12 Nov 2015
Non-Persian peoples in Iran, such as the Arabs, the Kurds, the Azeris, the Turkmen and the Baluchis, are subject to exclusionary treatment that is often tainted by attitudes of racial inferiority in comparison to the Iranian race that runs the country. The Tehran government overthrew the emirates and the leaders of those regions, and annexed their lands to Iran approximately ninety years ago. This started with the overthrow of the emirate of Arabistan in 1925. Its ruler, Sheikh Khuzal Bin Jabir Al-Ka’bi, was arrested and transferred to Tehran, where he remained in prison until his death in 1936. Approximately three months after Arabistan, in 1928, the Iranian regime occupied Baluchistan after the defeat of Baluchi forces at the hands of the army of the founder of the Pahlavi line, Reza Shah Pahlavi. This situation was repeated with the Kurds and Azeris, particularly at the end of the first half of the 20thcentury. This article will focus on the Baluchi question, which is rarely discussed in the Arab media, and perhaps also in the Western media.
Since 1928, the Baluchi people struggled, in different ways, for their rights, and were subjected to oppression by the Shahanshahi Pahlavi regime which strove, as was the case in its treatment of other peoples in Iran’s geographical area, to eliminate all signs of Baluchi national sentiment and to incorporate them and assimilate them into a Persian melting pot that would serve as an identity for all components of a diverse country. Yusuf Ali Maghsi is considered the first Baluchi nationalist pioneer. He, along with a group of friends, founded the Organisation for the Unification of the Baloch (Anjuman-e-Ittihad-e-Baluch), a secret political organization for the liberation of Baluchistan.
Central policy in Iran was more oppressive, as Reza Shah, then his son Muhammad Reza, adopted an “iron fist” policy. As a result, the Baluchi national movement in Iran was not very successful in education or in political, media, cultural and military participation and it followed comprehensive Persian policies repressing the Baluchi culture and identity. However, the Baluchis continued to see themselves as an independent nation culturally that was connected to the rest of what is known as “Greater Baluchistan,” which currently also includes parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
After the fall of the Shah’s regime in 1979, the Baluchis cheered along with the other non-Farsi ethnicities, lauding a regime that raised the banner of minority ethnic and religious rights and social justice. However, it soon became clear that the opposite was true, and their situation became akin to the proverb, “wishing to flee ruin, they were ruined.” Just a few months after the revolution and after the Baluchis were certain that the new regime was following their predecessors’ course in its treatment of non-Persian ethnicities, they immediately began to express their identity. However, they found themselves once again in a confrontation with the new political regime in Iran, and Baluchi political parties were completely banned.
Thus, the Baluchi struggle persisted after the revolution, especially since antagonism to the new regime came to take two parallel courses, an ethnic one and a sectarian (Shia–Sunni) one. In addition, the Iranian regime’s unequal economic treatment of Baluchis diminished trust between Baluchis and the so-called Islamic Republic. The Iranian regime was not content merely to crack down on the Baluchis domestically and target their symbols, it also targeted Baluchi opposition leaders abroad, examples of which are abundant.
If we want to convey the Baluchi people’s reality in Iran, the figures and statistics that are published within Iran -with some reservations about their credibility, accuracy and impartiality, which are doubted by many within Iran and abroad who think that these statistics only convey part of the truth- show us that the reality is extremely bitter. In education, the Iranian assistant Minister of Education recently stated that 67,000 students, ranging in age from six to nine, had left primary school during the previous year; 30% of these were from the province of Baluchistan, and 52% from the provinces of Kurdistan and Baluchistan alone. Moreover, according to recent figures, 84.61% of the total population has a middle-school education, while in the province of Sistan it has not risen above 68.01%. We also find that illiteracy in the province’s main cities is at 32% and above 40% in the villages and countryside. Alireza Nakhai, the superintendent of schools in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan, stated that 120,000 students are not attending school, according to information recently published by the quasi-governmental Mahr news agency.
With respect to the standard of living, reports issued by the Central Bank of Iran show that Baluchistan is the poorest of the country’s regions and provinces, with a poverty rate of 70%. The Bank also affirmed that the citizens of the capital, Tehran, have the highest average family income in the country, at 40,305 million tomans (USD 12,200) annually, while the lowest average income is found in Baluchistan, at 15,548 million tomans (USD 5,700) annually. According to the same source, every family in Baluchistan has a large budget deficit of 10,000,000 tomans (USD 3,030), if income is compared to expenses. It is noteworthy here the fact that these numbers do not indicate who is living at the poverty line or below it. In addition, the assistant director of the University of Medical Sciences and Health Services stated that 20% of children under the age of five in the province of Sistan and Baluchistan suffer from malnutrition and physical weakness due to poverty and an inability to procure sufficient food, both in terms of quality and quantity. With respect to unemployment, Hussein Ali Shahryari, the representative of the city of Zahedan (capital of the province of Sistan and Baluchistan) stated in the Iranian parliament that unemployment exceeds 50% among the province’s youth.
As regards culture and literature, Iranian authorities impose significant restrictions on the local press in the province, and it is almost or completely shut down in all of Baluchistan’s cities. Anything that is published is subject to strict and immediate censorship by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and none of the publishing houses located in the province have published a single book according to Iranian reports.
These percentages confirm two things: That there are clear signs that the Tehran regime has followed a policy of spreading ignorance amongst non-Persians that has significant political dimensions, and that the Iranian government is not serious about addressing citizens’ needs and listening to their demands, but rather is working to marginalize them. This has driven the population to repeatedly organize demonstrations and marches, which have fallen on deaf ears, and has in turn pushed some of the province’s youth to embrace armed struggle and form the “Soldiers of God,” “Army of Justice” and “Ansar al-Furqan” militias that have inflicted huge losses on the Revolutionary Guard and the Iranian Border Guard during the past few years. This armed confrontation is still ongoing, and indeed, its ruthlessness increases from time to time and the province is now a security concern for Iran’s military and security leaders.
The marginalization and unfair treatment of a large segment of Iranian society has significant and direct repercussions on the country’s political stability, especially since the regime is no longer able to ignore these major quality-of-life and development demands. According to an American report released a few months ago and compiled by a Western research institution (Control Risks), the political risk situation in Iran is “high,” while the security risk situation is “middle,” particularly in Baluchistan. This is perhaps the greatest indicator of the extent of the resentment felt by those minorities, as well as by other segments of Iranian society in general.
Riyadh - Dr. Muhammad Bin Saqr Al-Salmi