There are over 2 million Lur living mainly in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran, representing 1 percent of the Iranian population. Luri is their language and it is closely related to Persian, which is an Indo-Iranian language of the Indo-European phylum. There are two main dialect groups of Luri; Lur-i Buzurg (Greater Lur) and Lur-i Kuchik (Lesser Lur) which are further divided into regional dialects. The two names of Greater and Lesser Lur originally referred to the geographic division within Luristan (homeland of the Lur) which came into usage during the Ilkanid rule (1256–1353) in Iran.
The word “Lur” means “wooded hill” in the Luri language, which may be connected to places such as Rur found in the geographical dictionary of Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 1229).The origin of the Lurs and the name Lur is associated with the region of Manrud located in Lesser Luristan. In 1106, a group of Kurds from Syria arrived and settled on lands of the Jangrawi Atabek. They were later joined by other tribal peo-ples, mainly Kurds, but also several Arab tribes. From these emerged the Lur tribes of today; the Bakhtiyari, Kuh-Gilu, Fayli, and Mamassani.
Many Lur tribal groups, such as the Kuh-Gilu, are composed of various sections of Luri, Kurdish, and Arab origins.The Jangrawi clan emerged as the lead-ers of the Lur and established the Khur-shidi dynasty of Atabeks, who ruled from 1184 to 1597 from their capital of Khurra-mabad. The Lurs supported the Safavid ruler Shah Isma‘il I (1501–1524) and adopted 12er Shi‘ism of the State, the Lur leadership having already assumed an ‘Alid genealogy, that is claiming descent from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and husband of the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah Zahrah.
Most Lur are Shi‘ites, following the mainline 12er Shi‘ism that became the state religion in Iran under the Safavid Shahs (1501–1722). The noted scholar on Iran, Vladimir Minorsky, states that the level of knowledge of Islam held by the Lur was so doubtful that the Qajar prince (the Qajar dynasty ruled Iran from 1779 to 1925), Muhammad ‘Ali Mirza, felt he hadtosend a mujtahid (a religious scholar) to “convert” them to Islam.
Some of the Lur, mainly those of Kurd-ish origin, follow the heterodox Islamic sect called Ahl-i al-Haqq (meaning Men of Truth [God]) or ‘Ali Ilahi. It is a secre-tive sect that is found mainly in western Iran. It seems to have begun sometime in the 18th century, but due to the fact that it is a secretive sect, information about them is limited. It appears to combine Isma‘ili or 7er Shi‘ism and 12er Shi‘ism, and the poems in Turkish by Safavid Shah Isma‘il I form the important base for their belief, though this is not well understood.
Luri women are well-known weavers, and weaving by women from the main Luri tribes differs from those of the Bakh-tiyari. Luri women use a horizontal looms and weave only geometric motifs, like most other “tribal” carpets (as opposed to the more sophisticated types made in Ira-nian cities such as Isfahan or Hamadan). Diamonds, stepped triangles, and stylized tree of life are the most common designs done in yellow, white, and light blues on a red or blue background.
In the 19th century, the Qajars were able to effectively bring most Lur, with notable exception of the Bakhtiyari, under state control; however, by the middle of the 19th century, any vestige of state con-trol was gone. The Qajars were not able to effectively control a number of tribal areas, and it was not until the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty (1925–1979) under Reza Shah that a state policy of forced settle-ment of pastoralists was enforced.
In 1941, Reza Shah was forced to abdi-cate in favor of his son Muhammad Reza because of his pro-German politics. Muhammad Reza was, in reality, the nomi-nal ruler of the country between 1941 and 1953 (the date of the Mussadeq coup), and many of the tribal leaders were once again able to take control of rural areas. The Lur abandoned the settlements and returned to pastoralism. Following Muhammad Reza’s return to the throne after the Mussadeq coup was defeated, a vigorous autocratic rule was instigated along with a number of major reforms from 1960 to 1977.
The state tried to force pastoral nomads to settle; however, many of these farms failed. Julia Huang, daughter of the well-known American anthropologist and expert on Iranian pas-toral peoples, Lois Beck, notes that the Islamic governments in Iran have been less hostile to groups such as the Lur, who are able to maintain a degree of their lifestyle, including distinctive clothes, because they are seen as “authentic indigenous” Mus-lims, less inﬂuenced by Western culture.
John A. Shoup
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Huang, Julia. “Integration, Modernization, and Resistance: Qashqa’i Nomads in Iran since the Revolution of 1978–1979.” In Nomadic Societies in the Middle East and North Africa: Entering the 21st Century, edited by Dawn Chatty. Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Khalili, Nasser. Islamic Art and Culture: Time-line and History. Cairo: Cairo University Press, 2008.
Lamb, Harold. Mountain Tribes of Iran and Iraq. Washington, DC: National Geo-graphic Press, 1946.