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In the central and southern Zagros live the Bakhtiaris and the Lurs, two groups that speak Luri, a language closely related to Persian (Farsi). Linguists have identified two Luri dialects: Lur Buzurg, which is spoken by the Bakhtiari, Kuhgiluyeh, and Mamasani tribes, and Lur Kuchik, which is spoken by the Lurs of Lorestan. Like the Persians, the Bakhtiaris and Lurs are Shia Muslims. Historically, each of the two groups was organized into several tribes. The tribal leaders or khans, especially those of the Bakhtiari tribes, were involved in national politics and were considered part of the prerevolutionary elite.

The Bakhtiaris have been considered both a political and a tribal entity separate from other Lurs for at least two centuries. They are concentrated in an area extending southward from Lorestan Province to Khuzestan Province and westward from Esfahan to within eighty kilometers of the present-day Iraqi border. A pastoral nomadic tribe called Bakhtiari can be traced back in Iranian history to as early as the fourteenth century, but the important Bakhtiari tribal confederation dates only from the nineteenth century.

At the height of Bakhtiari influence, roughly from 1870 to 1930, the term Bakhtiari came to be associated not just with the nomadic tribes that provided the military prowess of the confederation but also with the villagers and even town dwellers who were under Bakhtiari jurisdiction. Thus, some Arabic-, Persian-, and Turkic-speaking peasants were considered part of the Bakhtiari. Beginning in the 1920s, the Pahlavi shahs gradually succeeded in establishing the authority of the central government in the Bakhtiari area. Several campaigns were also undertaken to settle forcibly the nomadic pastoral component of the Bakhtiari.

The combined political and economic pressures resulted in a significant decline in the power of the Bakhtiari confederation. Detribalized Bakhtiaris, especially those who settled in urban areas and received an education in state schools, tended to be assimilated into Persian culture. By the time of the Revolution in 1979 the term Bakhtiari tended to be restricted to an estimated 250,000 tribespeople, most of whom still practiced pastoral nomadism. Still, the influence of the Bakhtiari confederation lived on, if only in various ethnographies of Iran, which continued to use the term for its geographical meaning, oftening placing actual ethnic Bakhtiaris in the same group with Lurs.

Historically, the Bakhtiaris were divided into two main tribal groups. The Chahar Lang were located in the northwest of the Bakhtiari country and until the middle of the nineteenth century retained the leadership of all the Bakhtiari tribes. The Haft Lang, the southwestern group, were more closely associated with modern Iranian politics than the Chahar Lang and in some instances have exercised significant influence.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:45:16 ZULU