Story: Middle Eastern peoples

Page 4. Other Middle Eastern peoples

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Iraqis and Iranians

In New Zealand’s 2013 census there were 5,481 residents born in Iraq, and 3,084 born in Iran. Most had arrived as refugees during the 1990s. Almost three-quarters of Iraqis lived in Auckland followed by Wellington and Hamilton. Many Iraqis were Assyrian Christians, who suffered greatly during the Iraq–Iran conflict and the Gulf wars. Oppressed by the ruling Muslim Sunni class in Iraq during the 1990s, many emigrated to western countries as refugees.

Almost half of the Iranians resident in New Zealand in 2013 were Muslims. Like Iraqis, they were also concentrated in Auckland.


In Auckland, Iraqi and Iranian Christians attended three main churches: the Chaldean Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, and the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. In Wellington, Father Aprem Oraha Pithyou headed the Ancient Church of the East. In 2003 the Iraqi community received a visit from the Chaldean Patriarch and official ceremonies were held in Wellington and in Auckland.

In the 2000s Auckland Assyrians could tune into the United Assyrian Voice Radio on Saturday afternoons on PlanetFM.

In their new environment Iraqis and Iranians have worked hard to build a better future for their children. The kin group and the church remain the focus of their social interaction.

No more dogfights over the desert

Shahab Forouzandeh flew single-engine FT-33 aircraft on reconnaissance and training sorties during the Iran–Iraq War. But as a follower of the Baha’i faith he was persecuted for his beliefs in Muslim Iran. He arrived in Wellington in 1989 as a refugee, and two years later was driving buses. While the pedestrians and winds of Lambton Quay were a far cry from the desert skies of the Middle East, Shahab was philosophical about his new role: ‘Well, it’s a job … I like to meet people.’ 1

The Turks and others

By the 2000s there were also small numbers of people from (in descending order) Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Oman and Bahrain. Of these diverse peoples, the Turks have been the most visible, with many operating kebab houses serving falafel, hommos (hummus), baklava and of course lokum (Turkish delight).

  1. ‘Ex-pilot now bus driver.’ Evening Post, 28 January 1991. › Back
How to cite this page:

James Veitch and Dalia Tinawi, 'Middle Eastern peoples - Other Middle Eastern peoples', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 August 2022)

Story by James Veitch and Dalia Tinawi, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015