Mapping Out Race: How Afro-Iranian Migrations Redefine the ‘Aryan Myth’

Author Information

Sarah Boroujerdi,
California State University, East Bay, U.S.A.

DOI: 10.47298/comela22.5-4
The GLOCAL Proceedings:  The GLOCAL Conference in the Mediterranean and Europe 2022


If maps refer to geographies, the transing of cultural histories, and an arrival of migrant bodies, what might it mean to map out race in Iran? This work examines the ethnocentric biases that stem from the ‘Aryan Myth’—a terminology influenced by The First Persian Empire (550-330 B.C.) and further associations with the ancient Indo-Europeans by 19th century Western scholars. The kindred ties between Iranian identity and homeland through the Aryan label formulated a romanticized narration of race in Iran. The bridge between linguistics, as emphasized by theocratic terminology and ancient language associations, and geography uniformly synthesized racial affiliations between Iranians and the Aryan racial categorization. Aryan ancestry and its association with land as homeland, while formulating a singular Iranian identity, subsequently separated Iranians from Afro-Iranian populations residing north of the Persian Gulf in the next few millennia to come. Limited scholarship has been shown of the Afro-Iranian community’s presence in southern Iran, particularly during and after the period of the slave trade from East Africa in the 1800s into southern Iran. However, archives on the aftermath of slavery from within Iran and England are critical to scholarship on Afro-Iranian migrations (Mirzai 2002, p. 231), where a reclaiming of multi-ethnic identity and a renovated epistemological lens comes centerfold.

This work begins with an analysis of the Indo-European migrations of 4,000 and 3,500 B.C. by examining the Iranian family origins through Nichols (1997) “The epicenter of the Indo-European linguistic spread.” This will be accompanied by the Ara’s (2005) Eschatology in the Indo-Iranian traditions: The genesis and transformation of a doctrine to define the history of the term “Aryan” and its rooted ties with Indo-European migrations and geography as homeland during Achaemenid rulership. The concluding section will review Mirzai’s (2002) “African presence in Iran: identity and its reconstruction,” with an analysis of the African diaspora during the mid eighteen and early nineteen hundreds, and subsequent growth of Afro-Iranian heritage within southern Iran. Through the establishment of Afro-Iranian societies within southern Iran during the 19th and 20th centuries, socioeconomics resulting from the slave trade, and race relations during the African population settlement of the eighteen hundreds, the blossoming of an Afro-Iranian ethnic heritage led to subsequent ostracism from the larger Iranian host society.

Keywords: Race, ethnicity, migrations, Afro-Iranian, Aryan, Indo-European, African diaspora, linguistic anthropology


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