The succeeding waves of migrants were not only divided by their prisms of the political ideology and their personal experiences, but also along the lines of religious beliefs, ethnicity and language. The divisions originate in Iran.
The Guilty Silences in Iran
The succeeding waves of migrants were not only divided by their prisms of the political ideology and their personal experiences, but also along the lines of religious beliefs, ethnicity and language. As early as 1979, despite their rhetoric, the Iranian Islamists meticulously chased the minorities from public life, harassed, imprisoned and hung them, often as common criminals.
The revolutionary crowd who had marched for justice did not protest.
There was a need to revolt against the crushing Islamic injustice, a revolution within the revolution that never happened.
In the 1980s, an exiled Iranian had the original words from Pastor Martin Niemöller under Hitler’s dictatorship pinned to the wall of his bedsit. He scrawled in Farsi the succeeding or the concomitant episodes of repression of the minorities. Needless to recall that the aggregate of minorities constitutes 40% of the population.The adapted “First they came …”, used to suit the Iranian conditions, captures best the moods that have prevailed over the decades:
Iran, 1979 to date:
First they executed the most corrupt creatures on earth (مفسد فی الارض),
I did not speak up, I am not corrupt.
Then they humiliated women,
I did not speak up, I am not a woman.
Then they hanged communists.
I did not speak up, I am not a communist.
Then they persecuted the journalists,
I did not speak up, I am not a journalist.
Then they slew the queers,
I did not speak up, I am not a queer.
Then they crushed the Kurds and Baha’is
I did not speak up, I am not Kurd, nor Baha’i.
Then they grounded all but the Shiites of their tribe,
I did not speak up, I am a Shiite.
Then they came to arrest me,
And there was nobody to protest.
We could blacken the records of the Islamic theocracy and the Velayat-e Faqih’s despotism by attributing to the Islamists the origination of the oppressing of the minorities. However, this would be a lie and an intellectual fraud. Their sin is the exploitation of the pre-existing conditions to full despicable extent.
Strong Regimes vs Disfavoured Minorities
The dubious historicity of modern Iran has systematically eluded the issues of minorities and their position in the national history. Further, it invariably attaches their significant revolts to the incitements of foreign elements and presents their demands, even the most legitimate, as the signs of a slow process of disintegration of the Iranian territory.Think of the minorities as poor relatives that we Persians use and abuse when we need to, but would never ask to share our bread and butter. And, when they ask for more than the stale bread we throw at them, we respond with a hefty caning.
The perspectives of analysing the reasons behind their revolts and how they should be integrated as constructive components of the nation have not been worth considering.
The Iranian minorities are intricate along both lines of religious and ethnic groups. The followers of a given faith may form the aggregate of people pertaining to different ethnic groups; an ethnic group can have followers of more than one faith. Given the importance of the topic and the crucial questions it raises, the briefness of what follows lacks depth, and misses on the nuances needed to portray the complexity of the issue.
But, perhaps, all is not lost and there is still a little time to reclaim and to mend the dangerous, explosive situation in the country by reminding people that honey catches more flies than vinegar …
Shiites Versus all Others
In Iran, for many centuries, the followers of the minority faiths were repelled by the Shiite clergy and treated as second-hand citizens.
They lived through the best and the worst, correlated to the monarch’s whims and wishes, within the limits of his power over the clergy.
Episodes of social vexations – such as barring them from occupying public functions – assassinations, and public hangings are documented.
In the 1960s and 1970s, an intended secularisation from the monarchy smoothed to some extent the prominence of the religious divides in the Iranian social fabric. This did not amount to eradicating the dislikes, even open hostilities, supercilious behaviours and contempt deep-rooted in the social fabric.
The inclusion of the minorities in reshaping the Iranian political system was not acceptable to the clerics, but the subject was well kept under wraps as the revolution unfolded in 1978-79. The protesters were so busy hating the Shah and idolising Khomeini that nothing else mattered to them.
The Velayat-e Faqih revived and institutionalised the religious divide, Shiites vs all others, to the fore. In the past four decades, social and cultural pressures on the minorities have forced them to conform and adapt their religious practices to the official, Shiite-approved shell.
The Iranian constitution practically denies the right to carry out acts of worship, maintain places of worship and engage in the peaceful contribution of their faith to followers of all other religions.
Consequently, the holy places of the Baha’i faith, some Zoroastrian sacred locations, and the Ne’matollahi Gonabadi Dervishes mosque have been destroyed, and their followers perish in prison. The officials have systemically refused to issue permits for Sunni mosques in Tehran and other cities.
The political, social and cultural systems founded on Iran’s constitution rejects and suppresses any ideology that opposes the country’s official religion, Shiism. The civil and penal codes are in accordance with the Sharia codes and point to systematic violence, deprivation from education, and legal proceedings through court against all other beliefs and schools of thought.
The intimidations and the disruption of the public ceremonies of other faiths are part of a widespread and systematic practice of isolating the religious minorities. Besides, the followers of a different religion, some particularly targeted as pariahs, would hardly obtain justice in court, especially if the claimant were Shiite.
The more the Shiite ceremonies were instrumental in displaying political aims in large public rallies, the more religious minority rites were privatised and kept from public eyes. Presently, the episodes of persecution followed by the emigration have cut the religious communities to the bone.
These events did not stir the consciousness of the public at large and have been ignored.
I did not speak up, I am not … [them]
What if We Are not ALL Persians?
The centralising dictatorship has always many conflicts to resolve, to ignore, or, more to the point, to repress.
The 60% of the population who are Persians, living in the central provinces, are unfamiliar with, and instinctively hostile towards, the cultural minorities and their problems. For them, an Iranian who is not a Persian is not an Iranian.
It is worth remembering that Persian is a confusing and paradoxical concept. It can only be conceived as describing self in opposition to the others: I am Persian, since I am NOT … (whatever term is suited to the circumstances).
The turmoil of the Revolution had given a little hope to the ethnic minorities in obtaining some regional autonomy in a moderately centralised system of government. The most vocal, and perhaps the only ones in the early days of the 1980s, were the Kurds, seeking self-determination within a federalism to be defined.
This the clerics could not accept and were backed by what one calls the general public, even if it is not an appropriate term. The Kurds elected to the first Islamic parliament were prevented from taking their seats in Tehran, fearing arrest. Soon, they were accused of being “the enemies’” instrument and hands meddling in Iranian affairs and the threat to the country’s safety. A long trail propagandist tactics by succeeding regimes in Iran …
Later, their leaders and militants were shot dead in Vienna, bombed in Berlin or killed in the country by the Islamic Republic’s agents. These events were ignored by the general public in Iran.
They did not speak up. They were not Kurds …
The State propaganda presents as terrorist attack the ugly and bloody episodes of clashes between the armed forces and civilians in the provinces where ethnic groups form the majority. These baddies (the official designations vary) are paid by a foreign power, and aim to disintegrate the country.
Today, the map of Iran bears witness to the systematic persecution of the ethnic minorities over decades. They live in the poorest provinces of Iran: Turk, Kurdish, Lor, Arab, Baluch, Turkmen … They make up 40% of the Iranians.
The Kurds and Baha’is opened the path to the systemic emigration. Presently, compared with their ratio in the country, the ethnic and religious groups are overrepresented in the diasporas as political refugees.
The brutal treatment of the ethnic minorities by the Islamists is another time bomb completing the other time bombs, small or large, such as environment and economy.