SHAHSEVAN (Šāhsevan), name of a number of tribal groups in various parts of northwestern Iran, notably in the Moḡān and Ardabil districts of eastern Azerbaijan and in the Ḵaraqān and Ḵamsa districts between Zanjān and Qazvin. Most of the latter groups also originated in Moḡān (see DAŠT-e MOḠĀN), where Shahsevan ancestors were located during Safavid times.
The Shahsevan traditionally pursued a nomadic pastoral way of life, migrating between winter pastures near sea-level in Moḡān and summer quarters 100-200 km to the south on the Sabalān (or Savalan) and neighboring ranges, in the districts of Ardabil, Meškin, and Sarāb. The nomads formed a minority of the population in this region, though, like the settled majority, whom they knew as Tāt, they were Shiʿi Muslims, and spoke Turkish.
Unlike the Baḵtiāri and the Qašqāʾi of the Zagros, the Shahsevan lived in an accessible and much-frequented frontier zone. The fertile Moḡān steppe, extensively irrigated in mediaeval times, was the site chosen by Nāder Shah Afšār (in 1736) and Āḡā Moḥammad Khan Qajar (in 1796) for their coronations. Shahsevan summer pastures, surrounded by rich farmlands, lay between Ardabil, a historically important shrine city and trade centre, and Tabriz, capital of several past rulers. Grain, fruit, wool and meat from the region have long been widely marketed. Raw silk produced in the neighboring provinces of Gilān and Shirvan figured prominently in international trade passing through or near Shahsevan territory. Control of these resources was a major motivation for conquest: since the 16th century, Persian, Ottoman, and Russian and Soviet forces claimed or occupied Shahsevan territory on several occasions each. In such a location, Shahsevan relations with governments have taken a different course from those of the Zagros tribes.
Origins and history. Shahsevan history since the early 18th century is fairly well documented, but their origins remain obscure. Turkic identity and culture are overwhelmingly dominant among them, though the ancestors of several component tribes were of Kurdish or other origins. Apart from their frontier location and history, they differ from other nomadic tribal groups in Iran in various aspects of their culture and social and economic organization. Most distinctive is their tent-hut, the hemispherical, felt-covered alačıq. This dwelling and other cultural features can be traced to the Ḡozz Turkic tribes of Central Asia that invaded Southwest Asia in the 11th century C.E.