Critical Analysis of Iran's Ethnicity Maps

Document Type : Original Article


1 - Full Professor of Political Geography, Tehran University, Tehran, Iran

2 – PhD Student of Political Geography, Tehran University, Tehran, Iran


Ethnicity is one of the essential issues of political geography. According to Rolan Breton, if political geography fails to give priority to the role of ethnicities and if it fails to recognize their existence, then it will not be more than an empty frame or a blank picture because ethnicities and people are the real actors of history and the creators of states (Breton, 2001:99).  Maps have an important role in realizing ethnicities, finding their location in the Earth and forming the imagined geography of human kinds.
Iran has several ethnic groups that have lived with each other throughout history. There is no official statistics about ethnicities and their spatial distributions. Many maps that have been drawn and which show the distribution of ethnicities in Iran each shows ethnicities and their spaces differently. There are no two similar maps about ethnic groups of Iran. Considering the fact that maps affect our mental images and form our behavior, this research investigates the maps of ethnicities of Iran with a critical view. 
The research methodology adopted is descriptive-analytical method that follows to scrutinize map of ethnicity distribution of Iran with a critical view. From this point of view, maps with a selective form and special purposes show special distribution of phenomena. The data gathering procedure is library and internet findings. In addition, some data are collected through interviewing with some M.A and Ph.D students.
Ethnicity Mapping is the mapping of aspects of ethnicity such as religion, language, nationality, and culture. Berghaus for the first time developed ethnicity mapping in 19th century atlases. However, at first US mapping administration used ethnicity mapping based on statistical data in mapping of borders for the Paris Peace Conference. In many modern censuses, data are gathered about distribution of religions, languages, ethnicities and nationalities within small geographical units. Then, results can be published in the form of Ethnicity maps.
There are many ethnicities in Iran who have  lived in this geographical space throughout history. Iran's ethnic diversity makes us to name Iran as a multi- ethnic society. Because there is no information about ethnic groups in Iran’s consensus, many researchers and research organizations have compiled maps of spatial distribution of Iran’s ethnicities based on their mentality and data. These maps show location and distribution of Iran’s ethnic groups inaccurately. In this research, we investigate 10 maps of ethnic groups that were drawn by political geography professors with a critical view. Research findings show that these maps have two main deficiencies. First, they neglect some ethnic groups like Lur and show Fars, Turks, Kurds, Baluch(s), Arabs and Turkmen as the main ethnic groups of Iran. Second, they refer to inaccurate portrait of special distribution of Iran’s ethnic groups.
Due to political sensitivity, there are no reliable and official data available about populations and spatial distribution of Iran’s ethnic groups. This matter makes maps of ethnic groups not to show spatial distribution of ethnic groups, accurately. Because of lack of ethnicity data, these maps cannot show spatial distribution of ethnic groups, accurately, and most of cartographers have inadvertently divided the country into a central and a peripheral area. The central area, which covers the greater part of the map, has been allocated to the ethnic group of Fars. Inaccurate mapping of spatial distribution of ethnic groups, neglecting real diversity of ethnic groups and showing the area of some ethnic groups greater than the others are the main deficiencies of these maps. This mapping causes sensitivity about ethnic groups. However, map as an important means to national symbolization, can play a prominent role in turning ethnic groups as a threat to opportunity.