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April 16, 2006
Factionalism Undermining Iranian Government

The London Telegraph notes the unrest among Iranian minority groups and the tactics that the hard-line Teheran government have taken to address it. James Brandon and Colin Freeman report that the messianic Ahmadinejad approach has further alienated the diverse populace of Iran, and the decades-old imposition of shari'a has resulted in a growing rebellion that could undermine the mullahcracy:

"The Iranian government's plan to create a global Islamic state is destroying our people's culture and -values," said Akif Zagros, 28, a Persian literature graduate who serves on Pejak's seven-strong ruling council. "But we want all nations to be democratic, to live together and learn from each other." Pejak, the Party for Freedom and Life in Kurdistan, is fast becoming a threat to Teheran. The group, founded in 1998, claims to have hundreds of thousands of followers among Iran's estimated four million Kurds, and has been denounced as a terrorist organisation by Teheran for carrying out attacks within the borders of the Islamic republic.

The Iranian regime has also accused the group of receiving American funding, a claim dismissed by the US. Pejak is believed to be linked to Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK), which has been branded a terrorist organisation by Washington and the European Union. That would make funding illegal.

But according to reports last week, America is courting opposition movements among the numerous ethnic minority groups concentrated in Iran's border regions, many of which claim their languages and culture have been -systematically repressed by Teheran. ...

The grievances of Iran's ethnic minorities are said to have deepened since the ultra-conservative Mr Ahmadinejad won power from Iran's more Western-leaning, reformist government in last June's elections. While his predecessors were more open to granting minority rights, he has re-imposed stronger central controls in line with strict Islamic laws.

As well as the Kurds, Iran's minorities include Azeris, whose homeland of Azerbaijan lies to the north-west, ethnic Baluchis, who straddle the east of Iran and Pakistan's Baluchistan region, and Ah-wazi Arabs, who inhabit the south-west corner, near Iraq.

Iran, almost alone among nations in the Middle East, did not come into creation by the hand of European diplomats at the end of World War I. The Persian nation has existed for thousands of years within roughly the same borders it currently enjoys. Where Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the rest of the emirates in Southwest Asia sprang into existence as distinct nations for the first time when the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Iran has always had its own culture and national identity. However, it does share the common issue of minority conflict because of the nomadic nature of the various ethnic groups in the region, and not all of them share the same zealous application of Islam in their lives.

In fact, Pejak supports the secular, Western model of democratic government. Their ranks include women, who receive the same responsibilities and compensation as the men, although neither receive much compensation at all. The entire operation runs on a shoestring; because of their association with the PKK and the West's alliance with PKK enemy Turkey, they have no access to formal Western funding. The Kurdish resistance has had some effect; they recently attacked an Iranian military base and killed 24 soldiers, which in Iraq would qualify as civil war for some media commentators. It's not a civil war yet, and Pejak doesn't necessarily want one; they want a transition to secular democracy, regardless of how it comes about.

The Kurds are only one of several minorities that feel oppressed by the dogmatic and reactionary Ahmadinjad regime, along with plenty of ethnic Iranians who do not want to live under shari'a. If these groups could form a united effort, they could distract Iran from its sabre-rattling and nuclear extortion abroad. We have to find a way to work with those who want to see the end of the mullahcracy and its replacement with true democracy.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 16, 2006 8:10 AM

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