by Staff writer, SF
The continuing protests in Iran highlight the oppression of the non-Persian ethnic minorities who are speaking out for freedom along with their fellow citizens of Persian ethnicity.
The regime’s shockingly racist policies toward the country’s ethnic minorities, who collectively comprise over half of the Iranian population, and include Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Balochis and Turkish Azeris, have been downplayed regionally and internationally.
Ethnic minorities are denied the same employment and rights as ethnically Persian citizens. They are even denied the right to speak their own languages, to learn about their own culture and even to publicly wear their own traditional costume. To do so may result in arrest and imprisonment, and sometimes in execution. In fact, Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate, writes in his article for the Daily Caller, “…two of my teachers were executed for the ‘crime’ of teaching their own Arabic language. In the southwestern Arab region of Ahwaz, renamed Khuzestan by Iran, the people are treated as second-class citizens and live in medieval poverty, despite the area being home to over 95 percent of the country’s oil and gas resources. Meanwhile in the western Kurdish region, many young people, including graduates, are reduced to working as porters, effectively human pack-animals, carrying heavy loads on their backs through the dangerous mountain passes between Iran and Iraq for a pittance; these porters or ‘kolbars’ have been shot for ‘sport’ by Iranian troops.”
According to Hamid, the regime goes to great lengths to ensure that dissidents, even in exile, are discredited or terrorized into silence, “with the regime’s hired killers regularly carrying out assassinations of exiled opponents in the Middle East region and worldwide.” He cites a case from last November, when the Ahwazi Arab political dissident in exile, Ahmed Mola, was shot outside the door of his home in the Hague. Mola’s killer has not yet been caught, but, Hamid says, it bears the hallmarks of a regime assassination.
While Tehran regime seeks to be viewed as a leader of ‘resistance’ to oppression and champion of Arab freedom, using the Palestinian cause to gain favor with Arab and Muslim peoples, its abuses of Ahwazi Arabs, as well as Kurds, Balochis and Turkish Azeris expose this as anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric.
Iran’s people are increasingly refusing to be silent. In increasing number, the minorities taking to the streets to demand the basic rights and freedoms that have been withheld from them.
Unprecedented numbers of Ahwazi Arabs have been protesting in recent months, criticizing the injustices inflicted on them, including the regime’s brutal confiscation of land and homes, which are routinely seized by authorities assisted by regime troops with no notification or compensation, leaving countless Ahwazis destitute.
Strikes over salaries unpaid for months have been staged by Arab workers at a number of state-owned companies. Farmers in the region have also held nonviolent protests outside the governor’s office in the capital. The disgruntled farmers recently stormed the regional headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, which has prevented them from cultivating rice this year due to inadequate water supply for agriculture. The regime has dammed and redirected two of the largest rivers in the region, with millions of gallons of water being pumped to other, Persian areas of Iran, while Ahwaz suffers unprecedented severe droughts and desertification.
There have also been widespread strikes in Kurdish areas and in the south Azerbaijan region in northwestern Iran, while the long-persecuted Balochi peoples on the border with Pakistan have taken to the streets too in protest against years of brutality and racist abuse by the regime.
Demonstrations have continued to grow in minority regions as across the country. The protests include increasing numbers of groups across the social strata, from factory workers, truck and taxi drivers and public transport employees to teachers and others.
Previously fearful of speaking out, marginalized minorities are becoming bolder as anger grows and people to see the possibility of regime change. Iran’s long-oppressed minorities, like the rest of its people, see the weakness of the regime, and are hopeful that regime overthrow is in their future.
Mr. Hossein Abedini, member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) Foreign Affairs Committee made the following remarks regarding the Iranian Resistance’s viewpoint on the issue of minorities in Iran:
Dear friends and distinguished personalities,
It is an honour and privilege to address this very timely and important conference on behalf of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Iranian Resistance, I am grateful for this opportunity.
First of all, allow me to express the most profound, heartfelt support and solidarity of NCRI with our brave combatant Syrian brothers and sisters and their epic resistance against Assad regime backed by the brutal mullahs in Iran.
Before I address the specific topics of today’s conference, allow me to make a point by referring to my personal experience from the last time I visited this beautiful city of Istanbul, which in a way is related to the concerns that this conference is addressing.
We all know that terrorism has always been one of the main pillars and an instrumental tool that the theocratic regime has used to pursue their barbaric and expansionist policies. They have either carried out or have been behind more than 450 major terrorist operations against the Iranian dissidents, political opponents and foreign nationals. I am one of the very few survivors of Iranian regime’s terrorism.
In early 1990s I had gone to Turkey with some of my colleagues to help a group of Iranian refugees in that country. As we were on our way to Istanbul’s airport, our car was ambushed in broad daylight and we came under attack by Iranian regime’s diplomat – terrorists who started to shoot at us with revolvers and machineguns from all directions. I was seriously wounded and a bullet hit my chest and narrowly missed my heart. Other bullets hit me in the abdomen and liver and my liver was badly damaged and at least 80 percent of my liver was damaged. I was bleeding extensively and was taken to hospital by my friends where I had to go through 14 major surgeries to survive. They even tried to finish me off twice in the hospital but they did not succeed.
I chose this personal experience as an introduction to my speech to remind you of the true character of the Velayat-e Faqih regime and that its terror campaign is not confined only within the Iran’s border.
So after this brief introduction, allow me to address the main subject of this conference, the rights of minorities in Iran, by presenting to you the viewpoints of the Iranian resistance in this respect.
Following the fall of the Shah back in 1979, the ethnic minorities in Iran that were freed from this dictatorship were rightfully demanding their minimum rights in Iranian provinces of Kurdistan, Khuzestan, Baluchistan and Turkmenistan. From the outset, the mullah regime’s response to these legitimate demands were bombs and bullets.
They suppressed the minorities all over Iran; from our Arab compatriots in Khuzestan to the Turkmens in Mazandaran Province, our brothers and sisters in Kurdistan, and our Baluchi compatriots in Baluchistan. All they got for the toppling of the monarchy dictatorship were nothing but intensified repression, bullets, bombs, executions and torture.
Of course, due to historical reasons and their history of organised resistance and mobilisation against the Shah in Kurdistan, our Kurdish compatriots were one of the main targets of regime’s repression. Khomeini, the founder of current theocracy in Iran, unable to address these legitimate demands, issued an official fatwa for jihad against the Kurdish people in his early months in power. It is worth nothing that he never issued a fatwa for jihad against the Shah.
Widespread slaughter of our deprived compatriots, massacre of Kurdish villages such as Qarna village, dispatch of executioner mullah Khalkhali with the Revolutionary Guards to the cities of Sanandaj and Paveh, and extensive summary executions were the result of Khomeini’s fatwa. The regime responded in a similar way to other ethnic minorities in Iran, like our Baluchi and Arab brothers and sisters.
Likewise, religious minorities in Iran were also brutalised by a bloody and widespread suppression. Our Sunni brothers and sisters, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians and the Baha’is were oppressed by the theocratic regime and slaughtered with, many forced to escape their home, leave behind their livelihood, family, job and properties to seek refugee outside Iran. Their mosques, churches and shrines were destroyed and many of our compatriots that had changed their religion were executed on the absurd charge of “apostasy”.
The present system of governing in Iran, which is called the velayat-e faqih system is thoroughly based on religious tyranny that recognises no right for any faith, religion and mindset but for the official mindset advocated by the mullahs, because their system is based on the absolute power of a Supreme Leader with the final decision on all social, economic, religious and political matters.
Practically, our Christian, Zoroastrian and Jewish compatriots have experienced an added and double-fold oppression compared to ordinary Iranians. The Baha’is in Iran are not even recognised as a faith.
As an example of the suppression in Iran against Christians, we had the cruel killing of three Iranian Christian leaders, Bishop Housepian Mehr, priest Mehdi Dibaj and bishop Mikhailian in 1994 who had refused to obey and adhere to the velayat-e faqih. Following the preparation of this crime, the Iranian regime officially announced that these three Christian leaders had been killed by the PMOI, the main Iranian opposition. The Iranian regime carried out this scheme to defame its main opposition.
After these act of terrors, the United Nations tasked Tunisian jurist Professor Abdelfattah Amor, Independent Expert on Minority Issues, to travel to Iran and prepare a report on the rights of religious minorities in Iran.
Subsequently, Professor Amor published his comprehensive report on the rights of religious minorities in Iran as an official UN document. One chapter of this report deals with the assassination of the three mentioned Christian leaders. After a thorough investigation, the UN Special Rapporteur concluded that the regime itself had assassinated the three Christian leaders and placed the blame on the PMOI to defame its principal opposition.
This regime has killed dozens of our Christian compatriots during the serial killings and during the extensive execution of the political prisoners. I however believe that the case of the three Christian leaders is the best testimony to the crimes of this regime against Christians in Iran.
When we get to our Jewish compatriots, the scale of repression is much greater such that most of them have been forced to leave the country or they fear disclosing their faith. In the case of our Baha’i compatriots the Iranian regime does not even recognise the identity of Baha’is and although independent surveys put the number of Baha’is in Iran in the hundreds of thousands, the regime denies their existence and has executed or tortured hundreds of them so far, and systematically denied them state job and higher education.
The story is very much the same for our Sunni brothers. During the wave of serial killings in the 1990s, dozens of Sunni leaders in Kurdistan and Baluchistan were murdered by the revolutionary guards and thousands of the Kurdish people, as well as Baluchi compatriots were killed in clashes with repressive security organs or its prison its dungeons.
It should be noted that in Kurdistan, Baluchistan and to some extent in Khuzestan, the minorities are of the Sunni faith. This results in further repression: Firstly because they are living under the rule of the mullahs; then because they are Kurds, Baluchi or Arabs; and then again because they are Sunni.
This offers a general view of the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran. But what is the solution? To answer this question, we must first recognise that no ethnicity escapes the suffocating oppression of the religious dictatorship ruling Iran and that this suppression encompasses Shiites as well, and they have had their share of this oppression. For example let’s take a look at the list of tens of thousands of political executions of the PMOI members or dissidents in these years where the bulk of this repression has targeted Iran’s main cities such as Tehran, Mashhad, Esfahan and Shiraz where people are both Farsi speaking and Shia.
Thus, when we want to think of a solution for liberation from this medieval tyranny, we should think of uniting all ethnicities and religions and to focus all energies to brush aside the main obstacle to democracy and freedom which is the regime of velayat-e faqih. It is through toppling this regime in its entirety and establishment of democracy that the minorities may also attain their rights.
The Iranian Resistance and the PMOI had acknowledged the reality of two-fold oppression of our Kurdish, Arab, Baluchi and Turkmen compatriots, as well as various religions and faiths. They have presented their programs to do away with this discrimination from the outset and have paid the price for it.
In the first presidential election in 1980 when there was still some breathing room for political work, Mr. Massoud Rajavi presented his program for the country as the candidate of the revolutionary generation. In that program he emphasized on remedying the rights of our compatriots. In fact, this turned into one of the principal issues between the regime and its main opposition.
Le Monde, the French daily, wrote in 1980: “Had Khomeini not eliminated Mr. Rajavi from candidacy for presidency, according to various estimates, Mr. Rajavi would have had several million votes. In fact, he was assured of the support of ethnic and religious minorities whom he supported equal rights and autonomy for.”
Once the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) was formed in 1981, this council approved in its program the rights of various ethnicities in the country as follows: “The attainment of sovereignty and national unity in our homeland exactly rests on recognition of the rights of all of its people and parts that compose it. Thus, internal autonomy as a way to remedy the two fold tyranny from all branches and national varieties of our country and provision of all cultural, social and political rights and freedoms for them in the framework of unity of governance and the country is an essential imperative …”
Two years later, the National Council of Resistance of Iran approved the plan for autonomy for the Kurdish region and determined their rights in the framework of this plan in its details.
Regarding the removal of two fold oppression from the religious minorities, NCRI ratified a resolution on 12 November 1985 in five articles on the separation of the mosque and the state. The first Article reads in part: “All forms of discrimination against the followers of various religions and denominations in the enjoyment of their individual and social rights are prohibited. No citizens shall enjoy any privileges or be subject to any deprivations in respect of nomination for election, suffrage, employment, education, becoming a judge of any other individual or social rights, for reason of belief or non-belief in a particular religion or denomination.”
As such, through two adopted resolutions, the Iranian Resistance has offered its answer to two formidable and complex problems involving ethnic and religious minorities in the post-mullahs Iran.
Similarly, in the recent years, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance, has always reiterated on the basic rights of all Iranians in her speeches and announcements, including in her 10-point plan for the future Iran where two articles address these two very important issues.
Article 4 of this plan states: “We are committed to the separation of Religion and State. Any form of discrimination against the followers of any religion and denomination will be prohibited.”
And lastly article 7 states: “We are committed to the equality of all nationalities. We underscore the plan for the autonomy of Iranian Kurdistan, adopted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The language and culture of our compatriots from whatever nationality, are among our nation’s human resources and must spread and be promulgated in tomorrow’s Iran.”