While I had many hopes for the start of the election protests, things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. So far this year 219 Iranians have been executed and over the past 50 days in the post-election crisis, Amnesty International has reported “no less than 115” individuals. A Guardian article notes that the executions have included the hanging of 13 Jundullah members (unrelated to the election crisis, those condemned to death were blamed for drug smuggling and to a May terrorist attack in Zahedan, which killed 25 Iranians) which is a resistance movement for the Baluch minority. It writes:
Jundullah claims to be fighting for the rights of Iran’s Baluch minority but is often linked by the regime in Tehran to al-Qaida, and to the west. It has been blamed for drug smuggling, kidnapping and attacks on civilians and revolutionary guards and appears to be based across the border in Pakistani Baluchistan. Iranian media quoted one of the condemned men as “confessing” that the group was trained and financed by “the US and Zionists”.
For Jundullah, they see the legitimacy of their actions, including drug smuggling as a form of revenue for an otherwise economically deprived community. This group is among the most, if not the most economically deprived minorities in Iran. In many cases though, they are falsely forced into confessions of drug trafficking since drug trafficking in punishable by death.
Unfortunately, the election crisis has overshadowed the issue of minority rights in Iran. While Azerbaijanis have remained quiet since June 15, this hasn’t stopped human rights violations against Azerbaijanis in cases which began before the election crisis. Alireza Farshi is still in the custody of the Ministry of Intelligence without access to a lawyer and is at risk of torture; his health status unknown. (Fortunately, his wife Sima Didar was released, but on bail of 50,000.) Last month, Said Matinpour was sentenced to 8-years at Evin Prison and is a Prisoner of Conscience. Unfortunately, our efforts to send reports on their behalf to western governments as well as certain International Human Rights Organizations have proved unfruitful, since they are only accepting information on the post-election crisis. So as you can imagine, things dramatically slowed down since the beginning of the summer, despite our efforts to keep pushing forward.
But I did want to take some time in this blog to reflect on my experience thus far. Before coming to Vancouver, I knew little information about the situation of minorities in Iran. My parents had told me stories of discrimination and racism in Iranian society against Azerbaijani Turks, however, I never had any idea that it was this serious. For them, it seemed nothing more than a way of life. Racism would occasionally anger them but they had a “c’est la vie” attitude about the jokes and forced Persianization. Things are becoming different.
Though the movement is still young and identity re-inspiration for Azerbaijanis is still in its early stages, it is growing rapidly. A partial aspect of the movement, which I have failed to give enough credit, is Azerbaijani civil rights and re-establishment of the Azerbaijani ethnicity and identity. The nationalism reforms, which began in 1925, sought to create “one identity and one nation.” Since the independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan (and further exacerbated by the arrests at Babak Castle and the May 2006 protests) Azerbaijanis have begun to redefine what makes them ethnically different to Persians; this is a phenomenon that some refer to as an “awakening movement.”
This fellowship has proven to be a very rewarding experience for me, as I have explored and solidified my own identity as an Azerbaijani. It is a feeling of a connection that words cannot describe. In college, I read Amin Maalouf’s In the Name of Identity, which I recommend to all. Maalouf points out that identity is not singular. One can identify with race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ideology, community groups, nations, states, provinces, alma matters, humanity or even life on earth. All of these put together creates one’s identity. Identification solely along one of these lines is actually dangerous. They can create an “ends justify the means” attitude that we see in communism, islamism and nationalism.
Therefore, Iran cannot be labeled a Persian nation. Yes, Persians are the dominant ethnic group. Just the same, you cannot label Russia, a slav nation; or China, a Han nation. You can’t label the United States as a white nation. I would like to break the association of Iran and Persian or Fars identity. Iran is a land of many nations.
I strongly believe that differentiation and identity are beautiful things, however those differences must be respected. For example, solely identifying oneself as Persian or Azerbaijani is counter-productive and can lead to a definition of the “other”. Amin Maalouf says that one identifies oneself with a group to a greater degree if that group is threatened. As an Azerbaijani, my identity has been threatened by the Islamic Republic for quite some time. I whole-heartedly identify myself as an Azerbaijani. I also identify myself as an Iranian, which has also been threatened by the Islamic Republic and exacerbated in the post-election crisis. While doing this work, I have made sure to attend various rallies in Vancouver to show solidarity with all Iranians in the post-election struggle. This brings me back to what I had begun to discuss at the onset of this post. I am deeply saddened by the murder of 219 Iranians this year. I truly hope that in any subsequent administration, civil and human rights for all of the nations of Iran will be respected. As an Azerbaijani, I hope that my mother tongue as well as the right to celebrate my distinct culture and celebrate my national heroes will be respected. Iran will one day be a society free of racism and authoritarian control.
To reiterate, this has been quite a powerful and greatly humbling experience for me. I hope to spend the next few weeks editing videos and bringing you information from those who have personally experienced racism and human rights abuses in Iran.
Posted By Farzin Farzad
Posted Aug 7th, 2009