The Karen people are the main ethnic minority in Myanmar (Burma). There are three to four million Karen in Myanmar, and another perhaps 200 000 in Thailand. Their home is in the east central part of the country on the border with Thailand. It is called the Kayin State, and has its regional capital at Hpa-an (Pa-an).

They are not a single ethnic group, but numerous related groups. They speak one of the Karen languages, a sub-family of the Sino-Tibetan family, to which Burmese also belongs. They are predominantly Buddhist with significant Christian and animist minorities.

With the adoption of more linguistically accurate names, Burma becoming Myanmar and so on, the Karen State was renamed Kayin State, which is the modern Burmese pronunciation. It is not used by the main Karen resistance.

They have always felt oppressed by the majority Burmese, and since 1949, only a year after the independence of Burma, the Karen National Union (KNU) has been fighting the central government. Their army is called the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), and the leadership is largely Christian. In recent years, as fighting has intensified, the Myanmar government has sponsored a breakaway army called the Democratic Kayin Buddhist Organization, formed in 1994. Many Karen are now in refugee camps across the Thai border.

Not to be confused with the Karenni or Kayah people, another ethnic group in Myanmar, whose women are famous for stretching their necks with neck-rings.