Iran’s Ethnic Minorities: What Role in a Revolution?

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Iranian Turkmen in the Basij militia. Are they just for show?
Iranian Turkmen in the Basij militia. Are they just for show? (Photo: ATTA ENARE/AFP/GettyImages)

See Part I of this series: Persian Nationalism & the Coming Revolution in Iran

Part II

Historical records indicate that national minorities in Iran began openly pursuing the acquisition of their national rights when the central government destabilized in 1979.

Similar to situations in Kurdistan and Azerbaijan,  Ahwazi events are of this kind. After nearly 40 years of rising dissatisfaction, it is safe to assume that any future uprising of ethnic nations such as Ahwazi Arabs, Baluchis, Turks, Kurds and Turkmen against the Iranian clerical    regime will more impassioned than ever before to achieve their long-denied national rights.

The systematic oppression of the non-Persian ethnic minorities (that make up 50% of Iran’s total population) remains a time bomb which threatens to fragment Iran’s centralist state.

When ethnic minorities raise their voices in pursuit of equal identity representation and basic human rights, the Iranian regime confronts their demands with an iron fist. Dissent is silenced and opposition is dismantled. But it is not only the government which systematically violated minorities’ rights. The Persian elite and Intellectuals themselves have adopted oppressive social practices which seek to undermine the autonomy, representation and humanity of any ethnic minorities who desire equality within Iran.

For these reasons, minorities in Iran feel they have no option but to fight in order to preserve their heritage, culture and survival within Iran’s profoundly racist leadership. The Iranian regime not only seeks to deprive minorities of basic human rights and freedoms, but it also desires to subsume and assimilate ethnic minorities in order to create an all-encompassing Persian identity.

This pursuit stems from a sinister desire to eradicate the collective history of these minorities and denying them any agency, autonomy, independence or hope of self-government.

The topic of nationality variety within Iran is one of the most problematic features not only for the regime to address but also the Persian oppositions in exile such as MEK and monarchists.

The current regime fears that acknowledging the rights of these ethnic minorities might challenge Persian-dominance and, consequently, lead to the collapse of the regime itself.  Neither the previous monarchy nor the current theocratic regime have been able to peacefully and successfully resolve this problem.

Both the old and new governments espoused their own supremacy, which sought to utilize systematic suppression of minorities in order to maintain control of a fractured nation.  This increasingly transparent racism has been at the core of the country’s policies towards non-Persian peoples throughout the past century – with the ruling party using their power to undermine minority rights and quash dissent.

Very commonly, when addressing Ahwazi Arabs — who are one of the most oppressed and impoverished  people inhabiting the oil rich regions  of Iran’s southwest – the Persian community will express racist sentiments  such as “You are not real Arabs! You are Arabized due to proximity with Arab countries, but you are really only Arab speakers. If you wish to express your Arabism or defend what you dub an ‘Arab identity’, please get out of here. This is Iran, so go to Saudi Arabia!”

These types of sentiments deny the whole existence and history of Ahwazi Arabs in their homeland of Iran.  How are these oppressed people supposed to look forward to a life when they face such blatant racism in their homeland? Do they have the right to fight back against rising anti-Arab attitudes?

Self-determination is the minimum right they should be allowed to reclaim in the face of rampant racial prejudice. There is no place in Iran that remains free from this kind of systematic bigotry. Anti-Arabism is ingrained into the workplace, printed in newspapers, espoused on the television, spoken about unabashedly by regime officials, and it’s touted by intellectuals. Everyone in Iran has learned that being anti-Arab is a prestigious trait which is essential to maintaining the facade of Iran/Persian nationalism.

The Iranian myth of one unified Persian identity directly results from over 100 years of ultra-nationalist supremacist ideology that maintained staunch resistance to any sort of critical analysis. No historical example of a fair coexistence and respect for the rights of national minorities in Iran can be found. As such, there is nothing currently embedded within Iran’s history that supports the idea that one unified Iran – with all its ethnic minority nations – is even possible.

See Part III of this series: Tough Question for the Iranian Opposition Movement



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Rahim Ahwaz

Rahim Hamid is a freelance journalist and human rights advocate and co-founder of Ahwaz Monitor website who writes about the plight of his community – the Ahwazi Arabs – and other ethnic groups in Iran. You can follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/samireza42

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