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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Turkmen in Iran

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Iran Facts
Area:    1,648,000 sq. km.
Capital:    Tehran
Total Population:    68,960,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Turkmen have two risk factors for rebellion: territorial concentration and government repression. However, given low levels of group organization, rebellion is not likely in the near future. As an ethnonationalist group, the future condition of Turkmen in Iran will be closely tied to ongoing foreign relations between Iran and Turkmenistan, which for the time being appear relatively stable, regardless of the ideological support that Turkmenistan gives to its Sunni brethren. With little information on events in the Turkmen region of Iran, a plausible general link can be made to the Baluchis (another Sunni and rural group). Due to their sect of Islam, the Turkmen will likely continue to face cultural and political restrictions. Instances of governmental repression have been on the rise, which may be attributed to greater cohesion of the Turkmen through the establishment of a group dedicated to the Turkmen cause.


Analytic Summary

The vast majority of Turkmen in Iran inhabit the region along the northern border of Iran across from the state of Turkmenistan (GROUPCON = 3). They have traditionally led a nomadic lifestyle; however, due to government policies, many (although not all) have settled and now engage in agriculture (CUSTOM = 1). They are divided into several tribes, and are Sunni Muslims who speak local dialects of Turkmeni (BELIEF = 1; LANG = 1)

The Turkmen arrived in the region at about the time of the rise of Islam in the 7th and 8th centuries. They remained fairly free of outside control until the decline of the Qajar dynasty, which they helped to bring to power, at the end of the 19th century. In 1925, Reza Shah, Iran's leader, ordered a pacification campaign against the Turkmen. This caused many Turkmen to flee to the Soviet Union but most returned in the 1930s due to the Soviet policies of collectivization and religious prejudices. Some tribes rebelled during the Soviet occupation of Iran that occurred during and shortly after World War II, but these rebellions ended shortly after the Soviets left in 1945.

Shortly after the Iranian revolution in 1979, the Turkmen rebelled against the new government demanding autonomy, official recognition of their language, and representation in local revolutionary councils dominated by Shi'i Muslims. However, this rebellion was crushed shortly thereafter, and their demands were not met. Since then, the Turkmen have suffered from the terror of Iran's revolutionary guards. In 1983, violence broke out when the revolutionary guard tried to prevent Turkmen women from working on farms and going about unveiled. This type of persecution, along with the Iran-Iraq war, caused many of them to flee to Turkey.

Much like Iran's other Sunni Muslim minorities (e.g., Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis), the Turkmen are somewhat restricted in the practice of their faith and the use of their language (CULPO104-06 = 2; CULPO204-06 = 2). Like most other Sunni Muslim groups in Iran, the Turkmen are prohibited from organizing politically and attaining high official positions (POLDIS04-06 = 4). Turkmen also face economic disadvantages due to societal discrimination (ECDIS04-06 = 3).

Turkmen have been relatively unorganized while under Iranian rule. However, this appears to be changing. Several movements, including Turkmensahra Freedom Organization, the National Democratic Movement of Turkmenia (Turkmenlik) and Organization for Defense of the Rights of Turkmen People, emerging in recent years (GOJPA04-06 = 2).

The Turkmen's major desire is to achieve greater political rights in their own community and end to discrimination (POLGR04-06 = 1). Traditionally, the Turkmen have not engaged in protest; but in 2006, after an Iranian newspaper depicted a cartoon that compared Azeris to cockroaches, the Turkmen joined in on the Azeri protest (PROT06 = 3). There have also been unconfirmed reports of government repression against Turkmen in recent yeas, including accusations of Iranian security forces killing Turkmen fishermen.



Helfgott, Leonard M. 1980. "The Structural Foundations of the National Minority Problem in Revolutionary Iran." Middle East Studies. 13:1-4.195-213.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006

Meron, Theodor. 1989. "Iran's Challenge to the International Law of Human Rights." Human Rights Internet Reporter. 13:1. 8-13.

Metz, Helen Chapin. 1987. Iran: a Country Study. 4th ed. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

Richard, Yann. 1989. "The Relevance of 'Nationalism' in Contemporary Iran." Middle East Review. 21:4. 27-36.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Iran. 2000-2006.

U.S. Department of State. International Religious Freedom Report: Iran. 2001-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006