Ethnic minorities in Iran
The majority of the Iranian population is formed by the Persians (estimated at between 51% and 65%). The largest other ethno-linguistic groups (accounting for more than 1% of the total population each) are: Azerbaijanis (16–25+%), Kurds (7–10%), Lurs (c. 7%), Mazandaranis and Gilakis (c. 7%), Arabs (2–3%), Balochi (c. 2%) Turkmens (c. 2%).
There are numerous minor groups, various tribal Turkic groups (Qashqai, Afshar, etc.) accounting for about 1% of the population between them, and small groups with presence in the region going back at least several centuries, accounting for 1-2% as well, such as the Talysh, Armenians, Georgians, Assyrians, Jews, and Circassians.
Some of the main ethnic groups in Iran are also religious minorities. For instance, the majority of Kurds, Baluchis and Turkmen are Sunni Muslims and the Armenians are Christian, while the state religion in Iran is Shi'a Islam. Some of these groups, however, have large Shi'a minorties, and the overwhelming majority of Persians and Azeris are Shi'a.
Many of the traditionally tribal groups have become urbanized and culturally assimilated during the 19th and 20th centuries, so that ethnic identity in many cases is less than clear-cut. There have also been considerable intermarriage rates between certain groups, and nearly all groups are fluent in Persian, in many cases marginalizing their traditional native tongue. Some groups may identify with their status as "ethnic minority" only secondarily, or cite multiple ethnic affiliation.
The Constitution of Iran guarantees freedom of cultural expression and linguistic diversity. Many Iranian provinces have radio and television stations in local language or dialect. School education is in Persian, the official language, but use of regional languages is allowed under the constitution of the Islamic Republic, and Azeri language and culture is studied at universities and other institutions of higher education. Article 15 of the constitution states:
|“||The Official Language and script of Iran, the lingua franca of its people, is Persian. Official documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as text-books, must be in this language and script. However, the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian||”|
Further, Article 19 of the Iranian constitution adds:
|“||All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; color, race, language, and the like, do not bestow any privilege.||”|
There is in fact, a considerable publication (book, newspaper, etc.) taking place in the two largest minority languages in the Azerbaijani language and Kurdish, and in the academic year 2004–05 B.A. programmes in the Azerbaijani language and literature (in Tabriz) and in the Kurdish language and literature (in Sanandaj) are offered in Iran for the very first time. In addition, Payame Noor University, which has 229 campuses and nearly 190000 students throughout the country, in 2008 declared that Arabic will be the "second language" of the university, and that all its services will be offered in Arabic, concurrent with Persian.
However, some human rights groups have accused the Iranian government of violating the constitutional guarantees of equality, and the UN General Assembly has voiced its concern over "increasing discrimination and other human rights violations against ethnic and religious minorities." In a related report, Amnesty International says:
|“||Iran’s ethnic minorities share a widespread sense of discrimination and deprivation toward the central Tehran government. Tehran’s highly centralized development strategy has resulted in a wide socioeconomic gap between the center and the peripheries, where there is also an uneven distribution of power, socioeconomic resources, and sociocultural status. Fueled by these long-standing economic and cultural grievances against Tehran, unrest among the country’s large groups of ethnic minorities is increasing.' The violence in remote regions such as Khuzestan and Baluchistan clearly has ethnic components, but the far greater causes of the poverty and unemployment that vexes members of those ethnic groups are government corruption, inefficiency, and a general sense of lawlessness, which all Iranians, including Persians, must confront.||”|
Nevertheless, representatives of various ethnic minorities have enjoyed a successful political career in Iran. For example Ali Khamenei the current Supreme Leader is half Azeri and Ali Shamkhani the former defense minister (and the current secretary of the Supreme National Security Council) is Arab. Many, if not most, members of the national cultural and political elite have mixed ethnic roots. Most provincial governors and many members of the local ruling classes and clergy are members of the relevant ethnic groups. Many, if not most, members of the national cultural and political elite have mixed ethnic roots.
Separatist tendencies, led by some groups such as the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran and Komalah in Iranian Kurdistan, for example, had led to frequent unrest and occasional military crackdown throughout the 1990s and even to the present. In Iran, Kurds have twice had their own autonomous regions independent of central government control: The Republic of Mahabad in Iran which was the second independent Kurdish state of the 20th century, after the Republic of Ararat in modern Turkey; and the second time after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
Jalal Talabani leader of the Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), in a 1998 interview, contrasted the situation in Iran with that of Turkey, with respect to Kurds:
|“||Iran never tried to obliterate the Kurd's identity. There is a province in Iran called Kordestan province. The Iranian name their planes after the province in Iran [including Kordestan]".||”|
Devolution has also occurred in other provinces such as Balochistan, Khuzestan (see Politics of Khuzestan) and Iranian Azerbaijan. However, ethnic minorities seeking more autonomy are suspected of being instigated by foreign powers.
One of the major internal policy challenges during the centuries up until now for most or all Iranian governments has been to find the appropriate and balanced approach to the difficulties and opportunities caused by this diversity, particularly as this ethnic or sectarian divisions have often been readily utilized by foreign powers, notably during the Iran–Iraq War. According to Professor Richard Frye:
|“||Although many languages and dialects are spoken in the country, and different forms of social life, the dominant influence of the Persian language and culture has created a solidarity complex of great strength. This was revealed in the Iran–Iraq War when Arabs of Khuzestan did not join the invaders, and earlier when Azeris did not rally to their northern cousins after World War II, when Soviet forces occupied Azerbaijan. Likewise the Baluch, Turkmen, Armenians and Kurds, although with bonds to their kinsmen on the other side of borders, are conscious of the power and richness of Persian culture and willing to participate in it.||”|
Foreign governments, both before and after the Islamic Revolution have often been accused of attempting to de-stabilize Iran through exploiting ethnic tensions. Western media reports and statements from former CIA operatives seem to corroborate such suspicions
While some commentators claim that these ethnic unrests in Iran are not inspired by foreign governments but by the policies of the Iranian government which have been described as discriminatory, others disagree. Professor Bernard Lewis in fact first unveiled a project for the separation of Khuzestan from Iran, formally proposing the fragmentation or balkanization of Iran along regional, ethnic, and linguistic lines especially among the Arabs of Khuzestan (the Al-Ahwaz project), the Baluchis (the Pakhtunistan project), the Kurds (the Greater Kurdistan project) and the Azerbaijanis (the Greater Azerbaijan Project).
Some Iranians accuse Britain of "trying to topple the regime by supporting insurgents and separatists". Other states however are also believed to be involved in the politics of ethnicity in southern Iran. Professor Efraim Karsh traces out the origins of Saddam Hussein's wish to annex Khuzestan using the ethnic card:
|“||Nor did Saddam's territorial plans go beyond the Shatt al-Arab and a small portion of the southern region of Khuzestan, where he hoped, the substantial Arab minority would rise against their Iranian oppressors. This did not happen. The underground Arab organization in Khuzestan proved to be a far cry from the mass movement anticipated by the Iraqis, and Arab masses remained conspicuously indifferent to their would-be liberators||”|
During Iran's 1979 revolution, after sending thousands of Iraqi Shi'ites into exile in Iran and the quick and brutal suppression of Kurdish dissent,
During the cold war, the Soviet Union's "tentacles extended into Iranian Kurdistan". As the main supporter of ethnic communist enclaves such as the Republic of Mahabad, and (later on) as the main arms supplier of Saddam Hussein, both the Soviet Union and its predecessor the Russian Empire, made many attempts to divide Iran along ethnic lines. Moscow's policies were specifically devised "in order to sponsor regional powerbases, if not to annex territory". For example, in a cable sent on July 6, 1945 by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Secretary of the Communist Party of Soviet Azerbaijan was instructed as such:
To Cde. Bagirov
Measures to Organize a Separatist Movement in Southern Azerbaijan and Other Provinces in Northern Iran
Foreign interest in the ethnic politics of Iran continues to resurface in modern times. In April 2006, Seymour Hersh brought widespread attention to claims of covert operations in Iran when he wrote in an article for The New Yorker about special units that were "working with minority groups in Iran, including the Azeris in the north, the Baluchis in the southeast, and the Kurds in the northeast of Iran." According to the report, US troops in Iran were "recruiting local ethnic populations to encourage local tensions that could undermine the regime".
Former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter has also suggested that the US military is setting up the infrastructure for an enormous military presence in Azerbaijan that will be utilized for a land-based campaign designed to bring down the government in Tehran. He also claims CIA paramilitary operatives and US Special Forces are training special Azerbaijani units capable of operating inside Iran in order to mobilize the large Azeri ethnic population within Iran.
Both Iran and Turkey reacted angrily to a map of "The new Middle East" by Colonel Ralph Peters, when it was revealed that the map was used in training programs at NATO's Defense College for senior military officers, and National War Academy.
Some representatives of Western governments have even met with leaders of such groups. An example is June 31, 2005, when Pierre Pettigrew met Rafiq Abu-Sharif, a separatist representative of the Al-Ahwaz Arab Peoples Democratic Popular Front. According to the front's website, Abu-Sharif "submitted a detailed letter to Pettigrew...detailing the nationalities under oppression in Iran", further meeting with Canadian parliamentaries "to further discuss the matter".
The Republic of Azerbaijan is also accused of encouraging ethnic divisions in the Iranian region of Azerbaijan. According to James Woolsey, former director of CIA, "Washington should also pay attention to Iran's geographic and ethnic fissures – for example, a large share of Iran's oil is located in the restive Arab-populated regions in Iran's south". Iason Athanasiadis, quotes another CIA operative describing:
|“||Iranian Azarbaijan was rich in possibilities. Accessible through Turkey and ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, more Westward-looking than most of Iran, and economically going nowhere, Iran's richest agricultural province was an ideal covert action theater.||”|
Iason Athanasiadis continues:
|“||In his book Know Thine Enemy Reuel Marc Gerecht constantly mentally prods methods of destabilizing the Islamic republic, from cultivating high-ranking Azeris to inciting separatist Kurds to fostering divisive clerical rivalry between the holy Shi'ite cities of Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran.||”|
The Sunday Telegraph in an article titled "US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran" on February 25, 2007, wrote:
|“||In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions. The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime. Funding for their separatist causes comes directly from the CIA's classified budget but is now "no great secret", according to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington who spoke anonymously to The Sunday Telegraph. His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state department counter-terrorism agent, who said: "The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran 's ethnic minorities to destabilise the Iranian regime.||”|
|“||U.S. officials tell ABC News U.S. intelligence officers frequently meet and advise Jundullah leaders, and current and former intelligence officers are working to prevent the men from being sent to Iran.||”|
|“||The capture of the Jundullah members is seen by intelligence sources in the region as another indication that Pakistan's new government is distancing itself from the U.S. and U.S. intelligence operations in the country.||”|
Seymour M. Heresh in his article on July 7, 2008 mentions that the Bush Administration is increasing its secret moves against Iran by supporting ethnic separatist groups in Iran. Hersh mentions that part of the covert activities include the support of the minority the Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations.
Iran (then called Persia) traditionally was governed over the last few centuries in a fairly decentralised way with much regional and local autonomy. In particular, weaker members of the Qajar dynasty often did not rule much beyond the capital Tehran, a fact exploited by the imperial powers Britain and Russia in the 19th century. For example, when British cartographers, diplomats, and telegraph workers traveled along Iran's southern coast in the early 19th century laden with guns and accompanied by powerful ships, some local chieftains quickly calculated that their sworn allegiance to the Shah in Tehran with its accompanying tax burden might be optional. When queried, they proclaimed their own local authority. However during Constitutional Revolution ethnic minorities including Azeris, Bakhtiaris and Armenians fought together for establishment of democracy in Iran while they had the power to become independent.
Reza Shah Pahlavi, and to a lesser degree his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, successfully strengthened the central government by using reforms, bribes and suppressions. In particular, the Bakhtiaris, Kurds, and Lurs until the late 1940s required persistent military measures to keep them under governmental control. According to Tadeusz Swietochowski, in 1930s Reza Shah Pahlavi pursued the official policy of Persianization to assimilate Azerbaijanis and other ethnic minorities in Iran:
|“||Tribal populations, as well as all ethnic minorities in Iran, were denied many national rights under the Pahlavis and were victims of Persian chauvinism. National education, in which all students were required to read and write in Persian and in which Persian culture and civilization were stressed to the almost complete neglect of the contributions of other population segments, was culturally destructive.||”|
- Azarbaijan (Iran)
- Demographics of Iran
- Georgians in Iran
- Human rights in Iran
- Iranian Georgians
- Iranian Circassians
- Peoples of the Caucasus in Iran
- Russians in Iran
- Assyrians in Iran
- Iranian Arabs
- Iranian Azeris
- Iranian Kurdistan
- Iranian Kuwaitis
- Koreans in Iran
- Languages and ethnicities in Iran
- Religious minorities in Iran
- "Country Profile: Iran" (PDF). Library of Congress – Federal Research Division. November 20, 2011. p. 5.
- "Iran". CIA World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency. Archived from the original on February 3, 2012.
- Shahrough Akhavi (1980). Religion and Politics in Contemporary Iran: Clergy-State Relations in the Pahlavi Period. State University of New York. ISBN 0-87395-456-4.
- Nikki Keddie (2003). Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09856-1.
- "Socio-Economic characteristics survey of Iranian households (2002) (Amârgiri az vizhegihâ-ye ejtemâ'i eqtesadi-ye khânevâr. Tehran, Markaz-e amâr-e irân, 1382), CNRS, Université Paris III, INaLCO, EPHE, Paris, page 14" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 28, 2008.
- van Bruinessen, Martin (1978) Agha, Shaikh and State. On the Social and Political Organization of Kurdistan, University of Utrecht, Utrecht. 1978, Utrecht: footnote 102: 430
When I asked people in ethnically mixed areas whether they were Kurds of [sic] Turks or Persians I frequently got answers such as 'I am Kurd as well as a Persian and a Turk'. When I insisted and asked what they originally were, some answered 'my father speaks all three languages
- "تأسيس گروه زبان و ادبيات ترکي آذري". University of Tabriz. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007.
- Annika Rabo, Bo Utas, ed. (2005). The role of the state in West Asia. Swedish Research Institute in Istanbul. p. 156. ISBN 978-9186884130.
There is in fact, a considerable publication (book, newspaper, etc.) taking place in the two largest minority languages in the Azerbaijani language and Kurdish, and in the academic year 2004–05 B.A. programmes in the Azerbaijani language and literature (in Tabriz) and in the Kurdish language and literature (in Sanandaj) are offered in Iran for the very first time
- عربی دومین زبان دانشگاه پیام نور شد (in Persian). Radiozamaaneh.com. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- World of Information Staff, “ Middle East Review 2003 2003: The Economic and Business Report”, Kogan Page, 2003. pp 52–53
- Third Committee Approves Draft Resolution Expressing Serious Concern About Human Rights Situation In Iran. Un.org (November 21, 2006). Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Amnesty International, "Iran: New government fails to address dire human rights situation", AI Index: MDE 13/010/2006, February 16, 2006 Archived October 12, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Iran’s Ethnic Tinderbox. (PDF) . Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- "Iran sends in troops to crush border unrest". The Guardian. 2005-08-05.
- Interview in the Jordanian newspaper al-Ahram al-Yawm (amman), December 1, 1998, BBC ME/3398 MED/17
- R. N. Frye. "Peoples of Iran". Encyclopædia Iranica.
- "A/RES/36/103 Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States". United Nations. 1981-12-09.
- A/RES/20/2131 – Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty – UN Documents: Gathering a body of global agreements. UN Documents. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- The Strangling of Persia: Story of the European Diplomacy and Oriental Intrigue That Resulted in the Denationalization of Twelve Million Mohammedans, Morgan Shuster, 1987 edition. ISBN 0-934211-06-X
- See Russia and Britain in Persia: A study in Imperialism. F. Kazemzadeh. Yale University Press.
- Brook, Stephen (April 19, 2005). "Iran closes al-Jazeera offices". The Guardian. London.
Iran even went so far as to expel AlJazeera from its territory for allegedly inciting ethnic unrest in Ahwaz.
- "US marines probe tensions among Iran's minorities". Financial Times.
- Grossman, Zoltan. "Khuzestan: The First Front in the War on Iran?". zmag.org. Archived from the original on August 7, 2007.
- "Al-Ahwaz: Al-Fiction". iranian.com.
- "British Arabism and the bombings in Iran". Asia Times.
- Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs. Asia Times (November 3, 2005). Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Calls to boycott Israel underscore history of Arabism in British intelligentsia. International Herald Tribune (March 29, 2009). Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Robert Dreyfuss, Thierry LeMarc. Hostage to Khomeini. New York: New Benjamin Franklin House Publishing Company. 1980. ISBN 0-933488-11-4 p.157
- Harrison, Frances (June 21, 2007). "Iran's fear of the 'little devil'". BBC News. Retrieved May 2, 2010.
- Efraim Karsh, The Iran–Iraq War 1980–1988, Osprey Publishing, 2002, pg 27.
- Amanda Roraback, Iran in a Nutshell, Enisen Publishing, pg 30
- Patrick Clawson, Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos. Palgrave MacMillan. 2005. ISBN 1-4039-6275-8 p.59
- Patrick Clawson et al., Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos. Palgrave MacMillan. 2005. ISBN 1-4039-6275-8 p.59
- Decree of the Central Committee of CPSU Politbureau on "Measures to Organize a Separatist Movement in Southern Azerbaijan and Other Provinces of Northern Iran", GAPPOD Republic of Azerbaijan, f. 1, op. 89, d. 90, ll. 4–5, obtained by Jamil Hasanli, translated for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars by Gary Goldberg wilsoncenter.org
- Seymour M. Hersh (April 2006). "the Iran Plan". The New Yorker.
- Simon Whelan, Bush courts Azerbaijani President as Part of Build-Up against Iran, Global Research, May 9, 2006
- ''Iran: A Tougher Nut than North Korea'', September 7, 2004, Link Archived June 30, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.. Businessweek.com (September 07, 2004). Retrieved on November 20, 2011.
- Archive Pages. Iranian.com. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- JTW News – Drawing Borders with Other People’s Blood: A Brief Comment on Ralph Peters’s 'Blood Borders'. Turkishweekly.net. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Redrawing the Map. The Brussels Journal. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Dickey: Redrawing Mideast Map Won’t Work – Newsweek Christopher Dickey – MSNBC.com
- "New Yorker in DC: Mapping a more peaceful Middle East". nykrindc.blogspot.com.
- "Blood borders". armedforcesjournal.com. June 2006.
- Environmentalists Against War. Envirosagainstwar.org. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- "Mapping new wars: A rebuttal to Blood borders". armedforcesjournal.com. January 2007.
- Interview with Colonel Ralph Peters Archived September 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
- Al-Ahwaz website: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 23, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-20.
- دیدار مهم رفیق صلاح ابو شریف با وزیر خارجیه دولت فدرال کانادا Archived June 23, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.. Alahwaz.com. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Picture of meeting: http://www.iranian.com/Kasraie/2005/April/Ahwaz/Images/pic1.jpg
- Asia Times Online. Atimes.com (June 8, 2006). Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- David Eshel, ''Ethnic Opposition on the rise in Iran'', Link. Defense-update.com (October 29, 2006). Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- ContreInfo :: Débat sur l’Iran : James Woolsey, Tom McInerney and Ken Timmerman. Contreinfo.info. Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- Know Thine Enemy: A Spy's Journey into Revolutionary Iran :: Reviewed by Daniel Pipes. Danielpipes.org. Retrieved on November 20, 2011.
- Athanasiadis, Iason (April 29, 2005). "Stirring the ethnic pot". Asian Times. UK.
- William Lowther in Washington DC and Colin Freeman, Sunday Telegraph, 25/02/2007, wiran25.xml
- Pakistan May Turn Over U.S. Spies to Iran. Abcnews.go.com (May 23, 2008). Retrieved November 20, 2011.
- abc news(page 2). Abcnews.go.com (May 23, 2008). Retrieved on November 20, 2011.
- Seymour M. Hersh – The New Yorker, "Preparing the Battlefield: Secret US Moves Against Iran", July 7, 2008
- "Memorandum by the Rev. George Percy Badger on the Pretensions of Persia in Beloochistan and Mekran, drawn up with special reference to Her Claim to Gwadur and Charbar," London, Dec 23, 1863, FOP 60/287.
- Tadeusz Swietochowski, Russia and Azerbaijan: A Borderland in Transition. p.122, ISBN 0-231-07068-3
- Lois Beck. "Revolutionary Iran and Its Tribal Peoples". MERIP Reports, No. 87, (May, 1980), p. 16
- Patrick Clawson. Eternal Iran. Palgrave Macmillan. 2005 ISBN 1-4039-6276-6 p.23
- map of ethnic minorities in Iran
- Supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reciting Azeri poetry
- Supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei giving a religious sermon in Arabic
- Ethnic groups of Iran
- (Video) A series of lectures hosted by The American Enterprise Institute
- Khuzestan: The First Front in the War on Iran? by Zoltan Grossman