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Conversations with Omid Ardeshirifar on Bakhtiari peoples’ struggles in Iran (Video)

In Iran, Indigenous peoples still try to maintain a strong social structure and norms to manage their territories of life. The Bakhtiari people is one of such tribes who live in the southwestern provinces of Iran. The Bakhtiari people are a nomadic pastoralist tribe in the southwestern provinces of Iran and have self-organised into a confederacy.

By Ashish Kothari, (Kalpavriksh, ICCA Consortium Member) and Vikalp Sangam, India, and member of the ICCA Consortium Council of Elders
Transcription in English by Hannah Marsden (verified by Ali Razmkhah)

The Bakhtiari Tribal Confederacy is one of the biggest tribal confederacies in Iran. Their territory is spread across ‫‫‬‪Isfahan,‬‬ ‫‫‬‪Luris‬‬tan,‬‬ ‫‫‬‪Khus‬‬is‬‬tan,‬‬ Chaharmahal‬‬o ‫‫‬‪Bakhtiari and Kohkiluye, and Boyerahmad provinces.

But due to the destruction of nature by development projects and settlement policies of the government, many of the Bakhtiaries have been sedentarised in the past century. And, some still maintain their nomadic way of life.

Omid Ardeshirifar is from one of such communities who are still trying to sustain and in parts revive their nomadic pastoralist way of life. Omid also represents the National Union of Indigenous Nomadic Peoples of Iran (UNINOMAD, ICCA Consortium Member).

In this video, Omid talks about their ecological practices and worldviews, and their struggle to reclaim the rights to their traditional territories.

This video of Omid’s conversation with Ashish Kothari was shot on the sidelines of the 15th General Assembly of the ICCA Consortium in Udaipur, India, on 3rd December 2019. In the video, Ali Razmkhah helped with interpretation. Ali is an adviser to UNINOMAD and works with the Centre for Sustainable Development and Environment (CENESTA, Member) in Iran and is the ICCA Consortium’s Regional Coordinator for West and Central Asia and the Caucasus.




Ashish: Omid, can you tell us about how the nomadic communities in Iran, including yours, are trying to sustain your territories of life?
Omid: [translated by Ali] In Bakhtiari tribal confederacy, we have a very strong and powerful social structure that consists of two main sub-tribes; Chahar (four) Lang and Haft (seven) Lang. Through this structure, we manage and govern our territories. The Bakhtiari tribes have a wide territory expansion in four provinces of Iran. The milestone of their lifestyle is the seasonal migration between their summering grounds and wintering grounds. The best peoples to protect rangeland and natural resources are nomads because we have elders to manage our lifestyle as nomads. For instance, when we want to migrate, we consider the situation of pastures. When we are in the wintering ground and we want to migrate to the summering ground, we analyse the situation of pastures and rangeland to manage the duration of migration. For example, in some cases, Bakhtiari peoples postpone their migration, waiting for the ripening the fodder and pasture and readiness of rangeland to the livestock ranch to avoid inflict rangeland damage by early grazing. The same pattern follows for returning migration. Our aim to follow this method is the conservation of rangeland and its natural resources.

In our wintering ground, in Khuzestan province, a special grass exists called Bahman. If this grass grows, nomads can just stay in their wintering ground for a maximum of two months. This herb sinks into the sheep’s body like a needle and injures them. So, we were forced to migrate from these lands. We have to carry out this migration to prevent damage to livestock. Thus, we go to our stopovers. 

[Ali’s comment]: we know that, and we know when this kind of grass grows, so we manage to avoid being there when they are growing. So, this is all based on our knowledge and experience.

Unfortunately, industrialisation is the most important reason for nature destruction. For instance, we go through the migration routs by animals such as draft horses or donkeys that took almost 20 days. Nowadays, trucks and cars have replaced them and the migration time has reduced to less than 5-7 hours. This trend has led to more damages to rangeland and the National Resource Organisation [the government agency responsible for the management of resources in Iran] cannot control the situation. I believe that one of the reasons for the rangeland destruction is the natural resources organisation and its inability to manage the status quo.

Ashish: Omid, how do you deal with these threats, with these problems that the Iranian state has created or other forces which are breaking up your migration routes?
Omid: In Bakhtiari, and in Iran, we have a phrase that we always say – “With one hand we cannot do anything”. When we pursue our rights individually, they don’t care much about it. Based on our traditional structure, in most tribes in Iran, we established some local community-based organisation (called Sanduqs), and sustainable livelihoods councils, also for women. Thus, we advocate for our rights collectively through these councils.

Ashish: And is this happening with many nomadic tribes and confederacies?
Omid: So for example in Bakhtiari we have a central council for the whole of the Bakhtiari tribes called the Eil Council and we have various councils in each sub-tribe. Not just for Bakhtiari, but in other tribes, they have similar ones. So, it is a kind of network from the bottom to the top. 

Ashish: How many tribes would be involved?
Omid: In the Bakhtiari Hamoule sub-tribe was the first one that establishes the council, that I have done this. Next is the Sheikh Ahmad sub-tribe, Snaki, and Farrokhvand sub-tribe, have their councils and in Arpanahi women have their council. They form various tribes of Bakhtiari of 9 Bakhtiari tribes.

Ashish: And has all this helped to regain some territory and sustain livelihoods and also protect nature, wildlife, and natural resources there?
Omid: Yes of course. Numerous activities have been carried out based on these councils. We implemented several projects related to natural resources, inviting some governmental authorities to visit our activities. We have carried out various customary rangeland management projects (Qoroq-e-Bumi) and obtained governmental support for them. On the other hand, approximately, we have 2-3 kilometres plumbed for irrigation of agricultural lands. Additionally, through our council, we documented our traditional knowledge. Also, the operationalising of the evolutionary plant breeding (EPB) methods in all parts of our territories of life, a handicraft group in Arpanahi’s women council, the planting of mountain celery, and ‘upside-down tulip’ in the territories of the Farrokhvand sub-tribe, and proposing the balance plan between livestock and pasture. We are working on a proposal on the green belt.

Ashish: Are the young people in the Bakhtiari community getting interested? Are they staying back in their nomadic lifestyles or are they moving out?
Omid: We have faced a severe challenge in these recent years especially because of the 8-year drought situation in Khuzistan. So, Nomads lost almost all their financial resources to spend on their livestock. They didn’t have governmental support too. Since there were no financial and income resources for youth to stay and work, some young people have had to migrate to the cities as they couldn’t survive. But others, 50-50, are trying to protect their identity and their lifestyle by using some agricultural methods and some combination of traditional and modern methods for grazing.

Ashish: Thank you Omid. I think that the condition of nomadic pastoralists all over the world is very similar; lots of threats. It is a way of life that is threatened and of course not understood by many communities so it’s wonderful that the Iranian nomadic peoples are doing what they can to sustain their territories and their ways of life. This will be an inspiration for many others around the world.
Omid: We, as the Indigenous nomadic peoples, based on our Indigenous knowledge and experiences, e.g. pasture protection, are able to decide for example when and where taking our livestock for grazing and conserving other parts of our territories of life. We are the best custodians of natural resources and territories of life.

Ashish: Yes, very much so
Omid: I consider myself as a kind of servant for all Indigenous and nomadic people all around the world and I am proud to be part of this movement.

Ashish: Thank you Omid and thank you Ali for the translation.
Ali: My pleasure, thanks to you. 


Featured image: Screenshot from the video; Omid Ardeshirifar (left) and Ali Razmkhah (right).



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