South and North Korea have a joint population of approximately 76 million people. And, according to the New World Encyclopedia, a rough estimate of about 6.5 million of these Koreans are currently living in the diaspora, with a larger percentage of them scattered about in the United States, China, Japan Canada, and Uzbekistan.
“Dongpo” (which translates to mean “people of the same ancestry”, or simply “brethren”) and “gyopo” (which means “nationals” and could be also spelt kyopo) are two of the popular terms used in describing Korean individuals who are living outside the countries or have spent a considerable amount of their years in a foreign country.
Iran is one of the countries Koreans have heavily migrated to as well. One interesting reason is the longstanding relationship that exists between the countries (Azad, 2012). In this article, our focus is on the Koreans in Iran. Their life and how they cohabitate with their long-time friends and probably family.
Iran and the two Korean countries have had a long-standing friendly relationship that must have started as far back as when South and North Korea were still single countries. This relationship can even be said to go as far back as 1600 years ago when cultural trade became an acquired taste and Iran was still Persia, during the early ancient period.
In spite of the intense rivalry that has occurred between these two countries, Iran has continued to maintain a tight relationship with both countries. No country in the world has been able to achieve that. Even according to Wikipedia, Iran is one of the only countries in the world to cultivate such a strong relationship with the two countries for a long time.
The relationship that seems to exist between these three countries has also been said to go back in time to the period of the Koryeo Dynasty when King Hyeon Jong was ruling. But, contrary to this, some historians even believe otherwise. They say this relationship must have started at an earlier period, which is highly possible because the close ties started with cultural trades that are recorded by scholars to have started about 1500 years ago.
Presently this strong relationship between Iran and the Koreans is apparent to other nations and has been regarded as a “Korean-Iran One Heart, One Soul Relationship”.
These countries have held a relationship that can be said to have lasted for a long. This also means they’ve been in close contact for such a long time and must have been coexisting before the dawn of time. Maybe this is why you’ll find a lot of Iranians in the Korean countries and a lot of Koreans in Iran as well.
The history of Koreans in Iran goes back in time to the 1970s when Korean labour workers began to heavily migrate from their country regions like Tehran and Asaluyeh in Iran. Between the years 1971 and 1977, there was a 90% average annual migration rate from South Korea to Iran and it continued to grow at a reasonable rate until 2011 when there was a mass return migration from different regions in Iran back to Korea (Seok, 1991).
However, despite this heavy emigration from Iran, quite a several Koreans still decided to stay put in their host country. It is hard to pack your bags and leave a country when you have already settled down to a life or a family.
South has been the one with closer ties than the North. Even during the 1970s, when the Koreans moved to Iran in heavy numbers, most of them were from South Korea. And at that time, there was a project being carried out by Hyundai Construction. This was the first of this company’s projects in the whole of the Middle East and it was to build close to Bandar-e Abbas a shipyard for the Navy of Iran.
This was a massive project for the company and it led to the expansion of business in the Middle East for it, and also the “chaebol”, a Korean conglomerate controlled by a family in the country. The chaebol has to be a deciding agent in the politics of South Korea. Most of the travellers were labour workers and about 300,000 of them moved to work in the Middle East.
This strong tie has weighed down over time as a result of the revolution in Iran that occurred in 1979 after some revolutionaries violently attacked a construction site to injure and kill some South Korean workers. The country was forced to evacuate its people and the rate of migration fell to a minimum percentage. In 2009, the Koreans number dropped to as low as 614 people. This number was further reduced to 405 and consisted of those who were either already Iranian nationals, or international students.
Although there was a low number of expatriates living in Iran, the countries have continued to do business transactions together despite the UN’s sanctions on Iran and the US-Iran tension. Koreans have been able to successfully penetrate the market and culture of the Iranians.