THE PEOPLE OF IRAN
People of Iran
The Door of Persian world is Wide-opened
For hundreds of years Islam has had the door locked shut on Muslims under its grip… but there’s change in the wind. A new day has dawned and now, right now, a strategic opportunity lies before us, and we dare not let it slip through our fingers. For the first time in modern history, there is openness to whole concept of freedom in Persian countries of the world, and yet the battle for hearts and minds is being waged.
NOW IS THE TIME… for individuals who know first-hand of the saving power of Jesus Christ, and know the difference He can make in an individual’s life, to join with us to reach Muslims around the Iran, Afghanistan.. With God’s liberating message of hope and salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. We are currently reaching more than 70 million Muslims and Persian speaking on a weekly basis true TV and Internet ministries.
Location: Kurds everywhere in the world dream of a day when they can possess “Kurdistan,” an area that includes land within the borders of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. While Palestinians command most of the media’s attention, the Kurds remain the largest people group without a sovereign homeland. Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey is widely accepted as the ancient capital of the Kurds.
History: The Kurds are among the world’s oldest civilizations. They have lived along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in Mesopotamia for at least the last 3,000 years.
7th Century- Arabs sweep into the area and conquer the Kurds. This begins for the Kurds centuries of living under the rule of others. The Seljuk Turks, Mongols, and the Safavid dynasty later occupy the land. In the late 13th century, the Ottoman Empire takes control.
1923 A.D.- Turkey is recognized as an independent nation, and the Treaty of Lausanne is signed. Under the terms of the treaty, Turkey is no longer obligated to grant Kurdish autonomy. The treaty divides the Kurdish region between Turkey, Iraq, and Syria.
1946 A.D.- Iranian Kurds set up the short-lived Mahabad Republic with Soviet backing. It is swiftly crushed by Iran. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is founded and is dedicated to the creation of an independent Kurdistan.
1979 A.D.- Iran’s Islamic revolution sparks a Kurdish revolt in Iran that is then quickly snuffed out by Iran.
1988 A.D.- Iraq retaliates against Iraqi Kurds for supporting Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, and through the “al-Anfal” (“spoils of war”) campaign, slaughters thousands of civilians and displaces 1.5 million people. Thousands flee to Turkey.
2004 A.D.- In March, Syrian Kurds riot and fight with police for several days after a brawl at a soccer game. It was Syria’s worst unrest in decades.
Languages: Kurds, more than most ethnic groups hold tightly to their culture and language. While the Kurds of Iran speak Farsi, most consider their mother tongue Kurdish. There are several dialects of Kurdish, including, Kurmanji, Zaza, Sorani and Badanani. Kurmanji and Sorani are the major sub-dialects. Most of the Iranian Kurds speak Sorani Kurdish.
Population: While numbers vary, it is believed that there are about 40 million Kurds living in the “Kurdistan” region. There are about 18 million in Turkey, 12 million in Iran, 6 million in Iraq, 1 million in Syria, and 500,000 in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia.
There are also large Kurdish populations in Europe. San Diego and Nashville have become home to many Kurds who were displaced during the first Gulf War in 1991.
Lifestyle: Kurds have generally led a rural lifestyle as shepherds and farmers. They are also renowned for their carpets and handicrafts.
This is changing in Turkey and Iraq as civil unrest has forced the Kurds from the villages to the cities. Unfamiliar with life in urban areas, the Kurdish men, women and children are forced to take menial jobs or sell produce. The more zealous Kurds keep their children out of school to keep them from ideas that they fear might dilute their Kurdish identity.
Spiritual Identity: After 14 centuries of Islamic influence, most Kurds are either Sunni or Alevi Muslims. The Alevi Muslims are more tolerant and accepting of other beliefs. While Sunnis, which in Arabic means, “one who follows the traditions of the Prophet,” are obviously more conservative.
In Iraq and Armenia, there is a small sect of religiously distinct Kurds, called Yezidi Kurds. Yezidi Kurds fear and worship Malaki Tawis, (believed by some to be synonymous with Lucifer) rather than Allah. Yezidi Kurds believe that God, as a disinterested creator, gave them over to Malaki Tawis. Yezidi Kurds live their lives in dread of Malaki Tawis.
Status of Christianity: In many cases, cultural pride takes a clear precedence over religious conviction and that pride becomes a barrier to the gospel. The number of Christian materials available in the different Kurdish dialects is growing as interest in the Kurds’ spiritual welfare rises. In spite of the availability of these materials, response to the gospel among the Kurds has been slow.
There is also constant hostility between the Sunni Muslim Kurds in the north and the Shiite Muslim Kurds farther south
Location: The Northwest region of Iran is made up of five provinces, which includes West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, Gillian, Mazanderan, and Gilaki. The major cities of Northwest Iran are Tabriz, Orumieh and Rasht.
History: Some historians believe that this area pre-dates Mesopotamia, which is considered one of the earliest civilizations.
Some archaeologists believe that the West Azerbaijan province is actually the Garden of Eden because of its location in relation to the four rivers mentioned in Genesis.
530 B.C.- The rule of King Cyrus the Great ends (559-530 B.C.).
858 A.D.- Tabriz destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake.
13th century- The city of Rasht is first settled.
1500’s A.D- Provinces are sites of fierce fighting between Ottoman and Persian Empires. Between wars and natural disasters the area suffers great losses.
1826 A.D.- Russians invade and occupy Northwest Iran.
1918: Most of Orumieh’s Armenian Christian population leaves the city. Most of the remainders were massacred by Ottoman troops.
1990 A.D.- A 7.7 earthquake rocks northwest Iran, killing over 50,000 people.
Languages: Farsi is spoken by almost everyone in the northwest. Also spoken are Azeri, Mazanderani, and Turkmen. Azeri and Turkmen are Turkic languages and can be understood by Turkish speakers with little difficulty. The Azeri language is so close to Turkish that the Azeri people are known as “Turks” in Iran.
Population: The population of the northwest provinces of Iran is about 17 million. Azeris, who mostly live in the northwest provinces, make up 25 percent of Iran’s total population. Tabriz, the area’s largest city has a population of 1.2 million.
Lifestyle: Over half of the people of northwest Iran live in the cities of the region. Even the city dwellers are forced to grow some produce. The rest of the people in northwest Iran either live in villages or in nomadic tribes. Most of the people work either in industry or agriculture. Many of the people of northwest Iran have become successful merchandisers in Iranian Bazaars.
Spiritual Identity: More than anywhere else in Iran, the northwest provinces have some spiritual diversity. The area is the birthplace of Zoroastianism and the Baha’i faith. There is also a residual Armenian influence left from the Armenians who were forced to evacuate after World War One. Orumieh has the largest per capita Christian population in Iran.
The Bab, founder of the Babi Islamic sect, which evolved into the Baha’i religion, was executed along with 40,000 followers in 1850 in Tabriz. Baha’is are nonviolent and incorporate other beliefs into their own. The Baha’i of Iran suffer more religious persecution than any other religion in Iran.
These days, in spite of the spiritual variety in northwest Iran’s history, most everyone is a Shiite Muslim.
Status of Christianity: Northwest Iran still has fingerprints from Christian influences from Russia and Armenia. Evangelical Christianity, vastly different from the orthodox Christianity, is slowly gaining ground. Men and women are working to spread the Gospel among the Azeri, Gilaki, Mazanderani, Talesh, and Turkmen peoples of northwest Iran.
The Jesus film has been shown in the provinces. There are a few evangelical churches in the region. The New Testament, Christian literature, and God’s Story, have been translated into Azeri. Christian recordings, Bibles and radio broadcasts are also available in the northwest provinces. At least two missions agency are reaching out to the people of northwest Iran.
Location: Tehran is situated in the northern part of Iran, about 1,200 meters above sea level and just south of the Alboroz Mountain Range. The city sits in a valley, making it susceptible to air pollution (like Denver). The Jajrud and the Karaj Rivers run on each side of the city. The capital forms its own province, also called Tehran.
History: 1221: Tehran is established as the most important regional town after the city of Rayy is destroyed by the Mongols.
1722: Tehran is raided and occupied by the Afghans.
1729: Nadir Shah liberates Tehran from Afghans.
1788: Agha Mohammad Khan, the head of the Qajar dynasty, makes Tehran the capital of Persia.
1925: Shah Reza Pahlavi takes over as the Qajar dynasty crumbles. The new Shah begins to ambitiously develop Iran’s capital.
1979: Shah is overthrown in people’s revolt. Students and young people storm American embassy and hold 52 Americans hostage for over 400 days.
1999: State of the art Tehran metro opens.
Languages: The majority of the people speak Farsi (Persian) in Tehran. There are also a number of people who speak Armenian, English, French and Russian.
Population: The population of Tehran is said to be anywhere from 10 to 14 million people. Most of Tehran’s inhabitants are Persians, but Azeris represent 25 percent of the population. Other important minority groups include Kurds and Gilakis. Tehran is about 99 percent Muslim while the remaining percent consists of Christians, Zoroastrians and Jews.
Lifestyle: Tehran is a shadow of it’s pre-revolution self when it was one of the most modern cities outside of the Western Hemisphere. Still, Tehran remains the economic, political and social capital of Iran. Tehran is filled with historic sites, theaters and museums. In addition, Tehran has no fewer than 40 institutions of higher learning. Tehran stays connected to the west through the Internet and satellite television (which is deemed illegal). Tehran sadly grapples with the problems of most mega-cities. Prostitution and drug abuse are rampant and the divorce rate is said to be near 60 percent.
Spiritual Identity: Tehran, possibly more than anywhere else in Iran is going through a spiritual identity crisis of sorts. Young men and women have become disillusioned with Islam and have begun to search elsewhere for truth. Many have embraced Zoroastrianism while others have looked eastward to New Age religions. Still, a good number have.
Status of Christianity: Even as Iran returns to a more conservative time and brakes are put on reforms, the churches of Tehran are full and vibrant. Church leaders while cautious, report that every Friday (the traditional day of worship in Iran) their congregations are filled to capacity. One church has had to provide five services to accommodate the swelling numbers of attendees. Also in force is the underground church, which too is growing. Recently Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was shown in Tehran movie theaters.
A Tehran native living outside of Iran recently reflected on what he would do if Iran would open up, “The first thing I would tell them is that Jesus loves them and that he is their only hope.” Citizens of Tehran are hearing that message every day in churches and on satellite television.
Location: The eastern provinces of Iran make up a large portion of Iran’s land. The eastern provinces encompass large deserts and mountain ranges. Some of the important areas of the region include Kerman, Sistan, Baluch, and Mashhad. Mashhad is considered Iran’s holiest city.
History: 3000 B.C. – Evidence unearthed shows that Baluchistan province was inhabited as far back as 3000 B.C.
312 B.C. – During Alexander the Great’s reign, Bahman Pour Gashasb establishes the Arg-e Bam kingdom in Bam in southeast Iran. People lived in the ancient citadel up until almost 200 years ago.
3rd Century – Ardeshir I, founder of the Sassanian dynasty, settles the area of Kerman. In the past, the area has been referred to as “Karmania,” “Kermania” and “Zhermanya,” meaning bravery and combat.
9th Century – Imam Reza is poisoned and martyred in the city of Sanabad. Reza was the eighth Imam and spiritual leader of the Shi’ite Muslims. Many Iranians believe Reza to be the Imam of all Muslims. After Reza’s murder, the city is renamed Mashhad, which means “place of martyrdom.”
1839-1841 – Britain enters into war with Afghanistan, which ends in disaster. The war spills over and involves the people of southeastern Iran.
1958 – The Sultan of Oman, changing the border and size of Iran, sells Gwadar, in the Baluchistan province, to Pakistan.
1968- Town of Ferdows is leveled by earthquake, killing 2000 people
2003- A deadly earthquake hits the city of Bam. The earthquake kills more than 40,000 people and leaves hundreds of thousands homeless and destitute.
Languages: Among the 10 million people in the eastern provinces, Farsi is most widely spoken. However, among the different tribes, their own languages are spoken. The Baluch speak Baluchi, which is also spoken in neighboring Pakistan.
Population: While the eastern provinces comprise one-third of Iran’s landmass, there are only about 10 million people living in the rugged eastern provinces.
Lifestyle: While much of the eastern provinces have breathtaking scenery, there is little in the way of industry and economic advance. Springtime in Kerman Province means mountains full of tulips and poppies. These flowers are too often used for heroin and opium. The eastern provinces are the most remote and poorest areas of Iran. With little hope of employment, a large number of young people turn to drugs for escape from the harsh realities of life.
The industries of the area include metals, pistachios, dried fruit, carpets, dates, and decorative stones.
Spiritual Identity: With the eastern provinces so remote and difficult to control, many people here have either become nominal Muslims or held onto their traditional beliefs. The most common non-Muslim belief in the area is Zoroastrianism.
Zoroastrianism emphasizes monotheism, man’s free will, resurrection, final judgment, heaven (the word “paradise” comes from Old Persian), and hell. It also teaches about an almighty, kind, loving and forgiving God. Much of Zoroastrianism significantly influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
On the other hand, Mashhad is considered the holiest of all cities. Every year, Mashhad sees millions of pilgrims coming to pay homage to Imam Reza, father of the Shi’ite sect of Islam.
Thanks to the harsh conditions of the eastern provinces, there is also a fatalistic view of god and faith. One man, who had lost scores of family members in a recent earthquake, viewed his aching loss as fate determined by an unconcerned god. He accepted his bleak and hopeless future as his own.
Status of Christianity: In the past there have never been more than 100 believers in the region. These days, that is changing. According to some evangelical organizations, there are over 80 Christian fellowships made up entirely of Muslim-background believers.
Against the backdrop of a tragic disaster, a local man watched as American believers provided food, water and shelter to earthquake victims. As he observed how they did their exhausting work without complaint and with loving spirits, questions began to form in his mind. His questions were answered by another Iranian, “They came here to help people, and they do all they do because they love people, which is what Jesus tells them to do.”
The man watched for a few more days and approached the same Iranian believer with one more question, “How can I become a Christian like these men?”
Location: The Persian Central Provinces (PCEN) consists of five provinces in the central part of Iran. These five provinces include Esfahan, Hamedan, Markazi, Semnan and Qom. The region is composed of an urban center in the city of Esfahan, foothills, plains, rich farmland, and the Zagros, Alborz, and Rasvand mountain ranges.
History: 1000 B.C. – Zoroaster becomes one of the first teachers to consider such things as monotheism, man’s free will, resurrection, final judgment, heaven (the word “paradise” comes from Old Persian) and hell. Zoroaster also taught about an almighty, kind, loving and forgiving God. He believed man’s salvation in life and in the afterlife could only be ensured through Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds. Many of these concepts had a significant influence on Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
549 B.C. – Cyrus the Great defeats Astayages, last king of the Medes in Hamedan (Ecbatana). Cyrus soon afterwards allows Jewish exiles to rebuild temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1). The Jews regard Cyrus as ‘the Lord’s anointed’.
9th Century – City of Qom is founded and quickly becomes an important city in Muslim world.
1387 – Tamerlane invades Esfahan. Before subduing the city, the Mongol emperor and his men kill more than 70,000 of Esfahan’s citizens.
1979 – Military forces loyal to Shah of Iran surrender to revolutionary militia ending Shah’s dynasty. Ayatollah Khomeni returns to Qom from exile and makes it the seat of power.
Languages: Farsi is the predominant language spoken in the PCEN. There are, however, several ethnic minorities residing in the region who speak their respective “heart languages” such as Armenian, Romany, and Arabic.
Population: There are over seven million people living in the PCEN. Some of these seven million people include Jews, Gypsies and Armenians.
Lifestyle: Esfahan is one of Iran’s top tourist destinations with its markets, history and beautiful landmarks. The tourist trade drives much of the city’s economy. Other Esfahan citizens are either employed in administrative or industrial work. In other parts of the PCEN most agriculture constitutes the people’s main business where the land is conducive to growing things.
Spiritual Identity: The majority of people living in the PCEN are Shia Muslims. There are those among the ethnic minorities who do not claim Islam as part of their religious identity. The Armenians profess a traditional or apostolic Christianity and the Jews cling to their Judaic heritage.
Status of Christianity: The central provinces of Iran are home to dozens of historical churches. The fact that these churches are merely museums is testament to the lack of Christian influence in central Iran. The Christian fire has not completely gone out…
Recently, a believer in one of the central provinces was in a store and he noticed a cashier reading a book. Upon closer inspection, the believer noticed that the cashier was actually reading a Bible. Buoyed by finding another believer, the two men agreed to meet to study the Bible.
Location: The central and southern provinces are home to the Nomads of Iran. During the winter, the Nomads move from the hills into the dry arid plains of central and southern Iran.
History: 11th Century- The Qashqa’i begin entering Iran from central Asia
14th Century- The Bakhtiari arrive from Syria.
Mid-18th Century- Karim Khan Zand, ruler of southern Iran, appoints a Qashqa’i as tribal leader of a province. The Qashqa’i name means “those of a horse with a white-starred forehead” or “those who fled.”
1930’s- Reza Shah exiles, imprisons or executes nomadic leadership. The Shah goes on to confiscate their pastures and uses the military to stop their nomadic lifestyle and enforce dress codes.
1941- Allied forces banish Reza Shah and the nomads of Iran resume their nomadic lifestyle.
1957- A Tribal Teachers’ Training School in Shiraz is established, assuring that tribal identities will be encouraged rather than erased.
Languages: The Qashqa’i language, which is unwritten, is linguistically similar to Azeri (Azerbaijani). Most of the Qashqa’i can communicate in Farsi, which is the national language of Iran. The Qashqa’i call their language “Turki.”
The Bakhtiari speak a dialect of Persian called Luri and are Shiite Muslims. Politically the tribe used to form a confederacy under a chief appointed by the shah, but this position has now been abolished. The confederacy was most effective in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Bakhtiari played an important role on the national level in Iran’s constitutional movement. More recently many tribesmen have left the traditional way of life for employment in the oil industry in the cities.
Population: There are said to be over three million nomads living in Iran. Within these three million people there are over 500 Tribes and independent clans.
Lifestyle: The Nomads of Iran travel with their livestock according to seasonal weather. As they settle in the central provinces they live in large, black goatskin tents. While they subsist from their agrarian efforts, much of their income is from the tourist trade. Handicrafts and leatherworks are popular among tourists. However, the Nomads, particularly the Quashqa’i, are famous for their carpets.
Nomads often define their group and clans in terms of tents. The Nomads use the word “Tent” as a denotation for their home.
Spiritual Identity: Like most Iranians, the Nomads claim to be Shia Muslims, although few are practicing Muslims. In national political skirmishes, nomadic leaders have allied themselves with the Muslim clergy. While they keep the Islamic traditions when observing marriage and death, very few observe daily prayers. Neither do many fast during Ramadan the Islamic holy month of fasting.
Status of Christianity: The Nomads of Iran live their lives closed off from mainstream society. Reaching them with the gospel has proved to be challenging. However, people are bringing the message to the Nomads. The bible, God’s Story and the Jesus film are among the resources in the languages of the Nomads of Iran.
There are a few believers among the Iranians. Those believers long for a church where they can be with other brothers and sisters in Christ.
In an attempt to help Nomads deal with their harsh economic situations, Christian businessmen have begun to work with Nomads to help develop Nomad businesses.
Location: Iranian Arab communities are known to be in five locations.
1. In Kuwait along the Kuwait/Iran border.
2. In Iraq along the Iraq/Iran border and especially in the city of Basra.
3. Three provinces along the Persian Gulf: Khuzestan, Bushehr, and Hormozgan.
Most Iranian Arabs live in the southern regions of Iran with the majority living in the southwestern province of Khuzestan while others live along the coast of the Persian Gulf.
History: 636-642 AD: The Arabs are believed to descend from Abraham’s son Ishmael. Until the seventh century A.D., they lived almost entirely in the Arabian Peninsula. In that century, the “prophet” Mohammed founded the religion of Islam, and the Arabs began a process of conquest that would spread them, their language, and their culture across much of Africa and Asia. As they migrated, many Arabs settled in Persia. The Arab conquest changed the whole course of Iranian history. Islam, the religion of the conquerors, superseded the ancient Iranian faith, Zoroastrianism. Arabic, the language of the conquerors, replaced Iranian (Persian) as the administrative and cultural language of Iran for nearly five centuries.
1980-1988: During the Iraqi-Iranian War, Iranian Arabs sought to break away and create their own state. This desire manifested itself when Iranian Arabs stormed London’s Iranian embassy demanding autonomy for their southern region of Khuzestan (April 30, 1980). The Iranian government publicly denounced the take-over. The group, which claimed responsibility for the siege, the Arab Popular Movement in Arabistan, gave a number of press conferences in the following months, referring to what it described as “the racist rule of Khomeini”. The British police eventually quelled the takeover.
May 2003: War: USA/IRAQ: Hundreds of Iranian Arab refugees were stranded at a desolate border crossing in Iraq living in makeshift huts made from crates, blankets and corrugated iron and waiting for permission to cross the frontier into Iran. Most of the refugees had lived in Iraq for more than two decades, since the start of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, hundreds of Iranian Arab refugees were driven from their homes near the Iraqi city of Al-Kut by armed gangs of Iraqis who said the land belonged to them.
Languages: (Arabic dialects) Iranian Arabs have retained their Arabic language and many of their old customs, but they have lost some of their ethnological characteristics. There is no linguistic family relationship between Arabic and Persian, although Persian vocabulary has been heavily influenced by Arabic and is written in Arabic script.
Population: Between 1.5 and 2 million in the Gulf provinces of Iran (approximately 3% of Iranian population) and close to 500,000 in Iraq and Kuwait.
Lifestyle: Iranian Arab in urban areas may be employed as bureaucrats, technicians, and industrialists. In contrast, the Iranian Arab living in rural areas continue to practice a traditional lifestyle, resisting change in any form. Daily lives are governed by values and rules of conduct that are centuries old. Villagers are loyal to their communities, have high standards of hospitality, and tend to place great emphasis on family honor. They are mostly farmers and fishermen and many of those that live along the Persian Gulf coastal plains are pastoral nomads who keep herds of cattle, sheep, and camels. The Persian Gulf coastal provinces contain most of Iran’s oil reserves so naturally many are employed in the agriculture and oil industries.
Spiritual Identity: Most ethnic groups in Iran are Shiite Muslims. Iranian Arabs are about 40% Shiite and 60% Sunni.
Who are the Sunnis?
Sunnis are Muslims who are considered the more “orthodox” believers. Sunnis follow all of the most traditional beliefs and actions.
Who are the Shi’ites?
The term Shi’a is a shortened form of Shi’at Ali, which means “the party of Ali” – and at the time of Ali’s death in 661, that is probably all it was: a party or tendency of people who supported Ali’s claims to the caliphate. Over time, they became the largest non-Sunni sect in Islam.
A Sect common among the Iranian Arabs: Alawis. The term Alawis actually just means “followers of Ali.” Alawis is so far from traditional Islam that many Muslims do not recognize them as Islamic. For example they believe in an incarnation – the idea that God can be made flesh, for example in the case of Ali who is believed to have created Muhammad.
Status of Christianity: Currently an accurate accounting of believers in the coastal provinces is unknown. As for the Scriptures, it is unclear whether Farsi or standard Gulf Arabic translations of Scripture are sufficient to reach Iranian Arabs. If another Arabic dialect is necessary the following statistics are revealing. There are no Scriptures available, no known recordings, no Jesus film or other forms of media. Only one mission agency works with the Arabs of Iran. The spiritual climate is closed to the gospel, though it appears the country at large is increasingly disillusioned with Islam and is open to an alternative. In spite of this increased level of receptivity, those who follow Jesus Christ will face moderate to severe persecution.
Location: Iranians live literally all over the world. There are large numbers of Iranians living in Western Europe and the United States, particularly in the Los Angeles area. There are also many Iranians living in Turkey.
History: 6th Century BC – Iranians under Achaemenid rule begin colonizing non-Persian areas of the empire.
4th Century BC – Alexander the Great conquers Persia and Iranians outside of Persia find themselves cut off from their home.
7th Century AD – Arabs, who quickly transform the country into an Islamic state, raid Iran.
1970’s – Claiming religious persecution, the Bahai begin leaving the country.
1980’s – Following the 1979 revolution, Iranians leave in large numbers, fleeing the strict rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
2003- Iran is declared to have the highest rate of “brain drain” (the exodus of young, well educated men and women). Over 150,000 educated Iranians leave Iran every year.
Languages: Iranians who live outside of Iran quickly become fluent in their host language. These languages include English, German, Dutch, French and Arabic.
Population: There are millions of Iranians who live outside of Iran. There are no fewer than 100,000 in Turkey alone. In recent years, Canada has accepted the highest numbers of Iranian refugees.
Lifestyle: Once Iranians become legal residents of their host country, they generally assimilate into the local culture and society.
Life for refugees is difficult with long days of inactivity and feelings of being unwanted. Their sense of worth erodes as they come from a well-to-do life to a life of squalor and poverty. Refugees who have not been recognized as asylum seekers live under the stress of being caught by police and in turn being deported back to Iran. Undocumented refugees are forced to take menial jobs and work long hours for little pay. The children of these undocumented refugees often do not go to school and suffer from the lack of education.
Spiritual Identity: Since most Iranian expatriates leave Iran to escape government oppression and since Iran’s government is an Islamic theocracy, most of the Iranian Diaspora are non-religious.
Shortly after the beginning of the second Gulf War in May 2003, Iranian refugees in Iraq learned that they would be welcomed back to Iran. Between 600 and 700 Iranian refugees made the return trek to Iran. As it turned out, the refugees found themselves trapped in the middle of a minefield. They ended up unable to return home and unwelcome in Iraq. Many Iranian refugees find themselves in a spiritual no-man’s land.
Status of Christianity: Iranians worldwide are responding to the message of Christ. Once they become believers they often become involved in local churches. Some even begin ministering to other Iranian refugees. Some Iranian refugees have tried to use the Christian church as a means to securing asylum. A lot of Iranians have suffered at the hands of religious men, but have found acceptance and unconditional love in Christian communities.
One refugee left Iran bent on revenge on the men who tortured him and ruined his life. While outside of Iran, he became a believer when he had a vision of Jesus telling him that he could be forgiven when he would forgive his tormentors. Recently he was asked what he would do if he could return to Iran. “I would find those who tortured me and tell them about Jesus’ love.