Are Iran’s Nomads Really Fading away?

Iran Nomad ToursBakhtiarisAre Iran’s Nomads Really Fading away?

About four years ago, I had my first experience of living with Iran’s Nomads; the Bakhtiari Nomads, for a couple of days. It was a truly memorable experience for me and it had a profound impact on almost all aspects of my life. I’ll never forget my mixed feelings when I met this hardworking, hospitable community for the first time. On the one hand, I was astonished by their welcoming attitude and admirable authenticity and on the other hand, quite resentful about the difficulties they were going through on a daily basis. If I were just a one-day casual guest and had not spent those few but precious days as an observant, responsible traveler living with them and accompanying them on several occasions, what I had felt at the time would have led me toward a rather hasty conclusion: That Iran’s nomads are all probably tired of their tough life, and wish they could change their lifestyle somehow. But no. Four years of working in a social business aimed at bringing about sustainability attitude in the field of tourism, & holding nomadic tours with the goal of empowering Iran’s nomads has taught me to not jump to a snap judgment as there are two sides to the story.
Recently I came across two interesting articles about Iran’s Nomads which motivated me to write about the impression they gave me: Why Iran’s Nomads are Fading Away & Children of Zagros.

National Geographic’s Article: Why Iran’s Nomads Are Fading Away

To start with the National Geographic’s article, Why Iran’s Nomads Are Fading Away, I would say that to me, it seems like National Geographic’s side of the story provokes this thought & feeling in the readers that almost all nomads are fed up with their lifestyle, and that’s why “their numbers dwindle”. Although the author’s assessment of the Nomads’ current situation is quite right when he says that the young generation of Nomads shows less inclination toward following their ancestors’ nomadic life, it is nonetheless not reflecting the whole truth and it seems that the article doesn’t take into consideration the point of view of the majority of the Nomadic population. When I first read the article, it occurred to me that the author may have only seen the glass half empty, as his article only depicts several examples of unsatisfied Nomad women complaining about the hardships they face in their daily lives. Nobody can deny such difficulties of course, but the thing is that there is much more to nomadic life than what may seem on the surface. I, for one, have seen some nomad women who “had put an end to their nomadic lives to get settled and experience an easier life” for a while but after a while, they felt like they could not put up with their “new lifestyle” and so they resumed their previous mode of living.

“I have asked this question (in casual interviews) with more than 100 Nomads who are still living a nomadic life in the traditional sense of the word. Roughly a quarter of them prefer to be settled in the cities. A quarter has left nomadic life for a while but could not tolerate the city, and have returned to nomadic life; so they prefer it with an awareness and experience of both conditions. The rest (half of them) say that even though the nomadic lifestyle is hard, they are used to it, they love the sheep, they love Nature and they cannot leave their lands to go to the cities!”


Mohammad Malekshahi

So, I guess what I am trying to say here is that some changes in Iran’s Nomads’ lives are the inevitable results of Modernity. There have been positive as well as negative changes. It’s only normal that with the passage of time, things change. But jumping to the conclusion that all Nomads are fed up with their lives and are fading away, as a result, seems to be a rather hasty conclusion. There are still so many nomads who are genuinely happy with their lifestyle and “migration has proved to be the best occupation for them”. There is also one important fact to note here: What may seem hard for us is not necessarily hard for the Nomads. They have lived the same lifestyle throughout their entire lives and adapted to its difficulties, and maybe instead of them, WE need to change our lifestyles a bit, distance ourselves from the fast-paced modern life a little and learn again what we have long forgotten.

“The first encounter with the members of this particular family was exciting for both parties – them, the children of Zagros, and us, lost in the wilderness. With welcoming smile on her face, the mother of the family said: “Well, we need to be here, but what on Earth are you doing here!?”. Nobody replied, but I remember that I thought of what could be the only possible reply – we came to remember the things we forgot long ago.”


Redzib Skomorak

Iran's Nomads: Children of Zagros

Then there is Skomorak’s article which reflects the other side of the story. Its literary tone made me enjoy every minute of its reading, especially the part where the Nomads’ transhumance was compared to Odyssey, challenging with “an unforgiving Persian soil”, crossing “impassable mountains” and seeking refuge in “the valleys of harsh Zagros mountains”. The article contains some vivid descriptions of Nomadic lifestyle through the analysis of the movie, People of the Wind. I encourage you to note the positive attitude latent in Skomorak’s words while talking about the nomads being “very persistent and eager in order to preserve such an outstanding culture”. His honest and balanced reporting of both the hardships and the merits of nomadic lifestyle is truly admirable. The fact that there are still families who have stuck with such a lifestyle, despite all its “troubles and hardships”, is so easily overlooked in similar writings. But then “what is the truth? Said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” Nobody knows the truth about Nomads and nobody can make any strong claim either. But it can be sought.

Jahan, Kianoush and Afsaneh walk towards a wild walnut grove as the light begins to fall in the Zagros mountains, Iran. Photo by Emily Garthwaite

IRANomad Tours is seeking a way to get to know the Persian Nomads and their problems better in its occasional visits to Nomad lands and accompanying them in their migrations (Kooch) to help this unique community preserve their precious lifestyle by lessening their financial hardships, enlightening them about the merits of their authentic living and empowering them in all the possible ways.