There are 10-12 million Baluch people spread across Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the surrounding region – an area known as “Baluchistan.” They likely migrated from the Caspian Sea region around the 6th/7th centuries and settled in this huge, mostly arid, region. Three main dialects are spoken: Western Baluchi, in Southeastern Iran and Southern Afghanistan; Southern Baluchi, spoken in the Arabian Peninsula and the southern part of Baluchistan province in Pakistan; and Eastern Baluchi, spoken in the Eastern part of Baluchistan province in Pakistan (it is so different that it almost constitutes a separate language).
Baluchi society is structured by tribes and clans, where the chief is the local authority. The Baluch live by an honor code of honesty and hospitality. Their nomadic past is changing. Many have settled into villages of mud or stone huts and work mostly as farmers, shepherds, or fishermen. Some young men move to cities in search of jobs. This geographic area is poorly developed, mostly because of its harsh physical conditions. Rain is scarce – but when it does fall, catastrophic flooding results.
The Baluch most likely originally practiced Zoroastrianism, an ancient, pre-Islamic religion, but eventually became Muslim. Almost all Baluch are Sunni Muslims, regardless of the country they find themselves in. Many are recruited into the radical Islamic and nationalist movements around them, causing even more suffering for the communities involved.
The Baluch have suffered enormously, especially over the past forty years under the Iranian and Pakistani governments. They have endured years of poverty, hardship, and pain. Basic infrastructure is insufficient. Economic development has been nearly nonexistent, and the lack of government responses to natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes has been a disaster itself. Floods in January 2020 wiped out much of their livestock and agriculture. Baluchistan has the highest rates of illiteracy, child mortality, and overall poverty in the entire region.
The Baluch are deprived of their rights and are considered third-class citizens. Longstanding ambitions for self-rule through the establishment of their own country has brought repressive government surveillance, intimidation, torture, and disappearances. The Balochi language, often suppressed by the government, is at risk of extinction in two or three generations despite revitalization efforts.
There is little outreach work happening among the Baluch. A translation team is working to complete a modern Bible translation, but because of very low literacy rates and the dangers of possessing printed Christian materials, oral resource distribution strategies are being developed using satellite TV, radio, and especially the internet. Most people – even nomads – have access to these kinds of media! A variety of resources have been developed in Baluchi, including the JESUS film, and more are being produced.
While the church in Iran is growing rapidly, even without property or buildings, there are very few Baluch believers. Engagement of Baluch by Iranian believers is difficult and uncommon. In the rest of Baluchistan, especially outside of major urban areas, access to gospel-proclaiming believers is extremely rare. All 10-12 million Baluch are considered entirely unreached and almost totally unengaged.
The 1.5 million Western Balochi speakers who live in southeastern Iran are part of a larger group of 10-12 million Baluch spread across Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Western Baluch settled in Iran for unknown reasons as the rest of the Baluch, originally from the Caspian Sea region, kept traveling eastwards in the 6th/7th centuries.
Though Iran is 90% Shia, the Western Baluch, like other ethnic minorities in Iran, are Sunni Muslim.
The Baluch have suffered enormously, especially under the Iranian Islamic regime. Living as a suppressed ethnic and religious minority amongst Iranian Shi’ites is extremely difficult. They are deprived of their rights and considered third-class citizens. They face state-sponsored harassment, torture, and arrest if they speak out against the regime. The Balochi language, banned by the government, is at risk of extinction in two or three generations.
There is little outreach work happening among Western Balochi speakers; they are considered entirely unreached and almost completely unengaged.