The Qashqais of Iran  

Prepared by Iraj Bashiri
Copyright (c) Iraj Bashiri 2002

Turkic and Iranian Tribes

Turkish and Iranian tribes have lived in close proximity of each other since ancient times, as early as the days of the Achaemenian dynasty. Cyrus III the Great (BC 559-530), the founder of the Persian Empire, was killed in the East fighting tribes hostile to his rule. The first substantial political contact between the Turks and the Persians took place in the latter part of the rule of the Sassanian dynasty, especially under Qubad (AD 488-496 and 499-531) and Piruz. There was no attempt at a direct rulership of the Iranian lands by the Turks at this time.

During the 10th and 11th centuries, when three centuries of Arab domination had weakened Iran, Turkish tribes moved from their traditional home southwest of Lake Baikal into what is now Central Asia, and within a short time, dominated not only Iran but the entire Middle East as well. Later on Turkish and Mongol rulers divided the region among themselves. Some accepted Islam, settled and established civil codes of their own, while others roamed the deserts and used the pastures allotted to them as their appanage or hereditary domain.

The Qashqais

The Qashqais (also Qashqa'is), a semi-nomadic people in southwestern Iran (Fars Province), form the second largest Turkic group in the country, after the Azerbaijanis. Numbering anywhere between one and two million, they are well organized, politically motivated, and active.

Their nomadic route, from the highlands north of Shiraz (yaylaq or summer quarters) to the lowlands north of the Persian Gulf (kishlaq or winter quarters) is about 300 miles in length. Although overall the Iranian government's successive attempts at settling these tribes in villages and towns of Fars province has not been successful, some families have accepted to settle.

The heyday of Qashqai prominence on the Iranian scene was during the 19th and the early years of the 20th centuries. In 1918, for instance, the Qashqais defeated the British-led South Persia Rifles. In the 1930's, Reza Shah closed the pass that connects the summer and winter quarters of the tribe, many died of hunger and many were forced to temporarily settle near the pass. After Reza Shah's abdication in 1941, the Qashqais resumed their traditional nomadic migrations. The last Qashqai revolt in the early 1960's was suppressed with great force. Since that time, the Qashqai lands have been relatively peaceful.

The Tribal Divisions

The Qashqais are divided into five major and three minor tribes as follows:

Major Qashqai Tribes

  1. Amalah (5,397 families, 450 families settled)
  2. Darrah Shuri (5,265 families)
  3. Kashkuli (5,512 families)
  4. Shish Baluki (4,350 families)
  5. Farsimadan (1,505 families)

These tribes further subdivide. For instance, the Kashkuli divides into

  • Kashkuli Buzurg (4,862 families, mostly settled))
  • Kashkuli Kuchik (650 families)

Minor Qashqai Tribes

  1. Qaracha (430 families)
  2. Rahimi (370 families)
  3. Safi Khani (335 families)

Religion sits very lightly on the Qashqais. Nominally, they belong to the Twelver Shi'a sect of Islam, but in general, they have very little or no contact with Islamic institutions; few observe the obligatory daily prayers or hold the similarly obligatory fast of the Ramadan. They do, however, follow the Islamic rites of marriage and death. It would not be wrong to state that the Qashqais have used religion as a political ploy in the past. There is also a small Christian minority (about 6%), mostly in urban centers.


The Qashqais speak a dialect of Turkish. Their actual language is not reduced to writing. The closest speakers to their language are the Turkmen of northeastern Iran and the Azerbaijanis. Almost all Qashqais speak Farsi, the national language of Iran


Geographically, the Qashqais are located in the Zagros Mountain range that stretches across the entire southwestern edge of the plateau. Qashqais who have settled live in such Iranian cities as Shiraz, Firouzabad, Farrashband, Kazerun, Abadeh, and Semirom.

Settled and Nomadic Groups

Two major lifestyles are distinguishable:

1) Settled Groups

The settled population consists of three classes.

The upper class includes families whose wealth provides them with a great deal of power over the members of the tribe, as well as in Fars province and across the nation as a whole. They live in cities like Shiraz in private villas and manage their affairs through their deputies, mostly family members.

The lower class includes those who usually hire themselves out as shepherds, camel herders, and sharecroppers. Most of these families own some property and small herds of animals.

The lowest level among the settled Qashqais belongs to those who do not have any land or animals. They work for the other two groups outlined above. For their pay they receive not money but food, clothing, and animals.

2) The Nomadic Groups

The nomadic Qashqais move their herds twice a year across the Zagross Mountain range in western Iran. A headman, who is assigned a route and a traditional pastureland by the Khan, regulates each group's activities. Generally 10 to 12 families migrate together. They travel two to three months between their summer and winter camps.

Their summer camp is about 10, 000 feet above sea level. They use horses, camels, and donkeys for transportation. In more recent years, however, cars, trucks, and motorcycles have been added. Goats and sheep are herded for wool, milk, and meat.

Government restrictions on their migratory routes have forced some to settle and raise wheat, barley and other crops to feed their goats and sheep.

Children up to age 12 attend tent schools. The teacher and the round, white school tent migrate with the families.

Qashqai Lifestyle

Qashqai men, well known for their skills as horsemen and herders, wear a typical Qashqai felt hat with rims considerably raised over the top. Qashqai women wear multi-layered colorful skirts, bright tunics and scarves. They are well known for their skills in carpet weaving. Using natural dyes from plants and bugs on their trail, and wool from their sheep, they weave colorful and intricately patterned rugs both on the road and at their summer and winter camps. They use looms that can be disassembled and reassembled within an hour.

Unlike women in Iranian cities, while they are within their camping grounds, Qashqai women do not wear the traditional chador. Since the 1979 revolution, however, whenever they visit the city they must wear the chador.

In Qashqai society, marriage helps link camps and herding groups together. Traditionally, women arrange marriages between families, The bride and her family are notified several days in advance of the wedding. The groom's family arrives and "kidnaps" the bride. She is then taken to the camp of her intended husband, where her female relatives assist her in preparing for the ceremony. The wedding, which might last for several days, includes a continuous serving of delicious food and chai (tea), listening to local music, as well as stick and kerchief dances.

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