nabopolassar of Babylon and the Scythians, attacked the civil war ridden Assyrian Empire. By 609 BCE, the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies had been defeated. This began the Iranian domination in the Iranian Plateau. Persians formed the Achaemenid Empire by the 6th century BCE, while the Scythians dominated the Eurasian steppe. With numerous artistic, scientific, architectural and philosophical achievements and numerous kingdoms and empires that bridged much of the civilized world in antiquity, the Iranian peoples were often in close contact with the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Indians, and Chinese. The various religions of the Iranian peoples, including Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Manichaeism, are believed by some scholars to have been significant early philosophical influences on Christianity and Judaism.


Geographic distribution of Iranian languages

The term Iranian is derived from the Old Iranian ethnical adjective Aryana which is itself a cognate of the Sanskrit word Arya. The name Iran is from Aryānām; lit: "[Land] of the Aryans". The old Proto-Indo-Iranian term Arya, per Thieme meaning "hospitable", is believed to have been one of the self-referential terms used by the Aryans, at least in the areas populated by Aryans who migrated south from Central Asia. Another meaning for Aryan is noble. In the late part of the Avesta (Vendidad 1), one of their homelands was referred to as Airyanem Vaejah. The homeland varied in its geographic range, the area around Herat ( Pliny's view) and even the entire expanse of the Iranian plateau ( Strabo's designation).

The academic usage of the term Iranian is distinct from the state of Iran and its various citizens (who are all Iranian by nationality and thus popularly referred to as Iranians) in the same way that Germanic people is distinct from Germans. Many citizens of Iran are not necessarily "Iranian people" by virtue of not being speakers of Iranian languages. Unlike the various terms connected with the Aryan arya- in Old Indian, the Old Iranian term has solely an ethnic meaning and there can be no doubt about the ethnic value of Old Iran. arya (Benveniste, 1969, I, pp. 369 f.; Szemerényi; Kellens).

The name Arya lives in the ethnic names like Alan, New Persian: Iran, Ossetian: Ir and Iron. The name Iran has been in usage since Sassanid times.

The Avesta clearly uses airya as an ethnic name (Vd. 1; Yt. 13.143-44, etc.), where it appears in expressions such as airyāfi; daiŋˊhāvō "Iranian lands, peoples," airyō.šayanəm "land inhabited by Iranians," and airyanəm vaējō vaŋhuyāfi; dāityayāfi; "Iranian stretch of the good Dāityā," the river Oxus, the modern Āmū Daryā.

The term "Ariya" appears in the royal Old Persian inscriptions in three different contexts: 1) As the name of the language of the Old Persian version of the inscription of Darius the Great in Behistun; 2) as the ethnic background of Darius in inscriptions at Naqsh-e-Rostam and Susa (Dna, Dse) and Xerxes in the inscription from Persepolis (Xph) and 3) as the definition of the God of Iranian people, Ahuramazda, in the Elamite version of the Behistun inscription. For example in the Dna and Dse Darius and Xerxes describe themselves as "An Achaemenian, A Persian son of a Persian and an Aryan, of Aryan stock". Although Darius the Great called his language the Iranian language, modern scholars refer to it as Old Persian because it is the ancestor of modern Persian language.

The Old Persian and Avestan evidence is confirmed by the Greek sources". Herodotus in his Histories remarks about the Iranian Medes that: "These Medes were called anciently by all people Arians; " (7.62). In Armenian sources, the Parthians, Medes and Persians are collectively referred to as Iranians. Eudemus of Rhodes apud Damascius (Dubitationes et solutiones in Platonis Parmenidem 125 bis) refers to "the Magi and all those of Iranian (áreion) lineage"; Diodorus Siculus (1.94.2) considers Zoroaster (Zathraustēs) as one of the Arianoi.

Strabo, in his "Geography", mentions the unity of Medes, Persians, Bactrians and Sogdians:

The name of Ariana is further extended to a part of Persia and of Media, as also to the Bactrians and Sogdians on the north; for these speak approximately the same language, with but slight variations.

Geography, 15.8

The trilingual inscription erected by Shapur's command gives a more clear description. The languages used are Parthian, Middle Persian and Greek. In Greek, the inscription says: "ego ... tou Arianon ethnous despotes eimi"("I am lord of the kingdom (Gk. nation) of the Aryans") which translates to "I am the king of the Iranian people". In the Middle Persian, Shapour states: "ērānšahr xwadāy hēm" and in Parthian he states: "aryānšahr xwadāy ahēm".

The Bactrian language (a Middle Iranian language) inscription of Kanishka the founder of the Kushan empire at Rabatak, which was discovered in 1993 in an unexcavated site in the Afghanistan province of Baghlan, clearly refers to this Eastern Iranian language as Arya. In the post-Islamic era, one can still see a clear usage of the term Iran in the work of the 10th-century historian Hamzeh Isfahani. In his book the history of Prophets and Kings writes: "Aryan which is also called Pars (Persia) is in the middle of these countries and these six countries surround it because the South East is in the hands China, the North of the Turks, the middle South is India, the middle North is Rome, and the South West and the North West is the Sudan and Berber lands". All this evidence shows that the name arya "Iranian" was a collective definition, denoting peoples (Geiger, pp. 167 f.; Schmitt, 1978, p. 31) who were aware of belonging to the one ethnic stock, speaking a common language, and having a religious tradition that centered on the cult of Ahura Mazdā.

History and settlement


The extent of the BMAC (according to the EIEC).

The language referred to as Proto-Indo-European (PIE): is ancestral to Diba and the Celtic, Italic (including Romance), Germanic, Baltic, Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Albanian, Armernian, Greek, and Tocharian languages.

'There is an agreement that the PIE community split into two major groups from wherever its homeland was situated (its location is unknown), and whenever the timing of its dispersal (also unknown). One headed west for Europe and became speakers of Indo-European (all the languages of modern Europe save for Basque, Hungarian, and Finnish) while others headed east for Eurasia to become Indo-Iranians. The Indo-Iranians were a community that spoke a common language prior to their branching off into the Iranian and Indo-Aryan languages. Iranian refers to the languages of Iran (Iranian), Pakistan (Balochi and Pashto), Afghanistan (Pashto and Dari), and Tadjikistan (Tajiki) and Indo-Aryan, Sanskrit, Urdu and its many related languages.' – (Carl C. Lamberg-Karlovsky: Case of the Bronze Age)

By the early 1st millennium, Ancient Iranian peoples such as Medes, Persians, Bactrians, Parthians and Scythians populated the Iranian plateau, and other Scythian tribes, along with Cimmerians, Sarmatians and Alans populated the steppes north of the Black Sea. The Saka, Scythian, tribes spread as far west as the Balkans and as far east as Xinjiang. Scythians as well formed the Indo-Scythian Empire, and Bactrians formed a Greco-Bactrian Kingdom founded by Diodotus I, the satrap of Bactria. The Kushan Empire, with Bactrian roots/connections, once controlled much of Pakistan, some of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Kushan elite (who the Chinese called the Yuezhi) were either a Tocharian-speaking (another Indo-European branch) people or an Eastern Iranian language-speaking people.

The division into an " Eastern" and a " Western" group by the early 1st millennium is visible in Avestan vs. Old Persian, the two oldest known Iranian languages. The Old Avestan texts known as the Gathas are believed to have been composed by Zoroaster, the founder of Zoroastrianism, with the Yaz culture (c. 1500–1100 BCE) as a candidate for the development of Eastern Iranian culture.

Old Persian appears to have been established in written form by 519 BCE, following the creation of the Old Persian script, inspired by the cuneiform script of the Assyrians.

Western Iranian peoples

Geographical extent of Iranian influence in the 1st century BCE. The Parthian Empire (mostly Western Iranian) is shown in red, other areas, dominated by Scythia ( Eastern Iranian), in orange.
Achaemenid empire at its greatest extent
Bronze Statue of a Parthian nobleman, National Museum of Iran.

During the 1st centuries of the first millennium BCE, the ancient Persians established themselves in the western portion of the Iranian plateau and appear to have interacted considerably with the Elamites and Babylonians, while the Medes also entered in contact with the Assyrians. Remnants of the Median language and Old Persian show their common Proto-Iranian roots, emphasized in Strabo and Herodotus' description of their languages as very similar to the languages spoken by the Bactrians and Soghdians in the east. Following the establishment of the Achaemenid Empire, the Persian language (referred to as "Farsi" in Persian) spread from Pars or Fars Province to various regions of the Empire, with the modern dialects of Iran, Afghanistan (also known as Dari) and Central-Asia (known as Tajiki) descending from Old Persian.

Old Persian is attested in the Behistun Inscription (c. 519 BCE), recording a proclamation by Darius the Great. In southwestern Iran, the Achaemenid kings usually wrote their inscriptions in trilingual form ( Elamite, Babylonian and Old Persian) while elsewhere other languages were used. The administrative languages were Elamite in the early period, and later Imperial Aramaic.

The early inhabitants of the Achaemenid Empire appear to have adopted the religion of Zoroastrianism. The Baloch who speak a west Iranian language relate an oral tradition regarding their migration from Aleppo, Syria around the year 1000 CE, whereas linguistic evidence links Balochi to Kurmanji, Soranî, Gorani and Zazaki.

Eastern Iranian peoples

While the Iranian tribes of the south are better known through their texts and modern counterparts, the tribes which remained largely in the vast Eurasian expanse are known through the references made to them by the ancient Greeks, Persians, Indo-Aryans as well as by archaeological finds. Many ancient Sanskrit texts make references to tribes like Sakas, Paradas, Kambojas, Bahlikas, Uttaramadras, Madras, Lohas, Parama Kambojas, Rishikas, Tukharas or Tusharas etc. and locate them in the ( Uttarapatha) (north-west) division, in Central Asia, around Hindukush range in northern Pakistan. The Greek chronicler, Herodotus (5th century BCE) makes references to a nomadic people, the Scythians; he describes as having dwelt in what is today southern Russia.

It is believed that these Scythians were conquered by their eastern cousins, the Sarmatians, who are mentioned by Strabo as the dominant tribe which controlled the southern Russian steppe in the 1st millennium CE. These Sarmatians were also known to the Romans, who conquered the western tribes in the Balkans and sent Sarmatian conscripts, as part of Roman legions, as far west as Roman Britain.

The Sarmatians of the east became the Alans, who also ventured far and wide, with a branch ending up in Western Europe and North Africa, as they accompanied the Germanic Vandals during their migrations. The modern Ossetians are believed to be the sole direct descendants of the Alans, as other remnants of the Alans disappeared following Germanic, Hunnic and ultimately Slavic migrations and invasions. Another group of Alans allied with Goths to defeat the Romans and ultimately settled in what is now called Catalonia (Goth-Alania).

Silver coin of the Indo-Scythian king Azes II (r.c. 35–12 BCE). Buddhist triratna symbol in the left field on the reverse.
Scythian Horseman, Pazyryk felt artifact, c. 300 BCE

Some of the Saka-Scythian tribes in Central Asia would later move further southeast and invade the Iranian plateau, large sections of present day Afghanistan and finally deep into present day Pakistan (see Indo-Scythians). Another Iranian tribe related to the Saka-Scythians were the Parni in Central Asia, and who later become indistinguishable from the Parthians, speakers of a northwest-Iranian language. Many Iranian tribes, including the Khwarazmians, Massagetae and Sogdians, were assimilated and/or displaced in Central Asia by the migrations of Turkic tribes emanating out of Xinjiang and Siberia.

The most dominant surviving Eastern Iranian peoples are represented by the Pashtuns, whose origins are generally believed to be from the Sulaiman Mountains, from which they began to spread until they reached as far west as Herat, north to areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan; and as eastward towards the Indus. The Pashto language shows affinities to the Avestan and Bactrian.

The modern Sarikoli in southern Xinjiang and the Ossetians of the Caucasus are remnants of the various Saka tribes. The modern Ossetians claim to be the descendants of the Alano-Sarmatians and their claims are supported by their Northeast Iranian language, while culturally the Ossetians resemble their Caucasian neighbors, the Kabardians and Circassians. Various extinct Iranian people existed in the eastern Caucasus, including the Azaris, while some Iranian people remain in the region, including the Talysh and the Tats (including the Judeo-Tats, who have relocated to Israel), found in Azerbaijan and as far north as the Russian republic of Dagestan. A remnant of the Sogdians is found in the Yaghnobi speaking population in parts of the Zeravshan valley in Tajikistan.

Later developments

Starting with the reign of Omar in 634 CE, Muslim Arabs began a conquest of the Iranian plateau. The Arabs conquered the Sassanid Empire of the Persians and seized much of the Byzantine Empire populated by the Kurds and others. Ultimately, the various Iranian people, including the Persians, Azaries, Kurds, Baluchis and Pashtuns, converted to Islam. The Iranian people would later split along sectarian lines as the Persians (and later the Hazara) adopted the Shi'a sect. As ancient tribes and identities changed, so did the Iranian people, many of whom assimilated foreign cultures and people.

Later, during the 2nd millennium CE, the Iranian people would play a prominent role during the age of Islamic expansion and empire. Saladin, a noted adversary of the Crusaders, was an ethnic Kurd, while various empires centered in Iran (including the Safavids) re-established a modern dialect of Persian as the official language spoken throughout much of what is today Iran and adjacent parts of Central Asia. Iranian influence spread to the Ottoman Empire, where Persian was often spoken at court, as well to the court of the Mughal Empire. All of the major Iranian people reasserted their use of Iranian languages following the decline of Arab rule, but would not begin to form modern national identities until the 19th and early 20th centuries (just as Germans and Italians were beginning to formulate national identities of their own).

The following either partially descend from Iranian people or are sometimes regarded as possible descendants of ancient Iranian people:

  • Turkic-speakers:
    • Azeris: Although Azeris speak a Turkic language (modern Azerbaijani language), they are believed to be primarily descendants of ancient Iranians. Thus, due to their historical ties with various ancient Iranians, as well as their cultural ties to Persians, the Azeris are often associated with the Iranian people (see Origin of Azerbaijani people and the Iranian theory regarding the origin of the Azerbaijanis for more details).
    • Uzbeks: The modern Uzbek people are believed to have both Iranian and Turkic ancestry. "Uzbek" and "Tajik" are modern designations given to the culturally homogeneous, sedentary population of Central Asia. The local ancestors of both groups – the Turkic-speaking Uzbeks and the Iranian-speaking Tajiks – were known as " Sarts" ("sedentary merchants") prior to the Russian conquest of Central Asia, while "Uzbek" or "Turk" were the names given to the nomadic and semi-nomadic populations of the area. Still today, modern Uzbeks and Tajiks are known as "Sarts" to their Turkic neighbours, the Kazakhs and the Kyrgyz. The ancient Soghdians and Bactrians are among their ancestors. Culturally, the Uzbeks are closer to their sedentary Iranian-speaking neighbours rather than to their nomadic and semi-nomadic Turkic neighbours. Some Uzbek scholars, i.e. Ahmadov and Askarov, favour the Iranian origin theory.
    • The native name of Yakuts is Sakha, very similar to the Sakkas, proposing Yakuts to be related of descendants of Scythians, specifically Sakkahs.
    • Volga TatarsMany are mixed from Volga bulgars. The reasons are same with Bulgarians, and the putative claim on the Iranian origin of bulgars.
  • Slavic-speakers:
    • A few linguists suggest that the names of the South Slavic people, the Serbs and Croats are of Iranian origin. Those who entertain such a connection propose that the Sarmatian Serboi and Horouthos tribes might have migrated from the Eurasian steppe lands to eastern Europe, and assimilated with the numerically superior Slavs, passing on their name. Iranian-speaking people did inhabit parts of the Balkans in late classical times, and would have been encountered by the Slavs. However, direct linguistic, historical or archaeological proof for such a theory is lacking. (See also: Theories on the origin of Serbs and Theories on the origin of Croats)Ultimately, Montenegrins and Bosniaks may be counted to this theory.
    • Some modern Bulgarian historians claim that the Bulgars were of Iranian origin and that they migrated to Europe from the region of today's northern Afghanistan – Hindukush mountains, from the Kingdom of Balhara. Their claims are based on medieval Armenian sources, the writings of ancient historians ("Ashharatsuyts" by Anania Shirakatsi; Agathias of Myrina, Theophylact Simocatta, Michael the Syrian) archaeological findings in modern Bulgaria, the similarities with Iranian languages (place names, people names, and Iranian words in modern Bulgarian), similarities with culture (e.g.: some buildings in Pliska were built in a Zoroastrian fashion; similarities in traditional music, dancing and carpet making) and the very close similarity of the DNA of Pamirian/Iranian people with that of modern Bulgarians After their arrival on Balkans, the Bulgars subjugated and then formed an alliance with the local Slavs and formed the Bulgarian nation. Ultimately, Slavic Macedonians could be counted due to their close linguistic affinities with the standard Bulgarian language.
      • Example:
english persian zazaki (Kurdish) Kurmanji / Sorani bulgarian
i know midânam ez dizono ez dizanim /min azanim az znam
you know midâni ti dizana tu dizanî / to azanit ti znayş
i don't know nemidânam ez nizon ez nizanim / min nazanim az neznam
you don't know nemidâni ti nizona tu nizanî / to nazanit ti niznayş
a dog sag kûtik kûtchik / sag kutche (kûçe)
  • Indo-Aryan speakers
    • Speakers of Indo-Aryan languages share linguistic affinities with speakers of Iranian languages, which suggests a degree of historical interaction between these two groups.
  • Brahui people in Pakistan are speakers of a language classified as Dravidian, although culturally there is considerable Iranic influence among Brahui populations.
  • Uralic speakers
    • Many Volga Finns may be of part Iranian admixture due to Bulgar invasion of the Volga basin, if they (Bulgars) were Iranian people.
    • Hungarians have long prided themselves as Scythians in the past, Scythians being an Iranian people, prior to the Finno-Ugric/Uralic theory. It's possible they've undergone a language shift. In a Magyar folkore suggests Iranian admixture among Hungarian, when Hunor and Magor marry princesses who were Alans, another Iranian people. Jassic people of Hungary are of Ossetian origin. The Szekely are possibly of Iranian origin, as their name is similar to Sakka.
  • Swahili-speakers:
    • Shirazis:The Shirazi are a sub-group of the Swahili people living on the Swahili Coast of East Africa, especially on the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Comoros. Local traditions about their origin claim they are descended from merchant princes from Shiraz in Persia who settled along the Swahili Coast.


There are an estimated 150 to 200 million native speakers of Iranian languages, the five major groups of Persians, Lurs, Kurds, Baloch, and Pashtuns accounting for about 90% of this number. Currently, most of these Iranian peoples live in Iran, the Caucasus (mainly Ossetia, other parts of Georgia, and Azerbaijan), Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurdish majority populated areas of Turkey, Iran and Syria, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Due to recent migrations, there are also large communities of speakers of Iranian languages in Europe, the Americas, and Israel.

The following is a list of peoples that speak Iranian languages with the respective groups's core areas of settlements and their estimated sizes (in millions):

People region population
Persian-speaking peoples
  • Aimaqs
  • Hazara
  • Huwala
  • Iranian Persians
    • Iraqi Persians
    • Bahraini Persians
  • Tajiks (Central Asian Persians)
    • Farsiwan
  • Tats of the Caucasus
Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Bahrain
  • Durrani
  • Ghilzai
  • Wazir
  • Yusufzai
Pakistan, Afghanistan
  • Kalhurs
  • Laks
  • Yazidis
  • Zaza
Turkey, Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria
Baluchis Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan
Gilakis & Mazanderanis Iran
Lurs & Bakhtiaris Iran
Laks Iran
Pamiri people
  • Sariqoli
  • Shughni
  • Tajiks of China
  • Wakhi
Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China (Xinjiang), Pakistan
  • Tats of Iran
Azerbaijan, Iran
  • Digor
  • Iron
  • Jasz
South Ossetia, Georgia,
Russia (North Ossetia), Hungary
Yaghnobi Uzbekistan and Tajikistan ( Zerafshan region)
Kumzari Oman ( Musandam)


It is largely through linguistic similarities that the Iranian people have been linked, as many non-Iranian people have adopted Iranian languages and cultures. However, other common traits have been identified as well, for example, a stream of common historical events have often linked the southern Iranian people, including Hellenistic conquests, the various empires based in Persia, Arab Caliphates and Turkic invasions.


Like other Indo-Europeans, the early Iranians practiced ritual sacrifice, had a social hierarchy consisting of warriors, clerics and farmers and poetic hymns and sagas to recount their deeds.

Following the Iranian split from the Indo-Iranians, the Iranians developed an increasingly distinct culture. Various common traits can be discerned among the Iranian people. For example, the social event Norouz is an Iranian festival that is practiced by nearly all of the Iranian people as well as others in the region. Its origins are traced to Zoroastrianism and pre-historic times.

Some Iranian cultures exhibit traits that are unique unto themselves. The Pashtuns adhere to a code of honour and culture known as Pashtunwali, which has a similar counterpart among the Baloch, called Mayar, that is more hierarchical.


The early Iranian people worshipped various deities found throughout other cultures where Indo-European immigrants established themselves. The earliest major religion of the Iranian people was Zoroastrianism, which spread to nearly all of the Iranian people living in the Iranian plateau. Other religions that had their origins in the Iranian world were Mithraism, Manichaeism, and Mazdakism, among others.

Mazari Sharif's Blue Mosque in Afghanistan is a structure of cobalt blue and turquoise minarets, attracting visitors and pilgrims from all over the world. Many such Muslim architectural monuments can be attributed to the efforts of the Iranian people who are predominantly followers of Islam today.

Modern speakers of Iranian languages mainly follow Islam. Some follow Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and the Bahá'í Faith, with an unknown number showing no religious affiliation. Overall the numbers of Sunni and Shia among the Iranian people are equally distributed. Most Kurds, Tajiks, Pashtuns, and Baluch are Sunni Muslims, while the remainder are mainly Twelver Shi'a, comprising mostly Persians in Iran, and Hazaras in Afghanistan. Zazas in Turkey are largely Alevi, while the Pamiri peoples in Tajikistan and China are nearly all Ismaili. The Christian community is mainly represented by the Armenian Apostolic Church, followed by the Russian Orthodox and Georgian Orthodox Ossetians followed by Nestorians. Judaism is followed mainly by Persian Jews, Kurdish Jews, Bukharian Jews (of Central Asia) and the Mountain Jews (of the Caucasus), most of whom are now found in Israel. The historical religion of the Persian Empire was Zoroastrianism and it still has a few thousand followers, mostly in Yazd and Kerman. They are known as the Parsis in the Indian subcontinent, where many of them fled in historic times following the Arab conquest of Persia, or Zoroastrians in Iran. Another ancient religion is the Yazidi faith, followed by some Kurds in northern Iraq, as well as the majority of the Kurds in Armenia.

Elements of pre-Islamic Zoroastrian and shamanistic beliefs persist among some Islamized groups today, such as the Tajiks, Pashtuns and Pamiri peoples.

Cultural assimilation

In matters relating to culture, the various Turkic-speaking ethnic groups of Iran (notably the Azerbaijani people) and Afghanistan ( Uzbeks and Turkmen) are often conversant in Iranian languages, in addition to their own Turkic languages and also have Iranian culture to the extent that the term Turko-Iranian can be applied. The usage applies to various circumstances that involve historic interaction, intermarriage, cultural assimilation, bilingualism and cultural overlap or commonalities.

Notable among this synthesis of Turko-Iranian culture are the Azeris, whose culture, religion and significant periods of history are linked to the Persians. Certain theories and genetic tests suggest that the Azeris are genetically more Iranian than Turkic.


Two Y-DNA haplogroups are supposed to be connected with Iranian peoples: J2 and R1a1.

R1 is more closely linked to Iranians, while R1b is linked to Europeans.


Haplogroup J2 especially the clade J2a is frequently found among almost all groups of Iranian people. In comparison with the haplogroup R1a1, J2 is not only restricted to geographically eastern and western Iranian populations, but also found among north-western and south-western Iranian populations such as the Bakhtiaris and Mazanderani, as well as geographically north-western Iranian Ossetians. Despite its supposed origin in the fertile crescent, J2a is also found among Iranian populations in the east such as the Yagnobi which are of Soghdian origin as well as the Parsis of India. Beside the relatively high percentage among the Yagnobis in Central Asia, other Iranian populations tend to have a higher frequency of J2a when compared to neighboring Turkic populations. The relatively strong presence of J2a among Ossetians as well as Yagnobis proves distant from the supposed Mesopotamian origin region of J2, are carriers of this Haplogroup.

In the Indo-Iranian context, the occurrence of J2a in South Asia is limited to caste populations, with the highest frequencies found among northern areas of South Asia. Compared with R1a1, J2a shows a more conservative distribution, stronger limited to Indo-Iranian origin groups.


Many Haplotypes of Y-chromosomal Haplogroup R have been found throughout the Iranian Plateau, and it has been suggested that this Haplogroup may have had its origins in Iran. Cambridge University geneticist Toomas Kivisild has suggested  : "Given the geographic spread and STR diversities of sister clades R1 and R2, the latter of which is restricted to India, Pakistan, Iran, and southern central Asia, it is possible that southern and western Asia were the source for R1 and R1a differentiation."(Kivisild et al. 2003). A similar conclusion was given by population geneticist Miguel Regueiro in the Journal of Human Heredity (Regueiro et al. Human Heredity vol. 61 (2006), pp. 132–143)

Genetic studies conducted by Cavalli-Sforza have revealed that Iranians have weak correlation with Near Eastern groups, and are closer to surrounding Indo-Europeans speaking populations. This study is partially supported by another one, based on Y-Chromosome haplogroups.

The findings of this study reveal many common genetic markers found among the Iranian people from the Tigris river of Iraq to the Indus of Pakistan. This correlates with the Iranian languages spoken from the Caucasus to Kurdish areas in the Zagros region and eastwards to western Pakistan and Tajikistan and parts of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. The extensive gene flow is perhaps an indication of the spread of Iranian-speaking people, whose languages are now spoken mainly on the Iranian plateau and adjacent regions.

Another recent study of the genetic landscape of Iran was done by a team of Cambridge geneticists led by Dr. Maziar Ashrafian Bonab (an Iranian Azarbaijani). Bonab remarked that his group had done extensive DNA testing on different language groups, including Indo-European and non Indo-European speakers, in Iran. The study found that the Azerbaijanis of Iran do not have a similar FSt and other genetic markers found in Anatolian and European Turks. However, the genetic Fst and other genetic traits like MRca and mtDNA of Iranian Azeris were identical to Persians in Iran. Azaris of Iran also show very close genetic ties to Kurds.

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