Qashqa'i - Orientation

Identification. The Qashqa'i are tribally organized, Turkic-speaking, nomadic pastoralists and agriculturists who live in southwestern Iran. They possess a strong sense of ethnic identity and are one of Iran's many national minorities. They are Shia Muslims, unlike most of Iran's other minorities, who are either Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, or Baha'is.

Location. The Qashqa'i are located in the Zagros Mountains, in the province of Fārs. Their territory extends from the Persian Gulf-coast littoral in the east to the Shīrāz-Eşfahān highway in the west, and from the Persian Gulf-coast littoral in the south to the Bakhtiyari border south of the city of Eşfahān in the north. Shīrāz, the major urban center of southwestern Iran, is located in the middle of Qashqa'i territory. Qashqa'i nomads migrate between their low-elevation winter pastures near the Gulf and their high-elevation summer pastures to the north or northeast—a distance as great as 560 kilometers—and en route they pass by Shīrāz and through settled agricultural zones. Their winter pastures are hot and dry in late spring, summer, and early autumn, and their summer pastures have a deep snow cover all winter, both features necessitating seasonal occupation and migration.

Demography. The Qashqa'i number approximately 500,000 people. Although the Iranian government has never taken a census of the Qashqa'i, their tribal leaders give quite accurate estimates of the people under their authority. Until the national land reforms of the 1960s, the vast majority of Qashqa'i were nomadic pastoralists, but, since then, many Qashqa'i have settled in villages, sometimes creating new ones, in and near the territory through which they had migrated as nomads. Qashqa'i people are also found in Shīrāz and Eşfahān and in the region's towns.

Linguistic Affiliation. The first language for the majority of Qashqa'i is Turkish, a southwestern Oghuz Turkic language. Qashqa'i Turkish is not a written language. The Qashqa'i tribal confederacy was formed over several centuries by diverse peoples, and, as a consequence, the first language of some Qashqa'i—Luri, Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, Baluchi, or Rom (Gypsy)—reflects this diversity. Almost all Qashqa'i men also speak Persian, the official language of Iran and the medium of communication with markets, government agents, and the surrounding dominant, Persian-speaking society. Since 1955, Qashqa'i schoolchildren have been taught to read and write in Persian. Most Qashqa'i nomad women know enough Persian to negotiate with itinerant peddlers and other outsiders, but the settled Qashqa'i women speak Persian more fluently than the nomad women.

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