Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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  Oppressed Nations in Iran Demand Freedom and Justice, Not Another Exchange of Tyrants

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Iran is ethnically and culturally diverse, with the population consisting of several nations, including Azerbaijani Turks, Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Balochis, and Caspianis, in addition to Persian. The non-Persian ethnicities collectively make up around 70% of the population. Despite this diversity, however, Persian ethnicity, culture and identity are promoted as being the dominant and ‘superior’ variety. 

 The Islamic Republic regime, as well as the preceding Shah regime, adhered to a model of ethnocentric state model; rather than promoting common interests and celebrating diverse cultures, Iran under the Pahlavis and under the Khomeinists expected the non-Persian ethnicities to give up their distinct identities altogether and to consider themselves Persian in dress, language, all cultural attributes, and so forth. Even in the event they are fully committed to forgetting their history and identity, they will still face discrimination and oppression on the basis of ethnic origin. Non-Persians, therefore, are expected to adhere to contradictory expectations: to avoid identifying themselves by their cultural origin and yet to face the status of second-class citizens on the basis of that origin. 

 For Western media and those who follow the Iranian domestic affairs, it might not be visible that even in the course of nationwide protests that swept through Iran every year, the voices of protesters are also diverse in expressing their demands, precisely suiting the ethnic mosaic population in the country. However, these voices and demands of the bulk of demonstrators in ethnic areas, who are, in fact, the majority in their own peripheral regions, are mostly deliberately eliminated from the platforms of traditional and well-known Persian opposition groups and their media. Even allegedly independent Iranian Persian-speaking dissidents walk in lockstep and keep mum on the ethnic identities of protesters. They erase out the existence of the specific national and ethnic demands of Ahwazis and Azerbaijani, Balochi and Kurdish protesters even when they chant their slogans and call for the recognition of their cultural claims.

 From this mosaic population, I am from the Ahwazi Arab people in the south and southwest of Iran, known by its 8 million population as the Ahwaz region. The region is rich with oil, gas, water resources, and fertile lands for agriculture. But, unfortunately, the Ahwazi population is suffering from long decades of various types of oppression and discrimination. For example, Ahwazis are constantly denied employment in the oil and petrochemical industries in every area they populate. At the same time, Persian speakers are allocated the majority of jobs varying from managers to proficient engineers to labour workers. Thus, the educated Ahwazi Arabs, like the rest of the Ahwazi population, are being driven out of employment across all of the energy sectors. Any protests demanding reforms and an end to discrimination are met with severe crackdowns and empty promises by successive Iranian governments. 

 The Iranian opposition has always framed the demands of the Arab people of Ahwaz in the same terms used by the regime, i.e. as posing a threat to Iran’s territorial integrity. This means that the country’s Ahwazi people, already facing twofold persecution from Iran’s regime for their ethnicity as well as for dissent, are now also under fire from the regime’s supposed opponents among Iranian activists who claim implausibly to support freedom for all in Iran, with these allegations aimed primarily at delegitimising the Ahwazi people’s demands.

These accusations are already used by the regime to help it wilfully misinterpret and redefine the cause of Ahwazi freedom and human rights as a security issue devoid of any political dimensions, with the regime using its supporters in Europe to keep a watchful eye on Ahwazi media mobilisation and political activism there. This surveillance enabled Tehran to direct its proxies and sleeper cells to assassinate several prominent Ahwazi exiles. Turning the Ahwazi cause into a security issue supposedly posing an existential threat to Iran’s regime (though the regime itself is the real existential threat to Ahwazis and everyone else in Iran) has allowed the regime to target Ahwazi activists, imprisoning hundreds of thousands of them and executing or assassinating hundreds of others—inside Ahwaz and overseas.

Many of the regime‘s supposed opponents turn out, in fact, to be supporters of the regime’s racist persecution and ethnic cleansing of Ahwazis, Balochis, Azerbaijani Turks, Kurds and other nations in order to maintain Persians’ privileged position. While activists who condemn only the regime’s repression of dissent and misogyny are welcomed, those who speak out against its systemic racism and land thefts are demonised as troublemakers, extremists and separatists, as much by the opposition as by the regime itself; according to both, these grievances are imaginary or created to seek attention and should be ignored, while those protesting against the regime’s racist policies should be punished.

Even the opposition’s claims to be confronting the regime’s sexist oppression should be viewed sceptically, with this opposition apparently depending on the victims’ ethnicity; the silence over the hundreds of Ahwazi women arrested, jailed and tortured over their ethnicity or detained as bargaining tools to force their dissident husbands to surrender is deafening. Moreover, Ahwazi women have received no support at all from Persian women, whether in exile or in the Persian heartlands in central Iran. 

This situation is similar to that of the American feminist movement, which is led by white American women who remain oblivious to the oppression and suffering inflicted on women of colour in the United States in order to preserve the social order of the white privileged class. Similarly in Iran, even Persian women’s organisations don’t support women in Ahwaz and other ethnic minority regions in order to maintain their status as the privileged and dominant class of women.

Many members of Iran’s non-Persian ethnic people, who collectively constitute over half of Iran’s population, truly believe that monarchists and the reformist-aligned groups that are represented by the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) are all extremist factions that are beholden to Persian ultranationalist/Aryanist ideologies, asserted Farzin Farzad, an Azerbaijani Turkish human rights activist based in Washington DC, in an exclusive interview with the Dialogue Institute for Research and Studies (DIRS).

Farzad went on, “When members of diaspora call for ‘unity,’ and support a crypto-fascist like Reza Pahlavi, it is no different from the era of MAGA supporters calling for arbitrary unity. The non-Persian nations of Iran are very cognizant of that kind of forced unity, which attempts to force complicity in restoring the bloodline of a family responsible for decades of brutality against them.”

Ironically, he noted, these calls for ‘unity’ and for support for Pahlavi are having the opposite effect to that intended, driving ethnic groups toward separatist sentiments, adding, “Many have told me over the years that nobody wants to replace an Islamist dictatorship with a fascist ultra-nationalistic dictatorship. They’d much rather just look after their own.”  

Farzad went on: “A myth that nationalists promote is that Reza Pahlavi is interested in implementing democracy. Pahlavi has sought to regain the crown many times since 1979. His words about democracy are just that – nothing more than words. And even if they were true, the man hasn’t worked a day in his life, hasn’t stepped foot in Iran in over 40 years, and is grossly ill-equipped to lead a nation. He’s basked in the wealth that his family stole from the Iranian people for generations.” 

The prominent activist continued: “During the recent protests sparked by the brutal murder of the young Kurdish woman, Jina Amini, Kurds, Balochis, Azerbaijani Turks and Ahwazi echoed their rejection of any new mono-ethnic ruling dictatorship, chanting slogans condemning both the current regime and the Shah. I don’t understand how diaspora Persian-speaking Iranians can’t seem to put their selfish endeavours aside and listen.”

Farzad concluded, “One cannot call for solidarity in movement against the regime and also support Pahlavi. True solidarity requires you to listen to the needs of all nations and peoples inside Iran, not just the wealthy and vocal Persian diaspora.” 

For Iran’s nations, it is clear that the existence of the Iranian state is dependent on the continued denial of the identity of colonised nations and peoples[Ahwazi, Kurds, Turks, Balochis etc.].These oppressed nations are defined by the Iranian regime as ‘Others’.

In fact, the Iranian structural ethnic oppression started with a minoritisation process of the colonised nations. Through the adoption of adopting minoritisation policies, the Persian state establishment has sought for decades to devalue and deny the language, culture, and identity of Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Kurds, and Balochis, pushing these colonised peoples to the fringes of society, refusing them any access even to their own resources, let alone to any political or economic power, and denying them any collective rights, thereby turning Kurds, Balochis and Ahwazis into the poorest and most marginalised peoples in Iran. Yet, these nations’ suffering never received any attention. On the contrary, groups located both in and outside Iran who raised the issue of this overt systemic racist discrimination were automatically accused of being motivated by separatist objectives, with their concerns and anger at the racism embedded within the ruling system not even acknowledged and simply dismissed out of hand. 

Social media reporting on Iranian political issues are largely divided into three groups: the first is made up of the regime and its backers, while the second group consists of ardent supporters of the son of the former despotic Shah Pahlavi who use social media in spurts of clicktivism to promote the restoration of Shah’s dictatorial autocratic rule in Iran. This group expresses their nostalgia for pre-Khamenei Persian nationalist authoritarian rule by launching online petitions and hashtags in support of the son of the former dictator Shah. Persian opposition television channels support their objectives and promote their campaigns. This first group is hugely wealthy, mostly thanks to funding provided from the 62 million dollars stolen by the corrupt Shah on his way to the United States and inherited and invested by his son Reza Pahlavi and his mother.

In London, Shah’s son established his Manoto TV channel. This Persian nationalist channel, which supports the restoration of the infamous Shah’s rule, has the backing of several exiled Persian celebrities and journalists. These analysts are found on Persian TV channels on a regular basis, spreading fake news and disinformation about the reality of the protests in Iran in order to advance their own agenda. 

The second group consists of activists: Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Balochis, Azerbaijani Turks, and other nations in Iran who are attempting to report on ethnic oppression and the demands of their own peoples, but who lack the massive funding and influence and thus the international reach of the regime and its predecessors.  

Although the current regime and its mirrors in the royalist ‘opposition’ prefer to publicly ignore or marginalise nations in Iran, both the regime and the Shah’s fanatical Persian supremacist support base relentlessly target these non-Persian political and human rights groups, censoring their voices and subjecting them to online and offline bullying and threats, as well as physical assaults not only by the regime’s own thugs, but by Shah Pahlavi’s supporters at anti-regime rallies in London and Washington, DC. Thus, people face a dual ‘pincer movement’ to misrepresent and silence their voices, from the regime’s theocratic zealots on one side and the Shah’s Persian supremacist fanatics on the other, with these being largely the only two groups consulted on Iran by Western media. The colonised nations’ calls for the decentralisation of future Iranian structural governance and the long-overdue abolition of institutionalised ethnic oppression practised on them thus go unheard by most in the West.

Despite this, however, the current protests in Iran are continuing, with the people demanding far more than just the end to theocratic despotism and the restoration of individual civil liberties; a primary issue motivating many protesters but unmentioned in international media is the plight of marginalised peoples in Kurdistan, Ahwaz, Balochistan, and South Azerbaijan, who face brutal ethnic oppression and are fighting for fundamental recognition and an end to systemic racism. One would not know this from the coverage by the regime or by Persian opposition groups in exile who’ve adopted the core slogan of ‘Woman, Life, Freedom’ to represent the protests as being wholly concerned with opposing the regime’s misogynistic policies towards women; in reality, this slogan was born from the Kurdish liberation struggle against colonialism; it’s even more ironic that none of the Iranian opposition who claim to be so outraged by the brutality towards Jina Amini will use that name, Jina, which her Kurdish parents gave to her at birth, insisting on using the name – Mahsa – which they were forced to give her by the regime which forbids parents from giving their children non-Persian names –legislation first introduced under the Shah.  

This underlines once again that restoration of the Pahlavi regime in Iran would not mean freedom for all Iran’s people, but another flavour of despotism, continuing with the corruption, tyranny, and, above all, the wholesale persecution of non-Persian nations, which has continued for decades, under both the Pahlavi and current regimes.

 By Rahim Hamid and Aaron Eitan Meyer

Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42

Aaron Eitan Meyer is an attorney admitted to practice in New York State and before the United State Supreme Court, and a researcher and analyst. He has written extensively on lawfare, international humanitarian, and human rights law.  Meyer tweets under @aaronemeyer. 

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