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  • The Baluch Role in the Persian Gulf during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
  • Beatrice Nicolini (bio)

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, evidence of the Baluch population could be found in the service of the Al Ya'rubi of Oman, mainly as mercenary troops.1 Officers were called jam'dar and soldiers sowar.2 To the Arabs of Oman, these Baluch corps constituted their military power (al-shawkah) and their strength and were an indispensable tool in the conquest and maintaining of Omani tribal power. It was, however, with the Omani dynasty of the Al Bu Sa'id of Oman—starting around the first half of the nineteenth century—that the Baluch, and the coastal strip of Makran, the main region in south Central Asia of their origin, became an institutional part of the Omani governmental forces and major political leaders. Baluch tribes also settled in other Gulf areas beside Oman, and in separate villages, practicing their tribal customs and speaking their language.

Being Baluch is a question of geographical and cultural identity; therefore their integration in the Arab regions of the Gulf has been always assured and stable when closely related to their original corporate role of defense force. Consequently, the role of Baluch—especially Makrani—in the Arab Gulf countries has been growing and modifying itself since the nineteenth century. During the twentieth century, Baluch cultural identity, and most of all the Baluch presence in numerical terms with respect to Arab Gulf nationals, did become a significant reality, and also a cultural reality. Today there are many integration problems between nationals and nonnationals in most of the Arab Gulf countries, and the Baluch contribution to the richness of Gulf culture and society could represent a significant step toward future cooperation and integration through reform governmental projects. Consequently, when talking about globalization, one should keep in mind that this concept is not new for this particular region. The society of the Gulf has in fact been a "globalized" community from time immemorial; nevertheless, each ethnic group composing this cosmopolitan world succeeded in preserving its own cultural identity.

In the United Arab Emirates, for example, there are today 135,700 southern Baluch (7 percent of the population) as a part of a larger community of about 8 million.3 Starting in [End Page 384] the late 1950s, sudden wealth made this region one of the richest of the world. Here the Baluch found work as unskilled laborers, policemen, or fishermen. Other Baluch joined the military. Still others labored in the oil fields and on the farms of the wealthy Gulf states. Although the Baluch work extremely hard, they are much better off than they were in Baluchistan, one of the poorest areas of the world. One of the main causes of the Baluch "diaspora" to the other shores of the Arabian Sea largely results from their lands of origin, which I describe together with their society's conditions and customs.

The Baluch reside mainly in Baluchistan, a dry, desolate region in the southeastern part of the Iranian plateau. It extends from the Kerman desert to the east of Bam and the Beshagard mountains and to the western borders of the Sind and Punjab provinces of today's Pakistan. During the second half of the nineteenth century, Baluchistan was divided by the British between Iran and Pakistan.4 These two states had a dispute concerning the border dividing the two parts of Baluchistan; it was resolved by an agreement signed in 1959.5

Iranian Baluchistan is a part of the Sistan and Baluchistan provinces.6 The barren land of Iranian Baluchistan, situated on the southeastern side of the country, is part of "Great Baluchistan," with the other half located in Pakistan.7 The province is divided into four regions—Sarhadi, Sarawan, Bampur, and Makran—based on their environmental differences.

One of the main characteristics of Baluchistan is the variation in flora and fauna that exists because of the climatic differences. This multifeatured, inhospitable land has given rise to people of different ethnos. The ethnic diversity is such that one can find Baluch and Brohi Arabs, Jats and Kurds, and also blacks, whose ancestors had once been brought to this land as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-226X
Print ISSN
1089-201X
Pages
pp. 384-396
Launched on MUSE
2007-09-18
Open Access
No
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