Zoroastrians - Orientation

Identification. The ethnic identity of this Iranian minority group is derived from their religion, Zoroastrianism. They constitute only 0.18 percent of the Iranian population. The term "Zoroastrian" is taken from the name of their prophet Zarathushtra (Greek: Zoroaster). The majority Muslims of Iran considered them to be "infidels," hence the Zoroastrians were known as "Guebres" (Gabrs, Gabars).

Location. The Zoroastrians are spread throughout Iran, which has an area of 1,648,000 square kilometers. It is bordered in the north by the Caspian Sea and in the south by the Persian Gulf. Fifty percent of the land is desert, mostly concentrated in the center of the country. Annual rainfall in Iran is 127 centimeters in the mountains of the west and southwest and 6 centimeters in the Central Plateau. Temperature varies from -28° C in the mountains to 55° C in the desert. The province of Yazd, in the Central Plateau, is considered to be their religious center.

Demography. According to the Iranian censuses of 1956 and 1966, the Zoroastrians were concentrated in villages, provincial towns, and the capital city of Tehran. In 1956, 42 percent and in 1986, 15 percent of the Zoroastrian population were living in villages. Today, because of favorable economic opportunities, the majority are residing in cities, especially in Tehran. As a result, a number of villages have been abandoned. In 1971 Fischer recorded that the population of the village of Sharifabad, the most traditional Zoroastrian village, was declining. The village has since been entirely abandoned, and most of the inhabitants have established themselves in Tehran. Other villages, such as Astarabad (Gorgān) and Sadrabad, have also been vacated. In 1969 there were an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Zoroastrians in Iran; the 1986 census placed the figure at 90,891. There were 200 to 300 Zoroastrians residing in Tehran at the beginning of the twentieth century, 10,000 in 1971, and 24,240 in 1986. Early in the nineteenth century 7,000 to 8,000 were living in Yazd; their numbers had shrunk to 5,000 in 1971, and to 4,685 by 1986. According to the 1986 census data, there were 3,882 Zoroastrians in Kermān Province, 1,417 in Māzanderān, 5,794 in Esfahän, 5,008 in Gilān, 10,575 in Khorāsān, and 1,007 in Kurdistan. There have also been rumors of traditional villages existing in the valleys of the Alborz (Elborz) Mountains, but this has not been confirmed to date. In 1990 it was reported that some 20,000 Zoroastrians were residing in Tajikistan. The Zoroastrian population is relatively young. In 1986, 70 percent of the population was below the age of 30.

Linguistic Affiliation. Farsi, (Parsi, Persian) is the official language of Iran. This language belongs to the Indo-European Family of languages. The Iranian Branch of this family is spoken in an area ranging from the Pamir region on the east to the eastern border of Iraq on the west. The modern Persian language is derived from Dari, which was spoken in eastern parts of Iran. The transformation to the modern version occurred between the third and ninth centuries A.D. (Ahsan 1976). The Zoroastrians speak their own special dialect in addition to Farsi. Some scholars have classified it as Dari, but this has been a matter of debate. The Zoroastrian religious text is written in Avestan, the language spoken by early Zoroastrians. This language is also a member of the Indo-European Family and is closely related to Sanskrit (Wilber 1948, 23). The Avestan language was developed during the fifth century A.D. for the specific purpose of recording religious material; the existing languages were considered inadequate for the correct pronunciation of their holy words.

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