Iran regime’s persecution of its minorities generating anger
Although one wouldn’t realize it from the Tehran regime’s media narrative, Iranian society is a diverse mosaic composed of numerous racial, religious and sectarian minorities. Race and ethnicity play a crucial role in wealth distribution, access to opportunities, and in shaping the regime’s hierarchy and domestic policies. In addition, they are critical issues in determining the relationship between the central government in Tehran and minorities across the country.
By ensuring that global human rights organizations are banned from Iran, the regime has been able to impose draconian policies on marginalized ethnic and religious minorities in the country, inflicting multiple forms of oppression on them.
In eastern and southeastern Iran, Baloch residents of Sistan and Balochistan suffer from horrendous injustice and marginalization in every sphere of life. They experience poor living conditions, low investment and are denied access to education and senior positions in government institutions.
The share of the state budget allocated to the region is disproportionately low — it is the lowest of any Iranian province, despite Sistan and Balochistan being the second largest province in the country. Any attempt by residents to peacefully protest against these injustices and blatant racism is swiftly crushed, with protesters detained, imprisoned and, in many cases, executed.
In the Arab region of Ahwaz, present-day Khuzestan, in south and southwest Iran, the situation is even worse. Despite being the most resource-rich region in Iran, where 90 percent of the country’s oil and gas resources are located, most of its residents live in dire poverty.
Even though most Ahwazis practice the Twelver form of Shiism adopted by the Iranian regime, this has not prevented or reduced the level of the regime’s persecution, with Ahwazis routinely imprisoned and killed for any protest or dissent. In terms of infrastructure and investment, the region suffers from complete negligence by the Iranian regime, with drug abuse widespread among the young due to chronic unemployment and despair. In addition, the residents of the province suffer from a policy of deliberate demographic change carried out by the authorities. The regime often forces local residents from their homes, transfers them to central provinces and replaces them with Persian nationals.
The regime has refused to listen to their grievances or to warnings of the terrible consequences of its policies
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Ahwaz also suffers from devastating environmental damage, caused by a combination of unchecked oil and gas drilling and the regime’s rerouting of the region’s three massive rivers to other areas of Iran via massive dams and a vast network of pipelines, leading to widespread desertification. Along with climate change, these disastrous and very deliberate policies mean that this once-leafy region, which was formerly a regional breadbasket where fishing and farming flourished, is now heavily polluted, with large areas being uninhabitable. Ahwaz is now classified as having the worst air pollution in the world, intensifying the suffering of residents, especially the most vulnerable — children and the elderly — with chronic diseases now prevalent. The pollution has regularly led to schools and some government departments in the province closing.
This pollution is exacerbated by ill-advised and deliberately instituted industrial projects established by consecutive Iranian governments, particularly over the last decade, including iron and steel factories, petrochemical factories and sugarcane farming and refinery projects on the banks of the Karun River. The pollution worsened after the Iranian government established more dams on the rivers flowing from the Zagros Mountains toward the province. Ahwazi activists have posted pictures on social media displaying the miserable situation in the region, with all indicators suggesting that an environmental catastrophe is underway.
Ahwazi environmentalists have held protests, with banners adorned with slogans including “The province is dead,” “We are created from dust, and to which we shall return,” “This land will be in our hearts as long as we live,” “All we want in this world is to breathe fresh air,” and “Fresh air is a legitimate right for all of us.” Through these slogans, they have expressed their anger and despair at the regime’s horrendous policies. As usual, the regime has refused to listen to their grievances or to warnings of the terrible consequences of its policies.
Some years ago, the International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that air pollution was the main factor behind the high rates of cancer and other diseases in Ahwaz. As ever, the regime has ignored these warnings. In this respect, the former head of the oncology department at Ahwaz’s Shafa Hospital warned of the increasing number of cancer cases. Figures show that the number of cancer cases is rising as the already horrendous pollution worsens, with a 500 percent increase in cancer rates between 1996 and 2013 due to water and air pollution, as well as food chain contamination. Residents have been warned to expect a “tsunami” of cancer cases in the years to come.
The regime’s persecution of the residents of Sistan and Balochistan and Ahwaz, as well as the devastation of their land and resources, is only a glimpse of its disdain for and overt discrimination against Iran’s ethnic minorities, which include Kurds, Turkmen and others, who collectively make up half of the country’s population. This brutal oppression has, unsurprisingly, led to widespread anger that could have a significant impact on the country’s stability if the regime chooses to continue its abuse of its minority populations.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is Head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami