The Suffering of Iran’s Ethnic Groups

The Islamic Republic’s cruelty knows no bounds.

As we speak, Iranians are protesting against the ayatollah’s regime with renewed intensity, after it was discovered that up to 7,000 girls across the Islamic Republic were poisoned between November 2022 and March 2023. According to the United States Institute of Peace, hundreds were hospitalized with symptoms that included respiratory distress, numbness in limbs, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Although the poisonings originated in the Shia Holy City of Qom and then spread throughout the rest of the country, South Azerbaijanis, Baloch, Kurds and Ahwaz are among the groups to suffer the most from these poisonings, as these regions have less developed medical services than the central regions of Iran.

This is merely one of many examples highlighting how South Azerbaijanis and other ethnic minorities in Iran are discriminated against. Other examples include prohibiting parents from giving Azerbaijani names to their babies; draining Lake Uria, the main water source in South Azerbaijan; limiting the use of the Azerbaijani language in the media, literature, art and in the educational system; and imprisoning Alireza Farshi, a prominent South Azerbaijani activist, for 10 years for encouraging the use of the Azerbaijani language on International Mother Language Day and distributing books in the Azerbaijani language to children.

However, not just the South Azerbaijanis got these grievances. All of Iran’s ethnic minorities including but not limited to Ahwaz, Baloch, Lors, Turkmen, Kurds, etc. got similar grievances. For this reason, Iran’s ethnic groups are presently up in arms. Over the weekend, 500 South Azerbaijanis and their supporters protested in front of the European Parliament in an attempt to raise awareness about this issue. The demonstration, known as the Freedom and Justice Gathering for Iran, was organized by Salah Kamerani, who serves as the demonstration’s spokesman, together with Mrs. Charifa Jafari alongside members of the non-Persian nations living in Iran, the Ukrainian diaspora, European journalists and the European Association for the Defense of Minorities.

According to a recent press release, “It was a peaceful demonstration organized by South Azerbaijanis to expose the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran who excludes non-Persian nations from all spheres of decision-making and spreads misinformation and disinformation about them.” The press release added: “The voice of each non-Persian nation has been suppressed in different ways and their basic human rights have been denied. South Azerbaijanis for 40 years have been struggling non-violently against racism. The source of the recent protests were women, youth and minority nations. South Azerbaijanis are determined to implement change, expose the racism in Iran and to bring their untold story to the attention of the world.”

According to the recent press release, “The protests are also an opportunity to condemn the imperialist ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, who stroked Russian aggression against the Ukraine by supplying drones despite their poor accuracy. So, strengthening minority nations in Iran is a strategic solution for fighting against Iranian aggression.”

Participants in the demonstration called “for justice and freedom for all non-Persian nations inside of Iran as well as women and young people, who are victims of IRGC violence.” They “condemned the arbitrary arrests of protesters and the execution of political dissidents as well as the use of drones against Ukrainian civilians.” They also called upon the European Union to “stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

In an exclusive interview, protest organizer Saleh Kamrani proclaimed, “The burden of the revolution is on the shoulders of non-Persian nations. Azerbaijanis make up more than 40 percent of the Iranian population and have a totally non-violent movement. Without the participation of non-Persian nations, regime change is almost impossible. If the world continues to neglect the reality and importance of non-Persian peoples, this will lead to a civil war in Iran or even to the ayatollah’s obtaining a nuclear bomb.”

Manel Msalmi, an international affairs advisor for the European Parliament, added: “The Iranian Revolution is a movement of women and young people from different ethnic groups inside of Iran, who have been calling for justice and equal rights for so many years. The EU and the international community should be aware of the complexity of the Iranian population and take into consideration the demands and the needs of the non-Persian populations, who have been victims of discrimination and oppression by the regime for so many years because of their ethnic origin. The West should support them in their quest for freedom and equal rights.”

Said Hamidan, the President of the Arab Ahwaz Movement, concurred: “As Ahwazis, we believe that the overthrow of the regime comes through coordination with all non-Persian nations such as Azerbaijanis, Baloch, Kurds and from this point, we established an alliance with all nations to strengthen our position against the current regime. We are certain that we are moving in the right path and we are able to be part of the political balance diplomatically.  Hence, the non-Persian nations are negotiating with us the future and the best way to boost our relationship with the international community.”

Azerbaijani activist Raphael Nabizade concluded: “The international community occasionally calls Israel an apartheid state. However, as an Azerbaijani living in Israel, I can unhesitatingly say that other ethnic groups can freely speak in their mother tongue and have their representatives at the Knesset. However, are Azerbaijanis allowed to speak in their mother tongue and have representatives in the Iranian Majles? No! Furthermore, Iran explicitly threatens Azerbaijan with war by conducting massive military drills on its border and by maneuvering with fighter jets close to the border. In response, the protesters demand that the Iranian regime respect the rights of the countries Azerbaijani population, stop its media attacks against Azerbaijan in the Iranian media, and release the countless Azerbaijanis that have languished in the ayatollah’s jails for the crime of speaking their mother tongue.”

While the demonstration in front of the European Parliament is over, the mass protest of South Azerbaijanis inside of Iran continues unabated. According to various media reports, at least eight different major movements with different political agendas have recently united with the aim of toppling the mullah’s regime. Some of these groups seek cultural autonomy.  Others desire a free South Azerbaijan. Yet, all of them stand united and are on the streets of South Azerbaijan protesting, demanding an end to the ayatollah’s regime.

Unfortunately, the Iranian regime blames Israel and Azerbaijan for these protests instead of taking a good look at themselves in the mirror.  In order to prove this accusation, they cite the famous tweet published by Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan George Deek, where he displayed a photo of himself together with a book titled “The Mysterious Tales of Tabriz.”  Deek wrote: “I’m learning so much about Azerbaijani history and culture in Tabriz in this great book I was recently presented. What are you guys reading these days?”

Simultaneously, the Ayatollah’s cite the remarks Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev made in the November 2022 Summit of the Organization of Turkic States: “The young generation of the Turkic world should have the opportunity to study in their mother tongue in the countries of their residence. Unfortunately, most of the 40 million Azerbaijanis living outside of Azerbaijan are deprived of these opportunities. Education of our compatriots living outside of Turkic states in their mother tongue should always be on the organization’s agenda. Necessary steps should be taken in this direction.”

The grand opening of Azerbaijan’s new embassy in Tel Aviv, which takes place this week, only reinforces such sentiments among the ayatollah’s regime. However, the ayatollahs in Tehran never pondered that the fact that they refuse to grant South Azerbaijanis and other ethnic minorities in Iran human rights, dignity, freedom and respect is the main thing driving these protests. Furthermore, if the ayatollah’s regime falls tomorrow, what would have brought down their regime was not a humorous tweet by Ambassador Deek or a speech that Azerbaijan’s President made in front of other Turkic countries. What would have brought their regime down is the brutal repression against their own people, which caused them to rise up and say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist.  She is the author of Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.

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