Prayer Profile
The Azerbaijani of Iran

[IMAGE] The 10.5 million Azerbaijani of Iran (also known as the Afshari or Azeri) belong to a much larger group of people, the majority of whom live in Azerbaijan. Situated to the north of Iran, Azerbaijan is in the Caucasus Mountain region, an area that became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991. The border between Iran and Azerbaijan has never posed any real problems, allowing the people to cross relatively easily for many years.

While the origins of the Azeri are unclear, we do know that they have been subjected to numerous invasions throughout their history. The homeland of the Azeri was first conquered by the Persians in the sixth century B.C. Islam was introduced into the area during the seventh century A.D., and has been practiced there ever since. By the eleventh century, Persian influence was overpowered by Turkic influence. During the thirteenth century, this region of Asia fell under the dominion of Genghis Khan.

What are their lives like?
In the past, the clan-type family structure was common among the Azeri. The clan, or hoj, was usually named after a common ancestor. Clan members shared pasture land and were bound to provide mutual aid to each other. They frequently acted as a unified entity in business dealings. It was also common for up to forty members of an extended family to live together in large dwellings called gazma.

The development of petroleum resources in the region has changed the living conditions of many Azeri. While some still farm the rich soils, many have moved into the cities and towns to work in industry. There they find themselves occupying the lower skilled jobs and taking direction from "foreign" managers.

In a desire to protect their culture, marriage within the family was encouraged. Unions between first cousins were considered the most desirable. Marriage to a non-Azeri was almost unheard of prior to the Soviet period. Polygyny (having more than one wife) was only allowed in cases of infertility.

The Azeri diet consists mainly of rice pilaf and a variety of grilled and boiled meats including beef, goat, and lamb. Traditional dishes include bozartma (mutton stew), dovga (a soup made from yogurt), meat, and herbs. Tea and wine are popular drinks.

The Azeri language belongs to the southwestern (Oguz) branch of the Turkic language family. There are two main subgroups of Azeri: Azerbaijani North and Azerbaijani South. The main differences are in the sounds and basic grammatical structure of the languages. Azeri has a written tradition that dates back to the fourteenth century. Arabic script is used in Iran and the Cyrillic alphabet is used in Azerbaijan. Azeri serves as the somewhat hybrid, yet common, language of eastern Transcaucasus, southern Dagestan, and northwestern Iran.

What are their beliefs?
The Azeri of Iran are primarily Muslims of the Ithna Ashari tradition, but there are some Hanafite Muslims as well. Islam among the Azeri is a reflection of the historical ties that exist between Azerbaijan and Iran. Until the twentieth century, most Azeri identified themselves as Muslims rather than Azerbaijani. They believe that being a "spiritual community of Islam" was much more important that being a nation.

Among the Azeri, religious practices are less restrictive of women's activities than in most of the other Muslim countries. The majority of Azeri women have jobs outside the home, and a few have attained leadership positions. However, some evidence of the traditional, restrictive female role remains.

What are their needs?
The Azeri living in Iran are very resistant to the Gospel. Currently, there are no known believers among them. The availability of the Jesus film and scriptures are all positive aspects, but with only one missions agency targeting them, reaching the Azeri remains a difficult task. Iran remains closed to missions and militant Islam is still propagated.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that the doors of Iran will soon open to missionaries.
  • Ask the Lord to call people to go to Iran and share Christ with the Azeri.
  • Pray that prayer teams will be called to go and to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Ask God to manifest Himself to the Azeri through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will open doors for Christian businessmen to share Christ with the Azeri.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
  • Pray for God to give strategies to the missions agency that is targeting the Azeri.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Azeri by the year 2000.

See also the following groups:
The Azebaijani of: Russia; Turkey; Turkmenistan; Ukraine; Uzbekistan;
Armenia; Azerbaijan; Georgia; Iraq; and Kyrgyzstan.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Azerbaijani
  • Country: Iran
  • Their language: Azeri
  • Population: (1990) 9,243,500
    (1995) 10,550,800
    (2000) 11,705,100
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Ithna Ashari) 80%
    Muslims (Hanafite) 20%
  • Christians: 0%
  • Church members: None
  • Scriptures in their own language: Bible
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 1
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 2,532,200 (24%) Those evangelized by local Christians: None
    Those evangelized from the outside: 2,532,200 (24%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 8,018,600 (76%)
  • Country: Iran
  • Population: (1990) 58,946,300
    (1995) 67,283,200
    (2000) 74,643,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Persian 35.7%
    Azerbaijani 15.6%
    Luri 7.1%
    Iranian Kurd 6%
    Southern Kurd 4.5%
  • Major religions: Muslims 98.7%
    Bahai's 0.6%
    Christians 0.5%
  • Number of denominations: 26

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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