Their name may ultimately derive from the Kereʾit, a Turco-Mongol tribe participating in the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, but their name (meaning "black") may also be connected to those of various other Central Asian groups. Malcolm (1829) thought the Karai of Persia "had come from Tartary with Timur". Under Safavid Nader Shah (r. 1736–1747), they were settled in Khorasan. Before that time, the Karai seem also to have been found in Azerbaijan. Adam Olearius, who traveled in Azerbaijan in 1638, mentions Karai as one of the tribes of Mogan.
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"Black" (qara) was a frequently used tribal identifier among the early Turkic peoples, and there are numerous, not necessarily related, Turkic groups known by this colour adjective.
- The "Black Tatars" (Hei T'a-t'a 黑韃靼) are a subdivision of the Rouran in Tang period Chinese sources.
- The "black Tatars" (chrnyih' Tatar' ) were the Tatar troops serving the First Bulgarian Empire.
- The Kara Tatars ruled as a dynasty in Crimea and Kazan under the name of Giray Dynasty from their capital Bakhchysarai until the Russian annexation of the Crimean Khanate in 1783. They also ruled in Kazan (Tatarstan) roughly between 1524 to 1551.
- Khereid was a polity in 11th-century Central Asia absorbed into the Mongol Empire
- The Kerey (Kazakh: Керей) are a Kazakh group of the Middle jüz.
- The Karai (Tatar: Къарай) are a subgroup of the modern Volga Tatars.
The Karai of Khorasan became influential in Khorasan province in the 18th century, after their leader, Amir Khan, was made governor of Mashad under Ahmad Shah Durrani in 1749. Their political power peaked in the early 19th century, under the leadership of Eshaq Khan Qaraei-Torbati. Eshaq Khan had submitted to Mohammad Khan Qajar in 1795, but under Fath-Ali Shah Qajar he achieved de facto autonomy from the central Qajar government, seizing control of Mashad in 1813. But soon later, in 1816, Eshaq Khan's tribal alliance fell apart an he was killed in Mashad.
Esḥaq Khan was succeeded by his son Moḥammad Khan, who managed to retain "a sort of semi-independent existence" But in the second half of the 19th century, the Karai chiefs lost most of their wealth and influence. George N. Curzon, who visited the area in 1889, described the region as "terribly decimated both by Turkmen ravages and by the great famine".
A small Karai population is found in Kerman province, comprising some 420 households as of 1957, centered on the village of Tangu. and in Fars province, where clans using the name Karai are found within the Qashqai, Ḵamsa and Mamasāni tribal confederacies. Oberling (1960:101) cites Iranian Army Files of 1956 according to which the Karai of Kerman and Fars were moved there from Khorasan during the Safavid period.
- G. Németh, A Hongfoglaló Magyarság Kialakulása, Budapest, 1930, 264-68, cited after Oberling (2002).
- J. Malcolm, The History of Persia, 2 vols., London, 1829.
- István Vásáry, Cumans and Tatars: Oriental Military in the Pre-Ottoman Balkans, 1185–1365, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 112
- C. E. Yate, Khurasan and Sistan, London, 1900, p. 53.
- G. N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, 1892, vol. I, p. 203.
- Oberling (1960), 100–105.
- P. Oberling, "Karāʾi", Encyclopedia Iranica, vol. XV, Fasc. 5 (2002), pp. 536–537.
- P. Oberling, The Turkic Peoples of Southern Iran, Cleveland, 1960.