By: Brian Spooner
Beside the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, the Iranian province of Balūčestān o Sīstān, and the neighboring corner of Afghanistan, Baluch communities extend into neighboring areas in each country—Sind and Punjab in Pakistan, Farāh, Herat, Bādḡīs, Fāryāb, Jūzjān (Jawzjān) in Afghanistan, and Kermān, Khorasan, Semnān, and Gorgān in Iran. They also extend into neighboring countries—Soviet Turkmenistan, India, the countries of the Persian Gulf, Oman, Kenya, and Tanzania (especially Zanzibar).
Very little has been published about these diaspora communities, and it is difficult to obtain reliable information about them. They tend not to be encouraged to develop their ethnic identity. In Iran, those in Gorgān moved in from Sīstān as migrant labor in the 1960s. Others, in Khorasan and Semnān, have been there longer, in some cases much longer. Many of them have lost their language, some within living memory. Those to the north of Baluchistan are all pastoralists, or have been until recently. As for the carpets that are known as Baluch in international trade see baluchistan v, baluch carpets, below. The best Baluch rugs were made before the middle of this century in Baluch communities living among Turkmen on either side of the current border between Afghanistan and Soviet Turkmenistan. Their handicraft is derivative of the Turkmen product, though distinctive in both design and texture. The Baluch in Soviet Turkmenistan include Shiʿites. They all came from Sīstān, some from the Afghan and some from the Iranian side of the border. There were three main waves of migration. The first arrived in the late 19th century; the second between 1917 and 1920; and the last and largest between 1923 and 1928. In 1959 they numbered 7,842, but had increased to 18,997 in 1979 by natural fertility. They live in the Mary oblast’ on kolkhoz and sovkhoz. There are also small groups of Baluch in Tajikistan but these have already assimilated linguistically to the Tajik. Small groups of Brahui in Turkmenistan still speak Brahui but are rapidly assimilating to Baluchi. The Soviets seem to favor the ethnic survival of the Baluch (Bennigsen, pp. 120-21), probably for reasons similar to the Pakistani encouragement of the Brahui. The Baluch of Ḏahīra in Oman have been there so long that they are now classed as an Omani tribe. They retain no direct connection with the Baluch on the Bāṭena coast or elsewhere in Oman. Another group is located some ninety miles to the south of Boraymī in the interior. In Zanzibar the Baluch had established themselves in the service of the Muscadine empire. After the coup in 1963 they lost their privileged status and, in order to avoid being ruled by an African government which did not respect their separate identity, some of them wrote letters to distant relatives in Makrān, attempting to make arrangements to return. In 1965 a Baluch from Kenya enrolled as a foreign student at Tehran University.
There are records of migration out of Makrān since about 1800, and most of the diaspora seems to have occurred in the 12th/18th and 13th/19th centuries. But some moved out as early as the 9th/15th century, while others may have followed different itineraries from earlier points of dispersal in Iran, and may hold clues relevant to some of the problems treated in the first section of this article. They moved mainly for economic reasons, and worked in the pearl industry before the oil industry. They have wandered as soldiers of fortune possibly since Sasanian times. Many of the émigré communities have assimilated in language and other respects to the surrounding society, but still retain their identity. Many more may have assimilated and lost their identity. It is characteristic of areas of low biological productivity such as Makrān that they are net producers of people.