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Cultural Profiles

Iran

  • Shia Islam and Persian are Iran’s official religion and language.
  • The term ‘Iran’ and ‘Persia’ are used interchangeably in conversational language, but political nomenclature accepts only ‘Iran’ since the time of the Iranian revolution.
  • Iran’s importance internationally stems from its large reserves of petroleum and natural gas.
  • Iran has internationally been labeled a sponsor of terrorism. Economic sanctions are held against Iran by the US, UN and EU because of Iran’s continued involvement in terrorism and nuclear weapon programming.
  • Iran has one of the highest urban growth rates in the world. The United Nations predicts that by 2030, 80% of Iran will constitute urban population.
  • Iranian government comprises several connected governing bodies. The ‘Supreme Leader’, currently Ali Khamenei, is responsible for the delineation of general national policies. Ali Khamenei leads the military forces and intelligence. Only the Supreme Leader can make decisions regarding war.
  • The President of Iran, currently Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, reigns second in terms of state authority.
  • Iran has not maintained diplomatic relations with the United States since the time of the Iranian Revolution (1979).
  • Iran currently hosts over 1 million long-term refugees, originating mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran is the second largest refugee host in the world. Many Afghani/Iraqis refugees to Canada, arrive via Iran.
  • Many of Canada’s Iranian refugees are Kurdish. The Kurds are a marginalized ethnic group living within Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. The Kurds have suffered decades of ethnic persecution.

Background:

The Islamic Republic of Iran is located in Central Eurasia and Western Asia. Previous to 1935 Iran was known to the Western world as Persia. The term Persia persists in colloquial use today. Both Persia and Iran are used interchangeably in unofficial contexts. Officially however, The Islamic Republic of Iran rejects all other titles.

Iran is the 18th largest country in the world geographically. Its population is estimated at 78 million. Iran is bordered by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the North. It is bordered by Afghanistan and Pakistan on the east; the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman on the South; and Iraq and Turkey on the west. Tehran is Iran’s capital. It is the country’s largest city, as well as the political, cultural and economic center of Iran. Iran holds an important position internationally because of its vast reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Iran’s natural gas and oil reserves rank second in the world. According the United Nations, Iran has the tangible ‘potential to become an energy super power’. Because of Iran’s historic abuse of political power and human rights, there is growing international concern that Iran threatens to global security.

Ethnic Groups within Iran:

  • Persian 51%
  • Azeri 24%
  • Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%
  • Kurd 7%
  • Arab 3%
  • Lur 2%
  • Baloch 2%
  • Turkmen 2%

Religious Groups within Iran:

  • Muslim 98% (Shia 89%, Sunni 9%)
  • Other (including Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian) 2%

Languages:

  • Persian and Persian dialects 58%
  • Turkic and Turkic dialects 26%
  • Kurdish 9%
  • Luri 2%
  • Balochi 1%
  • Arabic 1%
  • Turkish 1%
  • Other 2%

Brief Socio-Political Timeline:

  • Known as Persia until 1935
  • 1935 – 1959, known as Iran
  • 1959, opposition of the name change leads to a semi-recognized reversal of the decision. 1959 – 1979 both names are used interchangeably.
  • 1979, the ruling monarchy is overthrown. This is considered the Iranian Revolution. The Official name of the country is changed to the ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is forced into exile.
  • November 4th, 1979 – a group of Iranian students seize the US Embassy in Tehran
  • August 2005 inauguration of Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad as president.
  • 2009, Ahmadi-Nejad is re-elected controversially. Suspected electoral fraud sparks allegations and wide-spread protests.
  • From July 2006 to present the United Nations Security Council passes a variety of resolutions demanding Iran suspend its Uranium enrichment programs.
  • To date Iran has not complied with IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) obligations.

Health & Education Statistics:

In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked Iran’s Health System 93rd of all world nations.

Infant mortality rate:

Total 42.26 deaths/1,000 live birth

Life Expectancy at birth:

Total population: 70.06 years
Male 68.58
Female 71.61 years

Total fertility rate:

1.88 children born/women (2011 estimate)
HIV/AIDs – adult prevalence rate: 0.2%
HIV/AIDS – number of persons living with HIV/AIDs (2009 estimate): 92,000

Literacy:

(Defined as age greater than 15 with ability to read and write)
Total population literacy rate: 77%
Male: 83.5%
Female 70.4 %

School life expectancy:

Total: 13 years (2009 estimate)

Refugees Originating from and Residing in Iran:

  • Refugees originating from Iran:
    According to the UN High Commission for Refugees there are currently 72, 774 recording refugees originating from Iran (January 2010 data).
  • Refugees residing in Iran:
    According to a 2011 UNHCR report Iran is currently hosting the second largest group of long-staying refugees in the world. According to BAFIA, Iran’s Bureau for Aliens and Foreign Immigrants’ Affairs 1, 065, 000 refugees were registered with the Iranian government. Of these, 1, 021, 600 were Afghans. 43, 800 were Iraqis. Many Afghan and Iraqis refugees have come to Canada via Iran.

Iranian Kurds:

  • Many of Canada’s Iranian refugees are Kurdish. The Kurds are a marginalized ethnic group living within Iran, Syria, Iraq and Turkey. The Kurdish culture is a mix of Islamic tradition and indigenous heritage.
  • The Kurds constitute 7% of Iran’s overall population. According to many sources, the Iranian government have systematically made efforts to assimilate the Kurds into mainstream Iranian life, despite Kurdish attempts to maintain regional autonomy. Violent conflict has ensued over decades between Iranian authorities and the Kurdish people. Following the Iranian revolution, brutal conflict ensued between Kurdish rebels and Islamic activists.
  • In Iran, Kurds have failed to establish self-government or administration. In fact, membership of a non-government political party is punishable by death or imprisonment in Iran.
  • Shivan Qaderi, a well known Kurdish rights activist was killed by Iranian security forces in Mahabad on July 9th, 2005. At this time riots erupted throughout Kurdish villages and districts. In 2011, conflict persists.

Illicit Drugs:

Iran remains a primary route for South Asian heroin shipment to reach Europe. According to the CIA World Factbook Iran has one of the highest rates of opiate addiction in the world. Anti-drug legislation is lacking; anti-drug intelligence is poor.

Resources:

CIA World Factbook – Profile Iran

UNHCR – The Islamic Republic of Iran

The Cultural Situation of the Kurds – The Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe

 

Contact for corrections or updates: elena DOT paraskevopoulos AT gmail DOT com

Written by Elena Paraskevopoulos MD (May 25, 2011)

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