While Iran’s regime is always keen to portray itself as a great supporter of oppressed Muslim peoples, particularly Palestinians, with regime officials recently condemning Israeli brutality to worshippers at the iconic Al Quds Mosque and denouncing the massacres by Myanmar’s regime, carried out supposedly in the name of “fighting terror,” Tehran remains silent on its own systemic oppression of minorities within Iran. With regime troops killing two more Iranian Kurdish kolbars in recent months, regime media have remained silent, as usual, on the state’s murder of the unarmed porters who make a grueling living carrying massive loads on their backs across the mountainous area between Iranian Kurdistan and Iraq for a pittance, or to the wider suffering and abject poverty of Iran’s Kurds and other ethnic minorities.
In fact, the supremacist mindset and oppressive racism of Iran’s rulers towards the country’s ethnic minorities are perpetrated with the intent of eradicating these minorities through a systematic degradation in the quality of life.
One of the factors which makes a strong impression and creates what is called the “defence of nationalism” by ethnic minorities in Iran is the sense of deprivation. Almost all the ethnic minorities are denied their rights compared to the dominant Persian group. This denial of rights comes in many forms; they [ethnic minorities] are denied the right to learn their own languages or to teach their history in schools, and are deprived of the right to political participation in the establishment of political parties and civil institutions. They are also deprived of economic rights, and most painfully are deprived of the rights enjoyed by Persian nationalists across the country.
The majority of ethnic minorities in Iran live in underprivileged areas and are extremely poor. The Iranian regime depends on the marginalization of the ‘other,’ and knows full well that movements by these nationalities will negatively affect the regime’s chance of survival, so the regime strives to eradicate what it views as threatening. That’s why we see the ethnic minorities, who suffer from the worst deprivation and oppression, also suffering from the highest number of executions especially among Arab people of Ahwaz, Kurds, and Baluchis.
Prominent figures and activists from ethnic minority populations in Iran are warning of escalating tensions due to worsening marginalization and abuse inflicted by the regime. Ethnic minorities in the country have become increasingly angered over the regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent, contemptuous disregard for basic civil liberties, and oppression of cultural, political, and social rights.
There are increasing fears of an ethno-sectarian break-up of Iran as anger grows among the long-oppressed minorities, primarily the Kurdish, Ahwazi Arabs, Turks, Turkmen and Balochi peoples who make up more than half the country’s population, at the regime’s systemic brutal discrimination and subjugation. The worsening economic crisis is adding to the frustrations of the people already angered at the regime’s failure to maintain its promises of greater freedom, who are instead facing more extreme oppression.
As Iran’s regime seeks to realize its expansionist dream across the Levant region, where senior regime officials have boasted of building a region-wide “Islamic nation,” state media feature non-stop promotion of its extremely well-funded vicious regional wars and interventions. Meanwhile in Iran, the economic crisis continues to spiral downwards, as poverty and unemployment levels grow steadily, with the country’s ethnic minorities, already suffering brutal persecution, once again being the worst affected.
Mostafa Hetteh, a former Ahwazi teacher based in Canada recalled what he observed during his teaching experience in Iranian schools by saying, “The torture starts when the none-Persian children of ethnic minorities attend their first day of school in Iran, where they are forced to learn an entirely new language from their native one. These children are institutionally prevented from expressing curiosity about their own language, ethnic history, and cultural identity. All children in Iran are mandated to receive all their classes taught in the Persian language, learn Persian versions of history, and adopt Persian cultural norms. The indoctrination and internalization of Persian supremacy begin at this very early stage.”
“All the minorities in Iran are getting angrier and more disillusioned,” said Mohammed,an Ahwazi-Arab teacher at a school in the regional capital, Ahwaz city, whose name has been changed to protect his identity. “The education ministry’s latest guidelines are one more slap in the face―they stipulate that in order to teach the children to speak Farsi ‘properly,’ no teachers with non-Persian dialects and accents can be employed in schools; it’s just another way for them to insult and discriminate against Ahwazis and other minorities here, already facing constant racism from the regime―over our languages, our clothes, our cultures, etc. How are minorities in Iran supposed to ‘integrate’ when we’re openly degraded and insulted non-stop by the government and by its media in broad daylight?”
“Now, more and more people―Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, and Baluchis―are supporting armed resistance because there’s a feeling that there’s no hope of reform from the regime. The last straw is the water crisis,” he says, referring to the regime’s massive river-damming and diversion programs in Ahwaz and other minority regions, under which water is transferred to ethnically Persian areas, leaving the non-Persian regions without desperately needed water. This has left increasing numbers reliant on ground wells leading to the spread of illness from drinking the untreated, polluted water and resulting in increasing desertification and large-scale migration. “They want to leave us to die of thirst or drink mud so they can water their gardens,” Mohammed concludes bitterly. “The mullahs talk a lot about how they’re ‘resisting Israel,’ but they’re no better than Israel.”
“With the Iranian regime becoming more radicalized in their oppression of these ethnic minorities, the minorities have, in turn, adopted more radical struggles against the regime. As minorities’ peaceful protests and demands for their rights were constantly met with violence and suppression from the regime, the struggles of oppressed minorities evolved to now include taking up armed fighting and calling for the formation of their own states via full separation from Iran.”
Despite, or perhaps, spurred on by the regime’s brutal efforts to intimidate minorities into silent acceptance of their dreadful situation, protests are becoming increasingly common.
Decades of brutality and discrimination by successive regimes have led to increasing levels of support among minorities in Iran for secession and ethno- nationalist autonomy via division of the country, as a means of escaping Persian supremacism and bigotry―which has long been promoted and normalized by media―of attaining freedom and justice, and of reviving and taking pride in their own cultural identity. Many have abandoned any hope of ever attaining genuine equal citizenship and rights so long as their regions, which were forcibly annexed by Iran, remain part of the country.
Many academics and analysts in Iran argue that the popularity of support for secession among the ethnic minorities is also driven by more pragmatic factors, such as the aforementioned spiraling inflation, youth unemployment and other issues related to the worsening economic crisis. Increasing access to social media in recent years means that many young Baluchis, Ahwazis, Kurds, Turks and Turkmen are learning for the first time subjects that are considered taboo by the notoriously controlling regime, which has attempted to enforce a homogeneous Persian identity even while subjecting the country’s minorities to overt racist discrimination.
These latest tensions are not new, but are simply the natural accumulation of simmering resentment which has built up over the past 81 years since the creation of the modern Iranian state in 1936 the year that Iran annexed the Arab emirate of Ahwaz, and created a single “Persian” identity in an effort to subsume and assimilate all the subject peoples, without according minorities the same rights as the ethnically Persian citizens.
As the founder should have realized, this brutal, unjust and oppressive “Persianization” process, which was doomed to failure from the start, may ultimately lead to Iran being the next regional nation devastatingly torn apart by ethno-sectarian conflict.