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Viewing cable 09BAKU744, LORDS OF THE MOUNTAINS" WILL FIGHT NO MORE FOREVER

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BAKU744 2009-09-18 06:06 2010-12-03 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baku
Appears in these articles:
http://www.spiegel.de
VZCZCXRO8662
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHKB #0744/01 2610632
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 180632Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAKU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1757
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 0148
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
C ONFIDENTIAL SECTION 01 of 03 BAKU 000744 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/16/2019 
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON EAGR AJ IR
SUBJECT: "LORDS OF THE MOUNTAINS" WILL FIGHT NO MORE FOREVER  

Classified By: Pol/Econ Counselor Rob Garverick, Reasons 1.4 (a) and (d 
) 

Summary 
-------------- 

1. (C) The Kashgai are a little-studied, semi-nomadic 
Turkic minority in Iran with a history of anti-government 
resistance. Recent interviews with Kashgai members, 
supplemented with information from other Iranians, suggest 
that most of the 1.5 million Kashgai, while still poorly 
educated and impoverished, are adapting to many aspects of 
modern life, including the internet. While many Kashgai 
still seek to preserve their traditional migratory ways, 
urbanization of Kashgai appears to be increasing. Tehran's 
abandonment of forced settlement policies in favor of 
economic incentives for those who wish to settle, and 
improved education and economic infrastructure, has reduced 
Kashgai-Tehran tension, and encouraged voluntary settlement 
trends. Memories of the brutal repression of Kashgai 
resistors in the 1980's, combined with improved economic 
status and increased integration with the outside world have 
also reduced temptations toward unrest. Today, only about 
one third of the Kashgai are actively maintaining their 
traditional tribal and migratory lifestyle, though cultural 
traditions remain strong. Though proud to be Kashgai, there 
is no meaningful autonomy movement, and self identification 
of Kashgai as also being "Iranians" is increasing. According 
to sources, most Kashgai are satisfied with the current 
system and probably voted for Ahmadinejad. Once the stuff of 
village nightmares, the modern Kashgai are largely 
apolitical, peaceful, patriotically Iranian, and the object 
of increasing tourism. End Summary. 

2. (C) Baku Iran watcher met separately with two Iranian 
Kashgai minority members,xxxxxxxxxxxx Both grew up in traditional Kashgai 
households (though the former ran away to be educated as a 
teenager). Taken together, the two sources (both unknown to 
each other), provided interesting social and political 
perspectives on this significant but comparatively 
little-known Iranian minority group. The following account 
of current life and attitudes among the Kashgai is taken from 
these interviews and supplementary conversations with 
non-Kashgai Iranians. 

Lords of the Mountains 
------------------------------ 

3. (SBU) The Kashgai (AKA Qashgai) are a 400-year old Turkic 
language tribal confederation numbering approximately 1.5 
million people. Their lifestyle, still pursued by a majority 
of members, is based on nomadic sheep and goat herding. 
Traditionally famed as fiercely independent "Lords of the 
(Zagros) Mountains," the Turkish-speaking Kashgai 
historically maintained a tense relationship with the mainly 
Persian-speaking villagers and farmers through whose 
territory they traveled, traded, and (sometimes) raided, and 
by whom they were regarded with hostility and fear. Today, 
about a third of the Kashgai herders and their families still 
live a semi-nomadic lifestyle, moving over 300 kilometers 
twice a year between summer and winter pasture areas located 
outside of Isfahan and Shiraz, respectively. Other Kashgai 
have combined herding with sedentary farming, or moved to 
urban centers or abroad. Some of these remain sentimentally 
attached to the old lifestyle, and seek to maintain ties with 
it in some fashion. 

4. (SBU) Thirty years ago the twice-a-year seasonal trek 
took three months each way; now some Kashgai travel in two 
days by truck to the pasture areas, and make camp while 
awaiting the arrival of the herds (which are sometimes also 
moved by truck, but over a longer time period, stopping 
frequently for road side forage). Camels and horses are 
still part of Kashgai life, but reportedly are more and more 
regarded as "status symbols" items rather than necessities. 
Families often pool income, and sources noted that some 
normally city-based wage earners also return for short 
periods to participate in festivals and assist with the herd 
movement and resettlement. 

5. (SBU) The Kashgai are historically among Iran's most 
turbulent minority groups, engaging in repeated twentieth 
century incidents of massive armed resistance against central 

BAKU 00000744 002 of 003 


government policies and control as late as 1982; a Persian 
Isfahani related that his grandfather was decorated by the 
Shah for organizing local villagers to fight them. 
Long-standing efforts by the Iranian state to force their 
permanent settlement were largely abandoned after the fall of 
the Shah, when many forcibly settled Kashgai abandoned 
farming and returned to their traditional herding ways. 
Although the Kashgai's previously exiled, anti-Shah 
traditional leaders were initially embraced by Khomeinei, 
they rejected Islamic rule and perceived efforts by the new 
regime to enforce settlement. After a government-broken 
peace treaty, the returned exile Khosrow Khan and many other 
prominent Kashgai (including its Majlis members) were hanged 
by the Revolutionary Guard in 1982. The last widely accepted 
Ilkhan (tribal high chief) renounced politics, and died a 
natural death in 1984. The Persian Isfahani said that today 
the Kashgai are widely viewed by other Iranians as a "simple, 
honest, hospitable people who are easy to cheat." 

"The Days of the Khans are Over" 
------------------------------------------- 

6. (C) While both sources said that hereditary tribal and 
clan leaders still command respect, and often serve as 
informal adjudicators on internal Kashgai matters, xxxxxxxxxxxx 
stated flatly that "the day of the Khans is over." xxxxxxxxxxxx
claimed that while Khosrow Khan is still regarded as 
a hero by many Kashgai, mentioning his name in public is 
forbidden," and could lead to arrest or other problems. He 
stressed that most Kashgai are not focused on politics, 
although asserting that awareness of and pride in their 
cultural distinctiveness is high. He added that increased 
literacy, internet access, tourism, and a growing 
international diaspora have buttressed previously declining 
cultural practices, especially handicrafts, dancing, and 
music. He said that he himself is active with urbanized and 
diaspora Kashgai in creating websites and publishing 
magazines targeting a Kashgai audience. He also helps market 
Kashgai international and domestic tour packages that include 
sleeping in tents, dancing and music performances, hiking and 
riding excursions, etc. "Economics is achieving what force 
could not achieve," observed xxxxxxxxxxxx. 

Liking Karroubi, Voting Ahmedinejad 
--------------------------------------------- ---- 

7. (C) Both sources opined that the large majority of 
Kashgai personally like Mehdi Karroubi, regarding him 
favorably as an ethnic Lur with sympathy and understanding 
for their traditions. However, both stressed that most 
Kashgai are apolitical and pragmatic, and focused on their 
immediate personal situation, not larger issues. For this 
reason, they opined that most Kashgai probably voted for 
Ahmadinejad, as a result of gratitude for improved health, 
education, and infrastructure services and/or monetary 
inducements. Overall, they opined that most Kashgai have 
little interest in the election issue, seeing it as "Tehran's 
business." 

8. (C) Both sources related approvingly that since the 
mid-1980,s the central regime has moved away from forced 
settlement to more relaxed and nuanced policies allowing 
peaceful herding to be pursued, but offering economic and 
social incentives (including free housing, electricity, and 
cash subsidies) for those who are willing to settle. 
Education is mandatory for all children until the age of 
twelve; many are taught in tent schools by teachers 
(sometimes also Kashgai) who travel with the community. The 
merchant said that school curricula include instruction in 
officially "correct" Islamic religious beliefs and rituals, 
and "teach Persian (not Kashgai) history, language, and 
culture." According to sources, few Kashgai focus on 
religion or seek clerical careers, and mostly Persian mullahs 
who teach religion or visit to proselytize are "tolerated," 
but not followed. Kashgai women work outside and do not 
wear the chador except when visiting towns. 

Economic Conditions 
--------------------------- 

9. (C) Both sources noted that pursuit of education beyond 
age twelve is becoming more common, though this often 
requires abandonment of the transhumant lifestyle, and is 
still resisted by some adults as a source of alienation. 

BAKU 00000744 003 of 003 


Defying clan elders runs the risk of becoming an outcast. 
xxxxxxxxxxxx who ran away at sixteen, to avoid a forced marriage 
and obtain further education, said that it took many years 
for him to reforge links to the community. Both said that 
many young Kashgai males now seek work as unskilled labor in 
the cities, providing remittances and returning periodically 
to help out the family. Many of these end up in Turkey, 
where employment opportunities are better and their native 
language is understood. Others try to make it to Europe or 
North America, legally or not. He noted that most young 
Kashgai are internet-literate, and are utilizing the internet 
to create and follow Kashgai websites promoting information 
on Kashgai traditions and culture, connecting to the 
diaspora, and assisting with job searches and other economic 
issues. He said that Kashgai young also use the internet to 
tap into international mass (mainly youth) culture sites xxxxxxxxxxxx
claimed that many young herders "follow the NBA... and 
listen to rap." 

10. (SBU) Some Kashgai seek education to become health 
workers or teachers, others become unskilled workers or seek 
work with traders shuttling back and forth from towns where 
they specialize in selling Kashgai carpets and handicrafts to 
Iranians and foreigners. The resulting remittances are used 
by their families to buy trucks and other more expensive hard 
goods; less expensive hard goods and consumables are still 
acquired through barter of fresh meat and live sheep to 
(mainly Persian) villagers and merchants. Government 
subsidies, good prices for lamb and wool, and sale of 
handicrafts have combined to increase Kashgai prosperity in 
recent years, though most are still impoverished. While 
Kashgai carpets are world renowned, xxxxxxxxxxxx 
observed that most of the income from this business does not 
reach the Kashgai, since most of the Kashgai handicraft 
business is in the hands of non-Kashgai merchants and 
government buyers. xxxxxxxxxxxx claimed that Kashgai 
carpets that take several months to make and retail for more 
than a thousand dollars typically earn its (generally female) 
maker as little as fifty dollars. 

"We are Iranians" 
---------------------- 

11. (C) Despite sporadic central government efforts to 
obstruct tribal movements, enforce Persian norms of Islam and 
strict dress codes for women, and exact excessive bribes, 
both sources denied that severe state-Kashgai tensions exist, 
and portrayed the Kashgai as politically quiescent since the 
1980,s. They stressed that, unlike other traditionally 
restive Iranian minorities (e.g., Baluchis, Kurds, and Arabs) 
there is no significant Kashgai separatist or autonomy 
movement. The sources noted that, in contrast to these 
Sunni-majority groups, the Kashgai, like most Persians, are 
overwhelmingly Sh'ia and thus do not suffer the religious 
discrimination reportedly experienced by Sunni Iranians. 
They also pointed out that, unlike other minorities, the 
Kashgai are not linked to populations in other countries, 
have no written language (obviating many cultural issues), 
and have no historical "national" ideology. In addition, 
they noted, both urbanized and traditional transhumant 
Kashgai are increasingly tied to and dependent on the larger 
Iranian economy and their Persian neighbors. Instead the 
carpet merchant asserted, "we are not Persians, but we ARE 
Iranians." 
Lu