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A Z, Iran Culture & People
Last Updated: October, 2009

Abdali Afghans: The most important Afghan tribal group in the eighteenth century. Their most prominent figure Ahmad Khan Abdali was chosen by the tribal chiefs as their leader after Nadir Shah’s death in 1741. He later changed his name to Durrani and is regarded to be the first king of the independent Afghanistan.

Achaemenid: The first major Iranian dynasty formed by the Persians. At their peak, their empire extended from India to Egypt. They ruled from 550 to 330 BC when Alexander the Great defeated their last King.

Afshar Tribes: A well established tribal group in Turkistan, they moved to Iran with the Mongols in 13th century. They mostly settled in Azerbaijan and their language was Turkish. They were removed by the Safavids in the seventieth century from Azerbaijan and settled in Khurasan and Mazandaran.

Alevid: A mixture of pre-Islamic, Zoroastrian, Turkmen shaman and Shi’i ideas that became the basis of a religious sect during the fifteenth century. It is still very popular amongst many including Kurds. The venerate Imam Ali as well.

Ahl-i Hagg: A minor but popular Shi’i sect, mainly in Kurdistan. The followers venerate Imam Ali and have regard for the Safavid dynasty. They contain a large number of Zoroastrian religious ideas.

Ahura Mazda: The supreme god of the ancient Persians, and the most important Iranian deity till the conquest of Islam. His name means the wise lord and he is popularly known as the Lord of Wisdom.

Alani (Alans): Descendants of ancient Scytho-Sarmatian tribes, they first appeared north of Caspian, and later spread into the steppes of Russia and gradually took over the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.

Alliance Israelite Universelle: The society was founded in Paris in 1860 for the protection and improvement of the Jewish life in general. It later expanded to North Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Asia Minor. They helped the Iranian Jews from 19th century.

Alexander the Great (336-323): The young Macedonian king who ended the Persian Empire. Alexander also invaded Egypt, Babylonia, Media, Bactria and the valley of the Indus.

Amini, Ali: The prime minister during the Land Reform of the 1962. A Qajar aristocrat, he was independent from the Shah and was encouraged by the Kennedy administration to implement some reforms in Iran.  

Amir Kabir (1807-1852): Mirza Taghi Khan is regarded as the most able political leader during the Qajar era. From humble origins, he rose to become the prime minister. He guaranteed Nasir al-Din Shah’s Succession to the throne.

Anahita: An ancient Iranian goddess, she is associated with waters and fertility, and was a patron of women and warriors. Her name means "the immaculate one". She was popularized by the Achaemenid, and remained a very important deity with major temples until the conquest of Islam.

Anglo-Persian Oil Company: Was formed in 1909 by William Knox D’arcy. Soon he sold most of his interest to others including Burma Oil Company. British Petroleum became the next major shareholder.

Anjuman: Local assemblies that emerged before and during the constitutional revolution. The assemblies had members from all groups, including non-Muslims who worked and fought side by side the Muslims.

Aq Quyunlu: The name means, tribes with white sheep, a major confederation of Turkmen with many sub-tribes, expanding into Asia Minor and Iran. Very likely they came with the Oghuz Turks into western Asia in 11th century.

Aramaic: The language of many Semitic peoples throughout the ancient Near East. It was replaced by Arabic after the Muslim conquest.  However, the Christians in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon have maintained the Aramaic language.

Aras River (Araxes): The River starts in Turkey and flows eastward.. It is the international boundary and crossing between Turkey and Iran, and Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Ardalan Kurds: A major Kurdish Group in Iran. The name means mountain dwelling or stronghold. Originally from northern Kurdistan they moved eastward. In Iran they played a significant part in local politics till the 19th century.

Areioi (Aria, Heart):  An ancient city in northwestern Afghanistan, continuously settled since 500BC mainly by the Iranian tribes called Arians or Areians meaning ‘noblemen’. It came under the Afghan control in 18th century.

Armenia (ancient Urartu): Region and ancient kingdom comprising parts of Asia
Minor (Turkey) and the Caucasus. Armenia gained independence from Russia in 1991 and was the first country to adopt Christianity in 301AD.

Ashura: The tenth of the Arabic month, Muharram. It is believed to be the date when Imam Hussein was murdered. The death is intensely mourned by the Shiites. The rituals include self-mutilation with chains and swords by males, marches, plays and communal meals.
Assembly of Experts: The 86 members of the assembly are chosen by public vote for 8 years. They all are clergy and the Guardian Council decides who can run for the elections.

Avesta: The sacred literature of the ancient and modern Zoroastrians. It is written in two dialects; Old and Younger Avestan.  The dialects are preserved in the Yasna, or 'sacrificial liturgy' in seventy-two chapters. Chapters 28-53, contain the Gathas, the oldest part of the collection.

Azerbaijan: The ancient Iranian province of Atropatene, Azerbaijan occupies the southeastern part of the Caucasus, descending to the Caspian Sea, between Iran and the Russia. In 1795 the Russians occupied parts of the area. The region since 1813 has been divided between Russia and Iran.

Azeri: The relatively new term is used to denote both a language and people. Most people from Azerbaijan call themselves Azeri and distinguish themselves from other Turkic speakers.

Babi: A messianic movement instigated by Sayyid Muhammad Bab in 1844. A young merchant from Shiraz, he regarded himself as the Bab (the gate) to the twelfth Imam and divine knowledge.  In 1848 the movement announced their independence from Islam. Bab was executed in 1850 in Tabriz.

Bactria: Located in northern Afghanistan this ancient Greek kingdom was an eastern province of the Persian Empire before its conquest by Alexander.

Bahaullah (1817-1892): Mirza Hussein Ali Nouri was born in Tehran from a prominent courtier family. He became a Babi supporter and called himself Baha. Later, he denounced militarism of the Babies. He was imprisoned and released during the persecution of the Babis and went to Baghdad in 1853. He was exiled by the Ottomans to Palestine were he died after completing some major theological works and laying the foundations for the Baha’i sect that was further expanded by his son Abdul Baha.

Baha’i: A religion founded by Bahaullah and expanded by his eldest son Abdul Baha (1844-1921). Originally, followers of Bab, they split away from Babi after his execution. They believe in the unity of all religions, non-violence and equality of all races and sexes. They are persecuted in Iran. Their holiest place is in Israeli where Bahaullah is buried.

Bakhtiyari: A major nomadic group in Iran. The group is closely related to Lurs and speaks a distinct language closely related to Persian and most are Shi’i. Their name first appeared in records in the fourteenth century. From the Safavid period in the sixteenth century, the name applied to both a geographical area and an administration unit in the Zagros area.

Barazani, Mulla Mustafa: The legendary Kurdish commander was born in Iraq in Barazan region and founded the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in 1946. His family is still leading the Kurds in Iraq.

Basseri tribes:  Iranian nomadic tribes of south Persia. They were united with some Arab and Turkish tribes in the late nineteenth century and formed the confederation of Khamseh. They are tent-dwelling pastoral nomads and migrate through the Fars region. They are Persian speaking.

Bayats: A Turkish group, they occupied areas west and northwest of Mashhad in Khurasan in the nineteenth century. They still exist and most are settled.

Bedouins: Nomadic Arab tribes, inhabiting many territories in Middle East. Semitic in origin, they formed the bulk of the Muslim Arab armies during the early centuries of Muslim conquest.

Boir Ahmadi & Kuhgiluya: Closely related Luri tribal groups from central Zagros area. They are related to other Lurs in Iran including Bakhtyari. They are nomadic and Shiite and in 20th century, the area they inhabited became a province bearing their name.

Bushire (Boosheer): The most important Iranian port in the Persian Gulf. It has a very ancient history and has been inhabited for over 2000 years. Nadir Shah intended to make it the home of a naval fleet. It was extensively used by the British since mid 18th century. It became a major port during the Pahlavi and has remained so.

Buyids: A Pro-Shiite Iranian dynasty, from northern Persia. They ruled over parts of Iran for almost a century from 10th century, occupied Iraq and exerted great influence over the Caliphs.

Caspian Sea: The Caspian Sea is located in northwest Asia, landlocked between Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. It is the largest lake in the world and currently a cause of tension between different countries bordering its’ shores.


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