Killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors (KIR) gene frequencies vary between populations and contribute to functional variation in immune responses to viruses, autoimmunity and reproductive success. This study describes the frequency distribution of 12 variable KIR genes and their HLA-C ligands in two Iranian populations who have lived for many generations in different environments: the Azerbaijanis at high altitude and the Jonobi people at sea level. The results are compared with those published for other human populations and a large group of English Caucasians. Differences were seen in KIR and HLA-C group frequencies, in linkage disequilibrium and inhibitory/activating KIR ratios between the groups. Similarities with geographically close populations in the frequencies of the KIR A and B haplotypes and KIR AA genotype reflected their common ancestry. The extreme variability of the KIR gene family and their HLA-C ligands is highlighted and their importance in defining differences between geographically and culturally isolated communities subject to different environmental pressures who come from the same ethnic grouping.