(MENAFN- Asia Times)
The role of Iran's ethnic minorities in the ongoing rebellion against the oppressive Tehran regime has been absent from Western and international public discourse, but that is changing.
It is changing because the Iranian state's war against its own people, coupled with its leadership's decision to assist the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, has become a turning point for international opinion. Greater attention is therefore being given to the internal dynamics of the uprising.
The British newspaper The Guardian quoted a“senior European diplomat” as saying that Tehran's cooperation with Moscow against Kiev has created“an unholy alliance and [it is] a massive miscalculation by Iran.”
The unidentified diplomat offered the view that what makes the current situation“different from anything that's gone before” is not just that the regime has after 43 years“finally lost contact with their people” but, moreover, that“the main population finds the offers of reform as largely an irrelevance.”
Even Robert Malley, the US special envoy on Iran who wrote in 2018 that the idea that“the Iranian people, facing a collapsing economy, [will] to rise up and sweep aside the Islamic regime” was“utterly implausible,” and whose continual compromises in the recent Vienna talks failed to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, has declared that the country's leadership has locked itself into a“vicious cycle” cut off both from its own people and from the international community.
Recent developments in world public opinion, as expressed through the United Nations, confirm this turning point. Perhaps most strikingly, the UN Human Rights Council, by a vote of 25-5 with 16 abstentions, decided on November 24 to establish a“Fact-Finding Mission to Investigate Alleged Human Rights Violations in Iran Related to the Protests that Began on 16 September 2022.”
Also, there will be a vote on December 14 by the 54-member UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on whether to remove Iran from the body's Commission on the Status of Women.
These moves, as cosmetic as they appear, were unthinkable even a few months ago.
Passing under the diplomatic radar, but still extremely significant, the Atlantic Council in Washington has terminated its 12-year-old Future of Iran Initiative and replaced it with a more comprehensive and broader-focused Iran Strategy Project (ISP) as part of its Middle East Programs (MEPs).
The implicit criticism of the failed Future of Iran Initiative could hardly be more clear. The ISP, said MEPs director Jonathan Panikoff,“will provide a forum for experts across the political spectrum, and with varying functional expertise, to discuss and debate the future of Iran [emphasis added], and to provide concrete strategic options for policymakers.”
It would have been unnecessary to terminate the Future of Iran Initiative if its organizers had been able to do this. Will Wechsler, also with the Atlantic Council MEPs, spelled out what the Future of Iran Initiative had failed to provide when he said,“There has never been a more pressing need for original and thoughtful policy recommendations and non-partisan analysis on Iran.”
The ISP's new advisory committee includes a dozen practical professionals with expertise in diplomacy, intelligence, history, military questions, human rights, democracy, and minority rights. So the minorities question in Iran will finally get some attention in US policymaking.
These minorities are not only the Kurds and Azeris in the northwest of the country, who generally get the most Western attention, because of their co-ethnics in other countries (Iraq and Turkey for the Kurds, Azerbaijan for the Azeris). Next to them, the best known are probably the Arabs in the southwest, Balochi in the east, and Turkmens in the north, even though these three groups together make up only about 6% of the poulation.
Ignored are the“Iranic” groups who are not ethnic Persian. Among them, the Lurs, the Mazandarinis and the Gilakis are the most notable. These groups are also defined by their languages, of which the vocabularies and grammars have non-Persian characteristics that distinguish their geographical origins.
The various dialects of the Lurs, for example, are on a continuum with Persian, but ethnographically the people themselves are a mixture of (aboriginal) pre-Iranic and peoples of Central Asian origin.
The respective languages of the Mazandarinis and the Gilakis are somewhat mutually intelligible, and their distinctive structures have maintained their separate identities. The various dialects of these two languages are close to South Caucasus groups, especially the Kartvelian (Georgian). The Lurs compose about 7% of the population of Iran, the same as the Mazandarinis and Gilakis together.
It is perhaps the lack of transborder co-ethnics and the relative obscurity of their languages to international observers that have decreased attention to these latter groups. All of them and their deprivations will get increased attention as the international community focuses more and more on the situation in Iran.