Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Kurdish Ethnic Minorities and the Future of the Iranian Economy

Primary Article Contributor: Kyle Jacobs

Team Leader: Ashley Audette


While the population of the Republic of Iran is predominantly comprised of Persian-speaking Shiite Muslims, the nation possesses many minorities. There are numerous minorities groups from various religious, linguistic, and ethnic backgrounds who number in the millions. The largest of these minorities groups are the ethnic Kurds, Baluchis, and Azeris. Despite widespread discrimination, and an ongoing quest for greater rights, these groups play an important role in the Iranian economy. These minority populations identify with the Iranian nation-state, are well integrated in society, and play an important role in the economy. To put things in perspective, out of the over 77 million Iranian citizens, over 18 million are Azeris, 4 million are Kurdish, 3 million are Arab, and roughly 1.4 million are Baluchis. These groups are over represented in the underdeveloped rural areas and often feel locked out of Iran’s modernization efforts and economic growth. This sentiment is especially pronounced within the Kurdish community who are concentrated in the subnational jurisdiction of Iranian Kurdistan which includes Kurdistan Province, Kermanshah Province, Hamadan Province, most of Ilam Province, and some parts of West Azerbaijan and North Khorasan provinces. Yet, the economic outlook for Iran’s Kurdish population is promising, and has been hailed as a safe haven for both foreign and domestic investment. Iran’s Kurdish areas stand posed to benefit from renewed investment in oil and gas, as well as various agricultural industries focused primarily on export.

This sentiment was evident in late 2016, where more than 100 companies from 19 countries took part in a three-day international agro-food fair in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq.  These companies came primarily from the Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. The organizers of this Kurdish agro-food fair believe these companies can provide job opportunities across the Kurdistan Region, where unemployment is high. Despite the economic crisis in the region, participants at the fair expressed the belief that the risk of investment in the Kurdish regions of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran are low, and they foresee Kurdistan regions overcoming their financial crisis in the near future.

Moreover, the economic prospects of Iranian Kurdistan are strengthened by the fact that in 2014, Iran and its Kurdistan Regional Government have agreed on the details of a plan to build a pipeline connecting the countries northern oil refineries with crude extraction areas. This plan will have the capacity to move up to 250, 000 barrels per day of crude oil across Iran, and would bring significant oil revenues to Kurdish areas in Iran. Despite history political instability and upheaval, the Kurdish regions of Iran have proven to be a safe place for investment and have the tools needed for substantial economic growth.