Introduction / History
The Mazanderani live in northern Iran's Mazandaran province, bordering the Caspian Sea. It is there that early Iranian civilization flourished. Historically, this province had been invaded by outsiders, beginning with the Mongols in the 1200's and 1300's. In 1723, the region was conquered by the Russian Empire. The coast of the province is dominated by marshy plains. Farther inland, it merges into the highlands. Although the province is strategically located on the Caspian Sea, the coast lacks good natural harbors. This has forced them to build an artificial harbor.
The estimated population of the Mazanderani is about 2.8 million and is an ethnic mix of Turkic tribes, Armenians, and Russian immigrants. Other smaller groups include the Qadikolahi and the Palavi. The language of the majority, also called Mazanderani (or Palari), remains unwritten. This language is closely tied to Farsi, the official language of Iran.
What are their lives like?
Agriculture dominates the economy of the entire Mazandaran region. Most of the Mazanderani are settled farmers who grow crops such as rice, wheat, barley, tea, fruits, and cotton. They also raise some cattle. In addition to farming, the Mazanderani are famous for breeding Arabian horses.
The mid-1970's saw a number of agricultural reforms in the Mazandaran province. Farming became a large-scale business operation that included the production, processing, and distribution of agricultural products, as well as the manufacturing of farm machinery, equipment, and supplies. At the same time, major agricultural movements were encouraged by the influx of large investments that were made as a result of the oil boom. Many new businesses were introduced, including cement, textile, and cotton industries. Fisheries also sprang up all along the coastal areas. Today, the coastal fisheries of this region harvest some of the finest caviar in the world.
Although many of the Mazanderani farmers are settled, some maintain the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors. These nomads use the higher, cultivated regions for grazing their animals. Their herds include a certain breed of humped cattle, as well as buffalo, which are used as beasts of burden.
Since most of the people in the Mazandaran province are Muslim, their society is organized according to the guidelines of traditional Islamic communities. The family is the major social unit and is led by the father. Although the Koran gives women equal status in Islamic society, in reality, they are usually second class citizens with little or no political freedom.
What are their beliefs?
Although Mazandaran was the last province in Iran to be converted to Islam, the Mazanderani are now virtually all Muslim. They belong to the Ithna-Ashari sect of Islam and their independent character makes them unique in Iran.
As Muslims, the Mazanderani believe in only one omnipotent god, Allah. They are taught that the ultimate purpose of humanity is to worship him and to build a social order that is not corrupt. Their religious practices include praying, fasting, giving to the poor, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. They hold the imams (religious rulers claiming descent from Mohammed) in very high esteem, since they believe that only the imams can interpret the true meaning of the Koran.
What are their needs?
Many of the Mazanderani are uneducated. The fact that their language is not yet in written form presents a roadblock to their cultural and spiritual progress. Perhaps Christian teachers will have the greatest opportunity to work among this people group. There is a university in the town of Babol that may provide open doors for linguists who are willing to create a written script for the Mazanderani language.
Prayer is the key to seeing these precious people reached with the Good News.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Iran and share Christ with the Mazanderani.
* Pray for the salvation of key Mazanderani leaders who will boldly proclaim the Gospel.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Mazanderani towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of Iran's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up intercessors who will faithfully stand in the gap for the Mazanderani.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Mazanderani.