Shahsevan - Orientation

In various parts of Iran live the remnants of several tribal groups called "Shahsevan," numbering perhaps 300,000 people. Most are now settled villagers or town dwellers who preserve little of their former tribal organization or pastoral nomadic culture, but some 50,000 Shahsevan still live a nomadic or seminomadic life in the province of East Azerbaijan, close to the former Soviet frontier. They winter near sea level on the Moghan steppe and spend the summer months 160 kilometers or so to the south in the high pastures of the Savalan range, in the districts of Ardabīl, Meshkin, and Sarab. Shahsevan nomads form a minority of the population in this region, although, like the settled majority, whom they know as "Tat," they are Shia Muslims and speak Azerbaijani Turkish. A century ago, Shahsevan identity in this region implied membership in any one of a number of recognized tribes, through political allegiance to its chief (beg); most tribespeople were pastoral nomads, but large numbers were settled farmers. Today, after decades of government suppression of the tribal political structure, "Shahsevan" signifies nomadic, tent-dwelling pastoralists, and most settled nomads soon lose their tribal identity.

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