My first introduction to Akbar Ganji was his radio interview with The Story’s Dick Gordon on American Public Media. The narrative of a former-insider-turned-dissident impressed me, although his is not so unique in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Do a simple search of former revolutionary supporters and you’ll find that their ideologies have changed, and by much.
Ganji is quite famous in the American political circles, not that he is political—I can’t say for sure, but that several leading American thinkers have adopted him as theirs. He just received the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman award for Advancing Liberty. So one could say I was quite pleased that I got to meet him this past Monday and even get my picture taken!
He was in Vancouver to speak about Iran’s road to democracy at the Simon Fraser University, downtown campus. Personally, I like Ganji—something should be said for an individual who sees the error of his ways and doesn’t shrink back at making a 180. Moreover, before my fellowship with ADAPP, I might have been shouting his praises from the treetops, since I did quote him in my graduate thesis as one of the leading Iranians seeking non-violence means to repair relations between Iran and the West (especially the U.S). See Ganji’s 2007 open letter to the U.N. However, this was before I came to know about the issue of minority oppression in Iran. I know I harp on this matter much—that’s why I have this space, forgive me!—but many leaders of the Green Movement don’t want to talk about the minority issue and this is unfortunate. How can one talk about democratic ideals if one suppresses the voices of others also seeking a better Iran?
ADAPP affiliates say many leaders and supporters of the Green Movement, who advocate human rights, treat them with contempt and prejudice. ADAPP as an organization is not well liked in Iran or the other opposition democratic movements, as they are often called separatists or Pan-Turks. See Farzin’s entry for more context. In addition, some of my entries, posted on other sites, have also been met with some accusations of treachery.
In some ways, I get what these other voices are saying. Let’s wait until we get a democratic Iran to talk about this, or some say: we are all Iranians, there are no Persians, Turks, or Kurds, etc. The appeal of banding together is strong, but tis only strong for those who know nothing of inequality and oppression. An earlier entry mentioned someone I met on the Grind-Hike. I sensed the person didn’t quite get my point when he shared: so they make fun of their accent, so what?! It is more than prejudice. These people are jailed, tortured, and killed for demanding rights most enjoy. I don’t blame him much, it is somewhat difficult to understand, and he had also been a victim of discrimination in the Azerbaijani region for being Persian. Similar to how blacks treated whites, when whites came to their neighborhood.
The video below shows a participant asking Akbar Ganji about the minority issue, and why this seems to be unimportant to the Green Movement.[**major apologies on the shoddy subtitling**]
After the Q&A I asked the questioner if he was hopeful about what Ganji said and he said no. He’s seen this too many times, but he hopes his wrong. I hope he is too. I hope Ganji will start talking about the minority issue and at least give it some space in Iran debate—it doesn’t have to be that big of a space but just something to signal acknowledgement of the wrong happening.
I post this video to ask you, my readers, to hold Ganji accountable. The next time you hear him or Green Movement leader speaking, please don’t give them a pass and think, oh they have suffered so much—yes that is very true but there are those who are suffering in silence—ask them about the minority issue. Ask them about the Azerbaijanis, the Kurds, Baluchs, Baha’is, all those religious and ethnic minorities. Ask them what they will do when they do get a democratic Iran. Because all who enjoy some amount of public/social, power and status do need public accountability.
The language issue is a contentious one in Iran. Some Persians don’t get it and some Azerbaijanis can’t understand why or how they don’t get it. Abbas Djavadi of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who is Azerbaijani, in recent article made a case for the insignificance of language rights by some Azerbaijanis in Iran. The argument made many upset, in and out of Iran. I have observed much online arguments on this issue and I know there is much turmoil brewing. Reza Baraheni believes that if these rights are not honored and respected war is inevitable. I really hope this is not our strategy—where we allow Iran to eat itself alive and then carve it out piece by piece as if we were doing them a favor.
We need, somehow, respectfully, to get Iran to budge. We may not like who’s in power at the movement, but they are what we have and we need to figure out how to reason with them. After all America has been guilty of some atrocities in the past with respect to its minorities, no one came in and booted out our government. The pressure from within became an embarrassment and we changed. Let us help that pressure in Iran. Let us talk about all human rights violations, not just the popular, “cool” ones like torture, women’s rights, stoning, etc. Let’s question the Green Movement on their reluctance to acknowledge the minority issue. Because when we do this, we would be securing justice for all and not just a select few.
Posted By Adepeju Solarin
Posted Aug 23rd, 2010