Lur - History and Cultural Relations

The Lur may have migrated from Syria into the western Zagros Mountains some time after the Arab invasion of Iran in the seventh century A . D . Another theory suggests that the Lur were indigenous nomadic herders who inhabited the area since early times and spoke an Indo-Iranian language. Adherents of the latter theory believe that the Lur were the descendants of the Parsua, who inhabited what is now Lorestān and Bakhtīarī in 800 B . C . The Parsua established the Persian Empire (550-330 B . C .) and are thus considered among the indigenous Persians.

The traditional homeland of the Lur is the Zagros Mountains, but there are Lur communities scattered in many parts of Iran. The Lur are believed to constitute about half of the population of Īlām and the entire population of Lorestān, Bakhtīarī, Kohkīlūyeh, and Boyer Ahmadī. In addition, they occupy almost one half of Khūzestān, one third of Hamadān and Bushehr, and a significant portion of Fārs. There are also Lur communities elsewhere in Iran, and a significant population living in Iraq.

The traditional territory of the Lur was divided in the tenth century into what has become known as the Lorestān-e-Bozorg (the large Lorestān), which is now the Bakhtiari territory, and the Lorestān-e-Kuchak (the small Lorestān), which is now the governorship of Lorestān. Probably because of conflict between different tribes within the areas, each of the two Lorestāns was further subdivided into smaller political units. The Lorestān-e-Kuchak consists of two ecological and cultural zones: Pusht Kuh ("behind the mountain") and Peesh Kuh ("in front of the mountain"). Pusht Kuh is actually a transitional zone between Lorestān proper and central Kurdistan. The Bakhtiari of Lorestān-e-Bozorg were also split into two tribal blocs, Haft Lang and Char Lang. Kohkīlūyeh is an administrative district in southwest Iran covering an area of about 15,000 square kilometers. This region lies within the southwestern segments of the Zagros arc.

The inhabitants of Pusht Kuh include Kurds, Lur, and Arabs, who have strong cultural and linguistic affinities with the more dominant Kurdish populations to the north. This segment of the population numbers about 120,000 (Fazel 1984) and has a greater degree of religious diversity than the other Lur populations. The major religious groups here include the Shia Ithna Ashari (to which most Lur belong), Ali Allahi, the Sunnis, and Christian Assyrians. The population of the Lur of Peesh Kuh, or Lorestān proper, is estimated at 230,000 (Fazel 1984). The Peesh Kuh Lur are much more homogeneous than the Pusht Kuh Lur, and are very similar to the Bakhtiari, especially the Chahar Lang Bakhtiari. The Haft Lang Bakhtiari have more in common with Kohkīlūyeh Lur. The Lur of Bakhtīarī numbered approximately 680,000 in 1982 (Grimes 1988) and those of Kohkīlūyeh approximately 270,000 (Fazel 1984). The total population of Lur in Iran was estimated at about 3,000,000 in 1982 (Grimes 1988).

The reigns of Reza Shah (1925-1942) and Mohammad Reza Shah (1942-1979) brought drastic changes to the lives of the Lur and the other tribal groups in Iran. For the most part, the policies of both leaders included the elimination, pacification, or settlement of the tribes. During Reza Shah's reign, tribal leaders were executed, and migrations between summer and winter camps were banned. The resulting loss of 90 percent of the livestock inflicted extreme hardship on the tribes. The land reforms of the Pahlavi regime, intended in part to settle the tribes, created ecological disasters as impoverished nomads began a frantic conversion of steep mountain pastures into farmlands in order to qualify for individualized ownership of land. Similarly, the introduction of a national system of education undermined the normative foundation of the traditional socioeconomic systems; thus, literacy also brought alienation from the only life-style that was available.

The Revolution of 1978-1979 ended the Pahlavi regime and some of the problems it had created for the tribes. Postrevolutionary changes are proceeding in the context of the Islamization of society, enforced by strict guidelines from the central government. As a result, tribal religious leaders have been given a critical role in supervising and implementing Islamic guidelines in education, commerce, and aspects of social behavior. Lack of reliable information from Iran prevents an assessment of what effect these changes are having on the Lur and the other tribes of Iran.

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