Background on the Center

The Iranian diaspora is neither homogenous nor singularly located. Iranians live in many countries on several continents in both large communities and more scattered and disperse populations throughout the globe. Although the largest number of Iranian immigrants and Iranian diaspora communities are concentrated in North America (in the United States and Canada) significant populations reside in Europe (France, United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden), Asia, the Middle East and Australia. The largest populations in the US are located in California—in Los Angeles, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we now find second- and third-generations Iranian Americans. Even four decades after the 1979 revolution, when Iran had its most significant mass migration, no exact numbers exist on how many live in the diaspora. Those who identify as Iranian American in the US have no official census numbers; efforts to collect census data under the category of Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have been unsuccessful thus far.

Although there are several distinct waves of immigration to the US in the 1960s and 1970s, the largest mass migration took place in the first decade after the 1979 revolution when Iran underwent dramatic political and social change. The establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in combination with the start of the Iran-Iraq War (1981-1988) caused tremendous uncertainty and economic instability and it is estimated that more than 3 million Iranians left to seek refuge and stability in countries in the West. Later migrations have been prompted by further instability because of high unemployment, political unrest, and more recently, because of the sanctions instigated by the United States and its allies. The Iranian diaspora is diverse and reflects the ethnic, religious and class differences that were present inside of Iran. Although the majority of those who initially left Iran were often upper and middle class, many more have recently sought opportunities for education and economic mobility outside of Iran.

Those who live in the Iranian diaspora are from various ethnic groups: Kurds, Azeri Turks, Armenians, Assyrians, etc., as well as from religious minority groups such as Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Baha'is. Although immigration to the US was once easier, since the 2016 US presidential election, and the executive order known as the "Muslim Travel Ban," was instituted, Iranian migration to the US has slowed considerably. Although the dominant language in Iran is Persian (known as Farsi to Iranians), other languages are also spoken. When you hear someone say they are Persian, it is usually a designation that connects them to their linguistic heritage as a At the height of anti-Iranian feeling, many Iranians chose to call themselves "Persian" in order to distance themselves from the policies of the Iranian government or the tensions of US-Iran relations. Today, many in the US Iranian diaspora identify themselves as "Iranian American."