Why Iran’s ethnic minorities are bearing the brunt of regime’s violent crackdown on protests

Special Protesters taking to the streets of Sanandaj, the capital of Iran's Kurdistan province, as demonstrations continue to spread weeks after the death of Mahsa Amini in custody, despite growing calls for restraint. (AFP)
Protesters taking to the streets of Sanandaj, the capital of Iran's Kurdistan province, as demonstrations continue to spread weeks after the death of Mahsa Amini in custody, despite growing calls for restraint. (AFP)
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Updated 18 October 2022

Why Iran’s ethnic minorities are bearing the brunt of regime’s violent crackdown on protests

Why Iran’s ethnic minorities are bearing the brunt of regime’s violent crackdown on protests
  • Despite constitutional protections, non-Persian ethnicities in far-flung enclaves have long faced discrimination
  • Majority of those executed by the regime in early 2022 were ethnic Arabs, Kurds and Balochs

RAQQA, SYRIA: Mahsa Amini, or Jina Amini, the name of a Kurdish woman killed by the Iranian morality police on Sept. 16, has echoed across social media in support of the protest movement that is posing the biggest challenge to the clerical rulers in years.

To Iranian law enforcement, Amini was just a nameless member of an ethnic minority that has been oppressed for decades. Little did they know that her death at the hands of one of its units would spark a massive uprising with the potential to topple the regime itself.

On Sept. 13, the 22-year-old Amini was arrested in Tehran — allegedly for failing to wear a veil properly, which is mandatory in Iran. Her brother, whom she had visited, was told she would be taken to a detention center and released after an hour. Two hours later, she was in a coma.

Three days later, she was dead.

Though the Iranian regime reported that she died from pre-existing medical conditions, leaked testimonies from her co-detainees and CT scans show that she was severely beaten and suffered a skull fracture and brain hemorrhage.

The death of Amini immediately sparked a massive wave of protests across Iran. Civil unrest erupted throughout the country, from the western Kurdistan (or Kordestan) province, of which Amini was a native, to central Iran and Sistan and Balochistan province in the south.

According to an activist in Kurdistan, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, the protests began as Amini’s body was buried.

“People started chanting the Kurdish slogan of ‘Women, life, freedom,’ and many other nationalistic slogans during her burial ceremony. Later they took to the streets of the city and gathered in front of the governor’s office,” he told Arab News.

Within hours, protests spread to other cities in the province, and on Sept. 18, the entire region went on strike, closing their shops and taking to the streets in protest. Within days, the protests spread nationwide.

The ongoing crackdown on those who do not fall into line with the Iranian regime, while the bloodiest in decades, is widely seen as the culmination of decades of oppressive treatment of minority groups by Iranian authorities.

Chapter 2, Article 15 of the Iranian constitution allows for the teaching of regional and tribal languages in schools and their use in the media. Chapter 3, Article 19 states that “all people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights.”

Despite supposed constitutional protection and the fact that non-Persian ethnic and linguistic groups make up nearly 40 percent of Iran’s population, minorities have been subjected to mistreatment, from political discrimination to oppression, by means of arbitrary arrest and execution.

Kurds are the third-largest ethnic group in Iran, making up approximately 10 percent of the population. Various estimates place their numbers at around 40 million, spread across Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.




The Iranian diaspora have supported protests against the Tehran regime in cities around the world. (AFP)

“The situation is so bad in Kurdistan that I don’t know where to start,” the activist said.

“Our people suffer the worst things that are beyond imagination for people from other countries. Kurds are considered third-class citizens in Iran. First, because we are Kurds; second, because we are non-Shiite Muslims or practice other Kurdish religions; and, third, because of our opposition to the central government.”

The activist continued: “We are deprived of our very basic rights as human beings. Kurdish language and Kurdish parties are banned from the system. Kurdish cities suffer from extreme poverty and unemployment which is the result of Iran’s discriminatory policies against Kurds.

“Kurdistan enjoys the least amount of development, and Kurdish society has paid a high price for the official marginalization.”

Iran’s Kurds have suffered since 1979; Kurdish parties in Iran boycotted the March 1979 referendum to create the Islamic Republic of Iran, and have been paying the price for it ever since.

Iranian intelligence has persecuted Kurds even outside its jurisdiction. In 1989, a Kurdish politician and leader of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan was assassinated in Germany.




Demonstrations have taken place across Iran, including in the Kurdistan capital Sanandaj. (AFP)

His successor and three other Kurdish opposition figures were also killed three years later, and no fewer than 10 Iranian Kurdish dissidents have been assassinated outside Iran since 1989.

Though the current wave of unrest began in Kurdistan with the death of a Kurdish woman, the Iranian regime’s persecution of minority groups has spread beyond the Kurdish minority.

In May 2022, a wave of protests against deteriorating economic conditions swept Iran, and a spike in executions came in its wake. However, minority groups were disproportionately targeted by security forces, according to the human rights organization Iran Human Rights, or IHRNGO.

The Baloch people, a primarily Sunni Muslim group that inhabits the southern region of Baluchistan in Iran, make up only two percent of the population.

It has long suffered from economic underdevelopment, having both the lowest Human Development Index and gross national income per capita of all of Iran’s provinces, according to 2019 statistics from Netherlands-based Global Data Lab. Despite this, they have been subjected to egregious human rights violations.

A June report by IHRNGO stated that executions reached their five-year peak in Iran this year. The number has jumped from 110 in all of 2021 to 168 in the first six months of 2022 alone. Arab, Kurdish, and Baloch minorities made up the majority of executions, with Baloch prisoners accounting for 22 percent of executed people.

Arabs, too, comprise around two percent of Iran’s people, and have faced oppression and discrimination. Most of them reside in the Khuzestan province, which is rich in oil resources and a major industrial hub.

FASTFACTS

* Ethnic Persians account for 60% of Iran’s 86.7 million inhabitants. 

* Ethnic Azeri, Kurd, Lur, Baloch, Arab, Turkmen and Turkic tribes make up the rest.

Despite this, the province suffers from widespread poverty and unemployment, according to Arab MP Mohammad Saeed Ansari, who claimed that around half of oil workers are brought in from outside the province and that Arabs are often denied employment opportunities there.

The UK-based Minority Rights Group International reported that nearly a quarter of a million Arabs in Khuzestan have been displaced by large government infrastructure projects.

The leader of an Arab separatist movement in Iran, Ahmed Molla Nissi, was assassinated in front of his home in The Hague in 2017, adding to the long list of foreign assassinations of minority dissidents by Iran.

In July 2021, at least nine people were killed in Khuzestan as they protested, demanding access to clean water, according to Human Rights Watch.

Amid the current unrest, protests have broken out in Khuzestan, with many oil and petrochemical facilities on strike and their workers taking to the streets. On Oct. 12, a video shared on Twitter reportedly showed a giant banner depicting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s picture being set ablaze in Ahvaz, the provincial capital.




Cities across Iran have seen protests since 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini died on September 16 after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic republic's strict dress code for women. (AFP)

“Arab citizens live as the poorest people on the richest land — Khuzestan. This is the official name that it was given, but this place is Arabistan or Ahwaz,” Youssef Yaseen Azizi, an Arab Iranian former administrator at Tehran University and a member of the Iranian Writers’ Union, told Arab News.

“During the time of the Shah and the Islamic Republic, they brought non-Arabs to the region and settled them in the Arab cities and villages.”

Azizi believes the regime has deliberately forced Arabs and other minorities out of public life in Iran.

“Arabs only occupy around 5 percent of positions in public institutions,” he told Arab News. “The Arabic language is forbidden in schools. Many Arabs cannot find employment in the petrochemical factories simply because their name is Arabic. 

“It has reached the level that they can openly say, ‘I will not employ you because you are Arab.’ Ali Khameini’s oil company in Ahwaz has hired 4,000 workers in the last ten years, and only seven of them were Arabs.”

Such attitudes might suggest Arab lives in Iran are considered cheap. 

“Arabs have rebelled many times, and often ended up in prison, or were killed,” Azizi told Arab News. “We were always oppressed by the brutality of the authorities. Just 10 days ago, Emad Heydari was tortured to death in prison in Ahvaz.”

According to the website of the Ahwazi Democratic Popular Front, 31-year-old Heydari — a newly married activist from the Malashieh region — was arrested on Sept. 27 and died in prison on Oct. 6. Iranian authorities said he had suffered a stroke. Activists are unconvinced by the official narrative.

“During the 2019 protests against the increasing price of fuel, which started from the Ahwazi Arabs and spread from there, 200 Arabs were killed. They didn’t show Arabs any mercy,” Azizi told Arab News.

“The Arab press and civil society must know what is happening to us and cover it daily. They must speak on all channels and in all of their books and meetings, and support us, because we are alone. Until now, there is no channel which has covered our pain and showed it to everyone. But our resistance will continue.”

The disproportionate targeting of minority communities during the current civil unrest in Iran mirrors its past treatment of minorities. Kurdistan and Sistan and Balochistan have been subjected to the most outstanding amount of violence, according to the Critical Threats Project, an intelligence analysis project created by the American Enterprise Institute in 2009.

Two weeks after Amini’s death, a group of protestors gathered after Friday prayers in the Baloch-majority city of Zahedan to show their support for the nationwide protests and demand justice for the alleged sexual assault of a 15-year-old Baloch girl by an Iranian police commander.

Amnesty International reported that Iranian security forces opened fire on the crowd with tear gas and live ammunition, with footage showing shooters on roofs aiming at demonstrators. Between 66 and 96 people were killed and hundreds more injured in the course of just hours of what has come to be known as “Bloody Friday.”

The New York Times has since spoken with 10 residents from Zahedan, including witnesses and activists; family members of the victims; and a medic who helped treat more than 150 people for wounds.

All made the accusation that security forces fired indiscriminately on unarmed protesters and civilians with bullets and tear gas. Helicopters were also deployed, according to witnesses.

“According to residents, the violence on Sept. 30 was preceded by a smaller demonstration two days earlier, in another city in the same province, Chabahar,” the US newspaper said in a report on Oct. 14.

The Iranian regime’s heavy-handed treatment of ethnic-minority areas has only intensified as the protest movement has expanded to include broader calls for an end to conservative theocratic rule.

“I call on the international community to put more effort on recognizing our issues and help us solve them,” the Kurdistan-based activist told Arab News.

“Today the people of Kurdistan and Iran need full support to overthrow this regime.”

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The forgotten Arabs of Iran
A century ago, the autonomous sheikhdom of Arabistan was absorbed by force into the Persian state. Today the Arabs of Ahwaz are Iran's most persecuted minority

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Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference
Updated 29 January 2023

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

Parliamentarians agree on need to digitize OIC work ahead of annual conference

ALGIERS: Parliamentary committees of member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Saturday agreed on the need to digitize the OIC’s work and organize periodic virtual sessions and meetings to enhance its work.

General secretaries unanimously agreed during preparatory meetings for the 17th session of the Parliamentary Union of the OIC Member States, which is set to be held in the Algerian capital, Algiers, on Sunday.

PUIC Secretary-General Mouhamed Khouraichi Niass renewed his call for setting up a cooperation mechanism between Islamic and international parliaments to strengthen relations in all fields.

Niass expressed his hope to develop a work program to achieve the objectives of the PUIC’s General Assembly and to exchange scientific and practical expertise to upgrade the performance of the General Secretariat.

On Friday, the ninth meeting of the standing committee specialized in cultural and legal affairs and the dialogue of civilizations and religions was held, where members reviewed a number of draft resolutions related to Islamic sanctities in Muslim and non-Islamic countries, especially the protection of the Al-Aqsa Mosque from threats. 

The committee also dealt with combating religious intolerance and supporting dialogue among civilizations, as well as combating the dangers of xenophobia and Islamophobia around the world.


Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
Updated 29 January 2023

Challenge for Tunisian democracy: Getting voters to show up

Tunisian prominent activist, Ayachi Hammami, speaks outside a court in Tunis, Tunisia January 10, 2023. (REUTERS)
  • Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize

TUNIS: Tunisia was once the Arab world’s hope for a new era of democracy. Now it’s in the midst of an election that’s more of an embarrassment than a model.
Barely 11 percent of voters turned out in the first round of parliamentary elections last month, boycotted by opposition groups and ignored by many Tunisians disillusioned with their leaders.
Ten candidates secured seats in the legislature even though not a single voter cast a ballot for them, simply because they ran unopposed.
In seven constituencies, not even one candidate bothered to run.
President Kais Saied is pinning his hopes on Sunday’s second round of voting, which will wrap up his sweeping redesign of Tunisian politics that began when he suspended the previous parliament in 2021.
The new body will have fewer powers than its predecessor and risks being little more than a rubber stamp for Saied.
The president and many Tunisians blamed the previous parliament, led by the Ennahdha party, for political deadlock seen as worsening the country’s protracted economic and social crises.
Some Ennahdha officials have been jailed and the party is refusing to take part in the parliamentary elections, and has held repeated protests.
In last month’s first-round voting, 23 candidates secured seats outright in the 161-seat parliament: 10 of them because they ran unopposed and 13 because they won more than 50 percent of the vote, according to election officials.
In Sunday’s second round, voters are choosing among 262 candidates seeking to fill the 131 remaining seats.
In the seven constituencies with no candidate, special elections will be held later to fill the seats, likely in March. Since Saied was elected president in 2019 with 72 percent of the vote, his support among Tunisians has dulled.
Analysts note a growing crisis of confidence between citizens and the political class since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution unleashed uprisings across the region, and led Tunisians to create a new democratic political system celebrated with a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Daily life for Tunisians seems to keep getting worse.
At a Tunis food market, vendors struggled to sell strings of dates, fish heaped on ice, piles of eggplants and herbs as shoppers lamented rising prices.
Few seemed to think Sunday’s vote would solve their problems.
Successive elections “have brought me nothing,” sighed Mohammed Ben Moussa, an employee of a private company.
The economy is meanwhile teetering.
According to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, unemployment has reached more than 18 percent and exceeds 25 percent in the poor regions of the interior of the country, while inflation rate is 10.1 percent.
Tunisia has been suffering for several years from record budget deficits that affect its ability to pay its suppliers of medicines, food and fuel, causing shortages of milk, sugar, vegetable oil and other staples.
The Tunisian government is currently negotiating a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was frozen in December.

 


Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people
Updated 29 January 2023

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

Strong quake in northwest Iran kills at least three people

DUBAI: An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.9 struck northwest Iran near the border with Turkiye on Saturday, killing at least three people and injuring more than 300, state media reported.
The official news agency IRNA reported the toll citing the head of emergency services at the university in the city of Khoy, near the quake’s epicenter.
An emergency official told state TV that it was snowing in some of the affected areas, with freezing temperatures and some power cuts reported.
Major geological faultlines crisscross Iran, which has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years.


UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2023

UN agency warns of record rates of hunger in Syria

Trucks from the World Food Programme drive through the Syrian city of Idlib. (AFP)
  • Child and maternal malnutrition ‘increasing at a speed never seen before,’ World Food Programme says

BEIRUT: The World Food Programme has warned that hunger rates in Syria have soared to record highs after more than a decade of devastating conflict.

A brutal war that triggered years of economic crisis and damaged vital infrastructure has put 2.9 million at risk of sliding into hunger, while another 12 million do not know where their next meal is coming from, the UN agency said.
“Hunger soars to 12-year high in Syria,” as 70 percent of the population might soon be “unable to put food on the table for their families,” the statement said.
“Syria now has the sixth highest number of food insecure people in the world,” the WFP added, with food prices increasing nearly 12-fold in three years.
Child and maternal malnutrition are also “increasing at a speed never seen before,” in more than a decade of war.
If the international community does not step up to help Syrians, it risks facing “another wave of mass migration,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley during a visit to Syria this week.
“Is that what the international community wants?” he asked, urging donor countries to redouble efforts to “avert this looming catastrophe.”
The UN estimates 90 percent of the 18 million people in Syria are living in poverty, with the economy hit by conflict, drought, cholera and the Covid pandemic as well as the fallout from the financial crash in neighbouring Lebanon.
The conflict in Syria started with the brutal repression of peaceful protests.
About half a million people have been killed, and the conflict has forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that found the regime was responsible for a chemical weapon attack on the city of Douma in 2018 lacked any evidence, and denied the allegations.
The global chemical weapons watchdog said on Friday a nearly two-year investigation had found that at least one Syrian military helicopter had dropped gas cylinders onto residential buildings in Douma, killing 43 people.
Investigators said there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that at least one Syrian air force helicopter had dropped two cylinders of the toxic gas on the rebel-held town of Douma during Syria’s civil war.
“The world now knows the facts,” said Fernando Arias, chief of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW.
“It is up to the international community to take action,” Arias said in a statement.
Damascus and its ally Moscow claimed the April 7, 2018 attack was staged by rescue workers at the behest of the US which afterwards launched airstrikes on Syria along with Britain and France.
The Douma case also caused controversy after leaks from two former employees accused the Hague-based watchdog of altering its original findings to make them sound more convincing.
But the OPCW said its investigators had “considered a range of possible scenarios” and concluded that “the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
Western powers together called on Syria to be held accountable over the “horrific” attack.
“We call on the Russian Federation to stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons,” said a joint statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany.
“No amount of disinformation from the Kremlin can hide its hand in abetting the Assad regime.”

 


Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan

Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan
Updated 29 January 2023

Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan

Iran says drone attack targets defense facility in Isfahan
  • The strike caused only minor damage to the roof of a building but no casualties
  • There have been a number of explosions and fires around Iranian military, nuclear and industrial facilities in the past few years

TEHRAN/DUBAI: Bomb-carrying drones targeted an Iranian defense factory in the central city of Isfahan overnight, authorities said early Sunday, causing some damage at the plant amid heightened regional and international tensions engulfing the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian Defense Ministry offered no information on who it suspected carried out the attack, which came as a refinery fire separately broke out in the country’s northwest and a 5.9-magnitude earthquake struck nearby, killing two people.
However, Iran said it had repelled the attack, the defense ministry said, according to the IRNA news agency.
“An unsuccessful attack was carried out using (drones) ... on one of the workshop complexes of the ministry of defense,” it said, adding that the strike late Saturday night caused only minor damage to the roof of a building but no casualties.
The announcement of the attack comes at a tense time in Iran, which has been rocked by protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in September, tensions over its nuclear program and accusations by some countries that Tehran has been supplying drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine.
The ministry said one of the drones was destroyed by the site’s anti-aircraft defense system, while the other two exploded.
“The attack, which occurred around 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, did not cause any disruption to the operation of the complex,” it said.
Details on the Isfahan attack, which happened around 11:30 p.m. Saturday, remained scarce. A Defense Ministry statement described three drones being launched at the facility, with two of them successfully shot down. A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.
Details on the Isfahan attack remained scarce, but the Defense Ministry described three drones being launched at the facility, with two of them successfully shot down. A third apparently made it through to strike the building, causing “minor damage” to its roof and wounding no one, the ministry said.
A video widely shared on social media, the authenticity of which AFP could not verify, shows a loud explosion at the site and images of emergency vehicles then heading toward the area.
The deputy governor of Isfahan province, Mohammad Reza Jan-Nesari, also said on television there had been “no casualties,” adding that “the cause of the incident is under investigation.”
The Defense Ministry only called the site a “workshop,” without elaborating on what it made. Isfahan, some 350 kilometers (215 miles) south of Tehran, is home to both a large air base built for its fleet of American-made F-14 fighter jets and its Nuclear Fuel Research and Production Center.
Tehran has been targeted in suspected Israeli drone strikes amid a shadow war with its Mideast rival as its nuclear deal with world powers collapsed.
Iran has several known nuclear research sites in the region, including a uranium conversion plant.
Separately, Iran’s state TV said a fire broke out at an oil refinery in an industrial zone near the northwestern city of Tabriz. It said the cause was not yet known, as it showed footage of firefighters trying to extinguish the blaze.
State TV also said the magnitude-5.9 earthquake killed two people and injured some 580 more in rural areas in West Azerbaijan province, damaging buildings in many villages.
In April 2021, Tehran announced that it had started producing 60 percent enriched uranium at the Natanz site in Isfahan province.
Negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known by its acronym JCPOA, between Iran, the European Union and six major powers, stalled after the United States exited in 2018.
The agreement was aimed at preventing Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons, an objective that Iran has always denied pursuing.
In recent years, Iran has accused Israel of carrying out several covert actions on its soil, including an attack, according to Tehran, using a satellite-controlled machine gun, which killed a leading nuclear physicist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November 2020.
In addition, Tehran has been accused in recent months of supplying drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine, which Iran denies.
(With AFP and AP)