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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Christians 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

Christians have none of the risk factors for rebellion. They do have one risk factor for protest: significant political and cultural restrictions. By and large, conditions for the vast majority of Christians in Iran has remained unchanged over the past decade. Despite Khatami’s assurances of greater minority rights in Iran, Armenian and Assyrian Christians face continued, systematic state-directed discrimination, particularly in the realm of politics. Iran's future attitude toward Christian nations of the West will likely signify the extent to which it will internally tolerate its own Christian minority. As long as Islamic fundamentalism retains a significant voice within Iranian politics, Christians will remain at risk.


Analytic Summary

The majority of Iran's Christian population belongs to the Armenian Orthodox Church, with a sizable number of Assyrian Christians as well as small numbers of Roman Catholics, Anglican and Protestant Christians converted by missionaries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Iranian Christians tend to be urban (GROUPCON = 1), with 50 percent living in Tehran, and relatively well off economically when it comes to income and property ownership.

There were an estimated 300,000 Armenians living in Iran in 1979 but many have since emigrated due to government policies following the revolution. Current estimates of Iranian Armenians range from 200,000 to 250,000. Recently, another wave of Christians began emigrating as a result of discrimination and persecution. The United Nations Special Representative to Iran reported that Christians were leaving the country at a rate of 15,000-20,000 per year since 2001 (EMIG04-06 = 2). Armenians traditionally lived in northwestern Iran adjacent to the historic Armenian homeland in what is now eastern Turkey but were forcibly resettled in the 17th century. By the 1970s the Armenians were predominantly urban with about half living in Tehran and the rest living in Esfahan, Tabriz and other cities. Most Armenians are Gregorian Christians and belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church but there are some who, due to the work of missionaries, are Roman Catholic and Protestant. Armenians tend to be well educated and maintain their own schools and are currently allowed to maintain an Armenian language newspaper and operate several cultural associations.

Although Iran's 1979 Constitution recognizes Armenians and Assyrians as official religious minorities, this recognition in effect assigns them second-class citizenship. Armenian Christians are allowed to follow their own religion's laws in matters of marriage and inheritance (CULPO104-06 = 2), and are somewhat restricted in the educational instruction of Armenian and must pass Islamic theology tests in order to attain public sector positions (CULPO204-06 = 2). Smaller Christian minorities have not received official recognition and have, at times, been persecuted. Instances of harassment have included conspicuous monitoring outside Christian premises by Revolutionary Guards to discourage Muslims or converts from entering church premises, and demands for presentation of identity papers of worshipers inside.

Christians, in general, are allowed to participate in Iran's economic and social life and have achieved a high standard of living. However, Christians, including those recognized by the state as official religious minorities, have encountered officially sanctioned discrimination in the areas of employment, education, public accommodations, the legal system and property ownership (POLDIS04-06 = 4; ECDIS04-06 = 4). Many Christian schools were taken over by the government after the 1979 revolution. All Iranian students must be instructed in Islam regardless of their religion. All religion classes must be taught in Persian, and all Armenian literature classes must receive government approval. The Ministry of Education requires that all school principals, including those of Armenian parochial schools, be Muslims. Tests in Islamic theology are required for all university applications, university positions and public sector jobs. The Iranian courts had been giving lower awards and larger penalties to Christians in lawsuits over injuries or death, although some progress was made in 2003: legislation was passed to make blood money payments for Christians equal with Muslims. It is often difficult for a Christian to obtain a passport. The publication of Christian texts, while legal, rarely receives the necessary government approval. Christians in Iran have also encountered various forms of harassment by the Iranian government including torture, long-term imprisonment (with and without trial), unfair trials (often accusing them of spying or other trumped up charges), and execution. However, recently there have been no reports of arrests and executions (REPNVIOL04-06 = 0; REPVIOL04-06 = 0).

Despite this often heavy-handed governmental presence, there are no reported instances of recent Christian protest or rebellion in Iran (PROT01-06 = 0; REB01-06 = 0).



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