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In the central and southern Zagros live the Bakhtiaris and the Lurs, two groups that speak Luri, a language closely related to Persian. Linguists have identified two Luri dialects: Lur Buzurg, which is spoken by the Bakhtiari, Kuhgiluyeh, and Mamasani tribes; and Lur Kuchik, which is spoken by the Lurs of Lorestan. Like the Persians, the Bakhtiaris and Lurs are Shia Muslims. Historically, each of the two groups was organized into several tribes. The tribal leaders or khans, especially those of the Bakhtiari tribes, were involved in national politics and were considered part of the prerevolutionary elite.
The Bakhtiaris have been considered both a political and a tribal entity separate from other Lurs for at least two centuries. They are concentrated in an area extending southward from Lorestan Province to Khuzestan Province and westward from Esfahan to within eighty kilometers of the present-day Iraqi border. A pastoral nomadic tribe called Bakhtiari can be traced back in Iranian history to as early as the fourteenth century, but the important Bakhtiari tribal confederation dates only from the nineteenth century. At the height of Bakhtiari influence, roughly from 1870 to 1930, the term Bakhtiari came to be associated not just with the nomadic tribes that provided the military prowess of the confederation but also with the villagers and even town dwellers who were under Bakhtiari jurisdiction. Thus, some Arabic-, Persian-, and Turkic-speaking peasants were considered part of the Bakhtiari. Beginning in the 1920s, the Pahlavi shahs gradually succeeded in establishing the authority of the central government in the Bakhtiari area. Several campaigns also were undertaken to settle forcibly the nomadic pastoral component of the Bakhtiari. The combined political and economic pressures resulted in a significant decline in the power of the Bakhtiari confederation. Detribalized Bakhtiaris, especially those who settled in urban areas and received an education in state schools, tended to be assimilated into Persian culture. By the time of the Revolution in 1979 the term Bakhtiari tended to be restricted to an estimated 250,000 tribespeople, most of whom still practiced pastoral nomadism.
Historically, the Bakhtiaris have been divided into two main tribal groups. The Chahar Lang are located in the northwest of the Bakhtiari country and until the middle of the nineteenth century retained the leadership of all the Bakhtiari tribes. The Haft Lang, the southwestern group, have been more closely associated with modern Iranian politics than the Chahar Lang and in some instances have exercised significant influence.
The Lurs (closely related to the Bakhtiaris) live in the Zagros to the northwest, west, and southeast of the Bakhtiaris. There were about 500,000 Lurs in Iran in the mid-1980s. The Lurs are divided into two main groups, the Posht-e Kuhi and the Pish-e Kuhi. These two groups are subdivided into more than sixty tribes, the most important of which include the Boir Ahmadi, the Kuhgiluyeh, and the Mamasani. Historically, the Lurs have included an urban segment based in the town of Khorramabad, the provincial capital of Lorestan. Prior to 1900, however, the majority of Lurs were pastoral nomads. Traditionally, they were considered among the fiercest of Iranian tribes and had acquired an unsavory reputation on account of their habit of preying on both Lur and non-Lur villages. During the 1920s and 1930s, the government of Reza Shah undertook several coercive campaigns to settle the nomadic Lurs. Following the abdication of Reza Shah in 1941, many of the recently settled tribes reverted to nomadism. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi's government attempted with some success through various economic development programs to encourage the remaining nomadic Lurs to settle. By 1986 a majority of all Lurs were settled in villages and small towns in the traditional Lur areas or had migrated to cities.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress