One factor which has come to the fore in the protests currently rocking Iran is the theocratic regime’s longstanding vicious oppression of the non-Persian ethnic minorities who are now rising up for long-denied freedom alongside their ethnically Persian compatriots after decades of pitiless tyranny.
While the regime’s murderous brutality towards all dissidents and religious minorities is well-known, its shockingly racist policies toward the country’s ethnic minorities, predominantly the Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Balochis and Turkish Azeris — who collectively comprise over half of the Iranian population — have been largely downplayed or simply ignored regionally and globally.
Iran’s ethnic minorities are denied the same employment and other rights as ethnically Persian citizens, and even denied the right to speak their own languages, to learn about their own culture and even to publicly wear their own traditional costume. Anyone found guilty of these ‘crimes’ will result in arrest and often in imprisonment and often in execution; 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.
Assassinations and terror
To ensure that these unsavory realities remain widely unknown, the ayatollahs — who like to depict themselves as benevolent friends to the oppressed rather than the murderous totalitarian theocratic extremists and oppressors which they are — go to great lengths in their efforts 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. In one such case last November, the distinguished Ahwazi Arab political dissident in exile Ahmed Mola was shot three times at point-blank range outside the door of his home in the Hague. While Mola’s killer has not yet been caught, the style and professional nature of the brutal killing has all the hallmarks of a regime assassination, especially with the regime’s previous death threats over his activism.
Although the Tehran regime likes to depict itself as a heroic leader of ‘resistance’ to oppression and champion of Arab freedom, particularly using the Palestinian cause to curry favor with Arab and Muslim peoples regionally and globally, its own cruel, profoundly racist oppression and abuses of Ahwazi Arabs, as well as Kurds, Balochis and Turkish Azeris who collectively make up more than half the country’s population, expose this as a cynical piece of political theatre on the regime’s part designed only to provide a figleaf for Iran’s regional warmongering, expansionism and interventions and for its anti-Israeli and anti-American rhetoric. A standard regime charge against any dissident is that he or she is part of an imaginary “Zionist plot” or “CIA conspiracy” against the regime. These empty accusations have been used to justify the imprisonment, torture and execution of tens of thousands of citizens whose only ‘crime’ was to want freedom and human rights.
Despite all the regime’s murderous efforts to terrorise Iran’s peoples into silence, however, they are increasingly refusing to be silenced any longer, with more and more of the Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds, Balochis, Turkish Azeris and other minorities taking to the streets alongside their compatriots to demand the basic rights and freedoms which the regime has withheld from them since coming to power.
In recent months, Ahwazi Arabs across the region have been protesting in unprecedented numbers, over the many 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. Arab workers at a number of state-owned companies have staged strike action over salaries unpaid for months, while farmers in the region have also held nonviolent but noisy protests outside the governor’s office in the capital; a number of the disgruntled farmers recently stormed the regional headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, which has prevented the already-struggling farmers 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 whilst much of 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.
Resistance is growing
Although the regime has responded with its usual savagery in its efforts to crush the protests via intimidation, savage beatings and random killing of protesters, mass arrests, torture and indiscriminate execution of activists on fabricated charges, the demonstrations have continued to grow in minority regions as across the country. The protests now encompass more and more diverse groups across all groups and social strata, from factory workers, truck and taxi drivers and public transport employees to teachers and others.
The marginalized minorities which were previously fearful of speaking out, knowing the regime’s brutal response, are now becoming bolder as anger and disillusionment grows and people finally see a chance of ridding themselves of the hated regime.
While some in the west are more upset with U.S. President Donald Trump for cancelling the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s long-oppressed minorities, like the rest of its people, see the resulting weakness of the regime as a sign of hope that they can finally cast off an oppressor who has viciously crushed them for decades.
Rahim Hamid is an Ahwazi Arab freelance journalist and human rights advocate who mainly writes about the plight of his people in Iran.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.