The Baluch


The Baluch (Balush) are an Indo-Euro-pean people whose language, Baluchi, belongs to the Indo-Iranian family and is closely related to Kurdish.TheBaluch occupy a large region in southeastern Iran and across the border into Afghanistan and Pakistan; historic Baluchistan meaning “land or home of the Baluchi.” There are a number of Baluchi dialects, but they can be placed into three main geographical divi-sions: Western, Southern, and Eastern.

In addition, there are minorities of Baluchi in the Gulf States such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman. In Oman, they make up around 25 percent of the pop-ulation today. Oman’s overseas empire included a number of coastal Baluchi towns and people, and it was only in 1958 that the last Omani possession, Gwadar, was incor-porated into Pakistan.

There are between 6 million and 7 million Baluchi speakers, but some 2 million “Baluchis” speak Brahui or Brahvi, the only Dravidian language spo-ken outside of the Indian Subcontinent. Ira-nian Baluchistan is one of the provinces of the Islamic Republic, and its population is estimated to be close to 2.3 million, the majority of which are ethnic Baluchis. Balu-chis make up 2 percent of Iran’s population.

It is thought that the Iranian element in the Baluchis arrived after the Arab-Islamic conquest between the seventh and eighth centuries. Arab-Islamic expansion came mainly from the direction of Kirman in Iran and was mainly administered from Kirman. Most of today’s Baluchistan was conquered by 750. Baluch tribes moved into the region and raided Khurasan and Sistan, which brought punishment from first the Buwayhid ruler ‘Adud al-Dawlah (978–982) and then later by the Ghaznavid ruler Mahmud (998–1030).

Raids by Baluchis caused the Brahui in the Kalat highlands to form a confederacy that included other Baluchi and Afghani tribes.Mostoftheinformationonthe time between the Saljuq (1040–1194) and Safavid (1501–1722) periods is mainly in the form of oral histories, poems, and sto-ries detailing the raids and expansion of various Baluch tribes into India. There are occasional mentions of them in official histories, such as the assistance some Baluch tribes gave to the Mughul rulers Babur (1526–1530) and to Humayun (1530–1540, 1555–1556) in his recon-quest of Dehli in 1555.

Most Baluchis are Sunni Muslims. The Baluchis were not brought under Safavid rule when the Iranian state imposed 12er Shi‘ism. Iran was not able to establish firm authority over its part of Baluchistan until 1872 in a treaty between Iran and the Brit-ish in India. Shi‘ism has subsequently spread, and some of the Iranian Baluchis have become Shi‘ites. Today only 4 percent of Iranians are Sunni, mostly among the Baluchis, Kurds, and Turkmen.

Baluchis are organized into tribes and tribal confederacies with khans to measure out justice and deal with states. Over the course of the 17th century, the Kambarani khans were able to develop into something close to a state where the khans were able to assert a good deal of authority over their people and deal with the Persian and British states.

AlongthePersianGulfcoast,Oman gained control of a number of ports and towns that provided troops for the Sultan’s army. Baluchi tribesmen had a reputation for both loyalty and as fierce fighters, which made them sought after as soldiers in the personal guards of the Omani rulers. Oman lost most of its overseas empire to the British in the course of the 19th century, including most of its holdings in Baluchistan. Nonetheless, individual Baluchis still serve in the Omani military. In addition, the Bani Hadiyah section of the Shihuh tribe in the Musandam Penin-sula is of Baluchi origin, and they still speak a dialect of Baluchi in addition to Arabic.

Like many pastoral peoples, the Balu-chi women are master weavers using a horizontal loom. Baluchi carpets are distinctive with the use of dark blue and red wool or natural beige camel-hair back-grounds and use designs from a number of sources including Central Asia, Afghani-stan, and the Caucasus. Baluchi carpets are sold through regional centers such as Mashhad in Iran and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

Contemporary history begins with the Brahui Kambarani Khanate that emerged as the local power in the 17th century. The height of their power was under Nasr Khan (d. 1795) who was able to even chal-lenge the Moghul emperor, Ahmad Shah (1748–1754); however, he was defeated and agreed to supply the emperor with troops. In the 19th century, the British expanded their control over India and began to minimize Arab control over the Gulf.

In 1872, the British and Iranians signed a treaty, revised in 1895–1896, which established the boundaries of Iran, British India, and Afghanistan, splitting Baluchistan between the three. In general, the Baluchi tribesmen ignored the borders until well into the 20th century.Baluchi nationalism began in the 1920s with an attempt to separate Kalat under the khan of Kalat in what is today Pakistan when the British left, but it was ignored by Muhammad ‘Ali Jinnah.

Various Baluchi political organizations have grown in Iran, and perhaps the best known is the Jund Allah, meaning Soldiers of God, formed in 2003 under the leadership of ‘Abd al-Malik Rigi. The group claims to be fight-ing for the rights of Iran’s Sunni minority and has been responsible for a number of terror acts in Iran. Iran claims the group has connections to both the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to officials in the U.S. CIA.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Daniel, Elton L., and Ali Akbar Mahdi. Cul-ture and Customs of Iran. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Frye, R. N., and J. Elfenbein. “Balucistan.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd ed., CD-ROM.

Heard-Bey, Frauke. From Trucial States to Untied Arab Emirates. Dubai: Motivate Publishing, 2004.

“Jundallah.” index.php?title=Jundullah (accessed Janu-ary 5, 2010).

Khalili, Nasser. Islamic Art and Culture: Time-line and History. Cairo: Cairo University Press, 2008.

Lapidus, Ira. A History of Islamic Societies.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.