A History of Iranian Immigration to CanadaCompared to other immigrant groups, the Iranians are relative newcomers to Canada. As late as the end of World War II, there were only a dozen Iranians living in Canada. The large influx of immigrant groups following World War II did not include Iranians. Throughout the 1950's and 60's, the numbers ranged from ten to one hundred annually.(1)
The first real wave of Iranian immigrants to Canada arrived in the 1970's, when the number increased from 100/year to 600/year by 1978. Following the Iranian Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy, the rate of immigration accelerated to several thousand per year. This level was sustained throughout the Iran/Iraqi war and throughout the 1990's.(2)
Some came as immigrants for economic reasons. The majority, however, came to Canada for political reasons - they were fleeing the horror of the Iran/Iraqi War. The Iranians who came to Canada were aided by the change in immigration rules, which judged immigrants on a specific point system based upon education and occupation. Country of origin, which had been stressed in previous immigration guidelines, was no longer a factor. Canada had officially become a multicultural country, encouraging, not only a non-traditional immigrant base, but facilitating this by encouraging programs to ensure that these groups maintain their culture and traditions in Canada.(3)
Within the borders of Iran there is an ethnic minority that has been staunchly clinging to their culture. They are the Kurds, a people without a homeland. Twenty-five million strong, the Kurds claim as their nation a territory of 200,000 square miles - a territory that overlaps the borders of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. They are a fiercely tribal group who holds loyalty to their local clans and Chief, which has made it difficult for the Kurds to rise up and effectively claim their territory.(4)
The closest they came to being recognized as a nation occurred at the end of World War I. President Woodrow Wilson, in his 14-point outline that became the basis for the League of Nations, wanted to ensure that the minorities of the fractured Ottoman Empire would have a chance for nationhood. The Kurds were promised statehood in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres autonomy. But when the region was divided and allocated to Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey, the Kurds were left out. There has been persecution and suppression of the Kurdish identity and nationalism ever since.(5)
During the Iran/Iraqi War, both sides took the opportunity to bomb the Kurds, often, destroying villages within their own borders.6 The world was re-awakened to the plight of the Kurds when Saddam Hussein gassed a Kurdish village within Iraq territory, killing all the inhabitants. The image of a dead father covering the body of his dead child in a vain attempt to protect them from the gas, briefly brought into focus the world's attention to the plight of the Kurds.
A portion of the Iran, Iraq and Turkish refugees who come to Canada are of Kurdish heritage. Like the other immigrants, the Kurds tend to settle in the major cities with the vast majority settling in Toronto and Southern Ontario.
Immigrants from Iran are generally well educated, motivated and entrepreneurial. The fear among some Canadians that they would take jobs away from Canadian-borns, has been far from the reality of what has occurred. Many Iranians have started their own businesses, often in the import/export field and hire Canadians to work for them.(7)