Tough Questions for the Iranian Opposition Movement

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A rally of the Iranian opposition in Paris. Leader Maryam Rajavi appears on the yellow flag.
A rally of the Iranian opposition in Paris. Leader Maryam Rajavi appears on the yellow flag. (Photo: JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)

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

See Part II of this series: Iran’s Ethnic Minorities: What Role in a Revolution?

Part III

The majority of Persians are wholly unfamiliar with, and even hostile towards, the problems that minorities in Iran currently face.  A lack of effort on the part of the Persian-speaking intellectuals to promote a culture of tolerance and respect is one of the major reasons Persians remain so overwhelmingly hostile.

It has also become the new normal for minorities to be left unrepresented in important sectors of life such as the media and education.

In Iran, Persians are indoctrinated from birth to believe they are racially superior beings. This idea is supported not only in their communities and families, but also in all types of media. Minorities in the media are presented as less intelligent, more violent, and therefore less worthy of equal rights that Persians are granted without question.

Presently, senior officials in the regime even oppose the idea of offering the option for ethnic minorities to attend education classes offered in their mother tongue. They claim that teaching classes in a language other than Persian will only serve to undermine the unity of the Iranian nation.

Even though Article 15 of the 1979 Iranian Constitution allows for school and a variety of media to be offered in languages other than Persian, the present regime does all in its power to deny minorities this right.

These types of systematically vicious and inhumane policies have led to increasingly frequent peaceful protests by the dissenting ethnic minorities. Such events however are met with violent crackdowns by Iranian security services and the Revolutionary Guard, which only encourage new radicalism.

This seems to be the regime’s aim. In order to justify the claims that minorities are a threat to the stability of Iranian national unity, regime authorities are utilizing actions that seek to manufacture the birth of violent opposition movements.

What non-Persians have learned from decades of savage oppression is that they have no realistic option but to fight back in opposition to systematic injustice, persecution and forced assimilation.

The Iranian opposition group’s political platform seeks to address many principles of democracy, such as abolishing the death penalty, gender equality, and participation of women in a greater variety of areas. However, these opposition groups and even human rights groups who adopted selective issues have never specified any promises concerning the national rights of ethnic minorities and have always evaded addressing such critical issues.

As a result, the ethnic dissident movements feel they cannot trust the Iranian opposition either to represent minorities, as they seem to have an unwavering centralist mentality.  In the uprising that took place in Tehran against the regime in 2009, the ethnic groups never attempted to participate, because they viewed such movements as mere derivatives of the regime itself.

Justice, equality and eradicating of racism are the primary demands of the minorities languishing under the rule of this Persian-supremacist Shiite Iranian regime. Without the active presence of justice in all its forms — political, social, cultural, etc. — it will remain impossible for any Iranian government to achieve coexistence among all the country’s peoples.

In the absence of such justice, the regime’s brutality and systematic prejudice make violent resistance inevitable. Such violence from long-oppressed peoples is already happening, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring. These minorities in Iran are now mobilizing all their distinctive components to challenge Persian-supremacy and reclaim their own heritage, language, culture, history and pride.

The Iranian opposition groups need to answer the following questions if they are really determined to change the current regime.

  • Are you truly serious about bringing real democracy without borders, without discrimination such as recognising the right to self-determination and granting national autonomy to all the peoples in Iran without exception?
  • Do you realise that it will be almost impossible to accomplish this daunting task without first reassuring and guaranteeing to Iran’s Kurds, Turks, Ahwazi Arabs, Baluchis and Turkmen that in a future Iran all these peoples will have all the same rights and the same legal protection as any other Iranian citizen?
  • How would it be possible for one faction, one group to oust the regime while turning a blind eye to the minorities who collectively comprise over 50 percent of Iran’s population?
  • Will holding gatherings in exile bear fruit in the form of practical changes on the ground without also partnering with and appreciating the sacrifices of Ahwazis, Turks, Kurds and Baluchis for freedom?
  • Isn’t it a waste of money to organise many events without considering the massive and essential role played in the fight for freedom by the five ethnic minority groups, who face the real struggle of confronting the regime inside Iran?
  • Why does the Persian opposition seem so fearful of non-Persian groups attaining their rights?
  • Why does the democracy which you describe have a large and gaping hole, which is the avoidance of the subject of the national rights of all the country’s ethnic minority groups?
  • Will any democracy which you bring about be centralised as now under the current regime?


I believe that without including Ahwazi, Kurds, Turks and Baluchis as integral parts of the movement for change, it will be almost impossible to achieve. It is imperative to offer a better and real alternative, a united front to confront the regime.

Otherwise, all the fancy gatherings with flag-waving crowds undertaken by the Iranian Persian oppositions will not bring any real change but will instead only strengthen the frustration and hopelessness of the peoples in Iran further, pleasing the regime and giving it the opportunity to intensify its brutality and destroy the whole country.

My own people, the Ahwazi Arabs, were stung viciously by trusting too many groups in the early days of the 1979 revolution; having been brutally betrayed once, we will not extend our hands in brotherhood so trustingly again only to be betrayed once again.

Bearing all this in mind, the Iranian Persian oppositions must prove their commitment to freedom and justice by publicly recognizing the national rights of Ahwazis along with Iran’s other ethnic minorities. This  will be as a step forward in the struggle to oust the brutal regime and bring real freedom, democracy and human rights for all.

From the time a potential uprising begins in Iran until the establishment of a more fair system, stakeholders invested in the future of Iran can limit potentially disastrous consequences by learning from the history of countries such as Yugoslavia. In 1979, most all Iranians came together in agreement that a monarchy was not a system of governance they wished to continue.

However it is now time for the people of Iran to decide exactly what type of non-centralized ruling structure can more effective replace the current regime in order to meet the needs of all people – not just the Persian majority.

It is essential that the Iranian opposition supports ethnic minorities — their national rights and the right to self-determination. If the opposition continues to ignore these voices, the country may very well face a military situation similar even worse than that which Yugoslavia experienced.



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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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