The people of Iran, their history, diversity, and strong traditions dazzle anyone who takes the time to peer into this country's legacy. There are many different ethnicities of people living in Iran. The largest ethnic group is Persian. Although this term is used loosely, it describes Iranians who mostly live in the central plateau and speak Indo-Iranian dialects.
Millions of Azeris live in northern Iran near the border with Azerbaijan. Kurds comprise 8 percent of Iran's population, and they live mostly in northwestern Iran in the Zagros Mountains. Their ethnicity is tied to the Medes, an Aryan people whose migration to the area from central Asia dates back to the Iron Age.
The Lur, however, are considered the closest of any of the Iranian ethnic groups to the original Asian settlers. About half the Lur population are villagers and half are traveling herders.
The Bakhtiaris live near the Iraqi border, and the Baluchi live in the southeast and are a religious minority—being Sunni, rather than Shi’ite Muslims.
The family unit is perhaps the most important social institution of Iran—with the father of the family taking the head position, affecting all major decisions, including inheritance and marriage partners.
Women's role in society has turned to a more traditional one since the revolution brought the establishment of a government obedient to Islamic code. They are encouraged to wear chadors, a body covering from head to foot, and are prevented from using facilities that would bring them into contact with men. Women face widespread discrimination in employment and other areas. However, they retain the right to vote, established in 1963, and women make up over 50 percent of university students.
The Muslim religion runs deep in Iran, and has ever since its founding by Muhammad in the seventh and eighth centuries. There are two main sects of Islam: the Shi’ites and Sunnis. Ninety-eight percent of Iranians are Shi’ite. The two sects disagree over the role of the imam, or spiritual leader.
Farsi, an Indo-European language, is the official language of Iran. However, other languages that are spoken include Kurdish, Turkish dialects, and Arabic.
Iranians are artisans who excel at hand weaving. Their carpets are a major export, second only to oil. Another art form is the miniature—a small extremely detailed painting. Chess is popular in Iran as well as sports, such as wrestling, weight lifting, horsemanship, boxing, tennis, and track. Interestingly, ancient Persians claim to have invented polo and backgammon. There is also a sport unique to Iran. It is called zurkhaneh, a mix of gymnastics and wrestling.