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|3 to 4 million (2006)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Provinces of Gilan, Mazandaran, and Golestan in Iran|
|Mostly Shi'a Muslim|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Iranian peoples, Peoples of the Caucasus|
The Gilaki people or Gilaks (Gilaki) are an Iranian ethnic group native to the northern Iranian province of Gilan. They form one of the main ethnic groups residing in the northern parts of Iran. Gilaks, along with the closely related Mazandarani people, comprise part of the Caspian people, who inhabit the southern and southwestern coastal regions of the Caspian Sea.
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Gilaki people live both alongside the Alborz mountains, and in the surrounding plains. Consequentially, those living along the northern side of the Alborz mountains tend to raise livestock, while those living in the plains farm. Gilaks play an important role in provincial and national economy, supplying a large portion of the region's agricultural staples, such as rice, grains, tobacco, and tea. Other major industries include fishing and caviar exports, and the production of silk. In addition to agricultural activities, Gilaks also control other principal sectors of commerce of the province of Gilan such as tourism, and share administrative and government positions with civil servants from other regions of Iran.
The population of Gilaks is estimated to be between 3 and 4 million (2006 estimation). They mainly live along the southwest coasts of the Caspian Sea and are one of the main ethnic groups that reside in the northern parts of Iran. The Gilaks are closely related to the neighboring Mazandarani, and other groups of Caucasus descent, such as Georgians, Armenians, and Azeris.
The Gilaki language is a member of the Northwestern branch of the Iranian languages. It is the main language spoken amongst the Gilaki people, although various regional and local dialects of the Gilaki language are common. Gilak people are fluent in both the Gilaki language and standard Persian.Persian is the official language of education in Iran, and since teachers are discouraged from using regional dialects and accents in class, the Gilaki language is taught to children at home.
The Gilaki and Mazandarani languages (but not other Iranian languages) share certain typological features with Caucasian languages. However, with the growth of education and press, the differentiation between Gilaki and other Iranian languages is likely to disappear. Gilaki is closely related to Mazandarani and the two languages have similar vocabularies. These two languages retain more than Persian does of the noun declension system that was characteristic of older Iranian languages.
The Gilaks and their closely related Mazandarani occupy the South Caspian region of Iran and speak languages belonging to the North-Western branch of Iranian languages. It has been suggested that their ancestors came from the Caucasus region, perhaps displacing an earlier group in the South Caspian. Linguistic evidence supports this scenario, in that the Gilaki and Mazandarani languages (but not other Iranian languages) share certain typological features with Caucasian languages. There have been patterns analyzed of mtDNA and Y chromosome variation in the Gilaki and Mazandarani.
Based on mtDNA HV1 sequences, the Gilaks and Mazandarani most closely resemble their geographic and linguistic neighbors, namely other Iranian groups. However, their Y chromosome types most closely resemble those found in groups from the South Caucasus. A scenario that explains these differences is a south Caucasian origin for the ancestors of the Gilaki and Mazandarani, followed by introgression of women (but not men) from local Iranian groups, possibly because of patrilocality. Given that both mtDNA and language are maternally transmitted, the incorporation of local Iranian women would have resulted in the concomitant replacement of the ancestral Caucasian language and mtDNA types of the Gilaki and Mazandarani with their current Iranian language and mtDNA types. Concomitant replacement of language and mtDNA may be a more general phenomenon than previously recognized.
The Mazandarani and Gilaki groups fall inside a major cluster consisting of populations from the Caucasus and West Asia and are particularly close to the South Caucasus groups--Georgians, Armenians, and Azerbaijanis. Iranians from Tehran and Isfahan are situated more distantly from these groups.
Media related to Gilaks at Wikimedia Commons