3 Major Ethnic Minority Groups in Western Iran

Modern Iran traces its roots to ancient Persia and Persians remain a majority in the country. However, the country is home to many languages and ethnicities. Indeed, the share of non-Persians among Iran’s population, which totals 82 million people, is at least 39%, according to The World Factbook. Given that ethnicity can be a fluid concept, Iran’s non-Persian population might actually be closer to 50%. One indication is that only 53% of Iranians speak Persian. There are at least seven other languages spoken by a significant number of citizens.

All that being said, although Iran is thus a country of astounding ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity, Persians continue to dominate the country’s central government.

This brief report, produced by Arsenal For Democracy and The Globalist Research Center, covers three major ethnic minorities in western Iran today, examining their modern history and how their presence has affected post-Revolution relations between Iran and its neighbors. (Major western Iran minority ethno-linguistic groups not covered: Lurs, Gilaks, Mazanderanis.)

Map of selected ethno-linguistic minorities of Iran. (More info at Wikimedia)

Map of selected ethno-linguistic minorities of Iran. (More info at Wikimedia)

Arab Iranians

Arabs are a small ethnic minority in Iran. They account for only about 2% of Iran’s population. Some 1.5 million Arabs live along the Iraqi border in southwest Iran. Arabs have lived there since the Islamic conquest of Iran 12 centuries ago.

Much of the Arab-dominated border area is within the country’s oil-rich Khuzestan Province, the center of the brutal Iran-Iraq War. Saddam Hussein invaded and occupied it in 1980. He did so, mistakenly believing Arab-Iranians would rally to him after protests and riots there during the 1979 revolution. Instead, they fled the area until the new Iranian revolutionary military could regroup and counterattack by 1982.

Khuzestan remains poor and was never fully rebuilt after the war. Deadly clashes between Arab-Iranians and security forces break out on a regular basis, including several in 2015. Separatists also sometimes stage terrorist attacks.

Kurdish Iranians

Iran’s four million Kurds predominantly populate a mountainous northwestern region of the country. Accounting for about 10% of Iran’s population, they have long harbored separatist tendencies.

In 1946, the Soviet Union tried to establish puppet buffer states in northwest Iran, including a Kurdish state. It had occupied the area in 1941 to block Germany from capturing Iran’s oilfields. However, unlike in the case of Eastern Europe, this early Cold War partition proved short-lived, after the Red Army decided to withdraw, pursuant to the UN Security Council’s second and third resolutions ever.

There are also separatist Kurds in Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. In Iraq, some six million Kurds comprise roughly 15-20% of the population. In Turkey, 14.3 million Kurds make up 18% of the population. In war-torn Syria, the Kurdish population is probably between one and two million and accounts for a much smaller share. Syria’s government has sometimes supported Kurdish militants as a counterweight against enemies or rivals, including Turkey. The four major Kurdish populations, totaling at least 25 million people, live largely contiguous to each other across national borders. While this proximity sometimes encourages cooperation between separatist groups, they have also often been rivals for influence within the Kurdish nationalist movement.

The leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 viewed Kurdish ethnic separatism as a serious threat to their ideology of unity through religion. Kurdish separatists, who had helped overthrow the Shah earlier that year, saw the revolution as the moment for independence and began seizing control of their communities. However, Iran’s revolutionary armed forces focused on crushing this major Kurdish rebellion as early as 1980, even in the face of Saddam Hussein’s invasion into the Khuzestan province. Violence between the state and Kurdish separatists continues intermittently, 36 years later. The Kurds’ integration into Iranian society has also been limited.

Azeri Iranians

Iran is also home to at least 12 million Azeris, a Turkic-descended ethnicity comprising 16% of the country’s total population. They mainly live in the Iran’s northwest border provinces, next to the former Soviet republic Azerbaijan. That country has nearly nine million ethnic Azeris among its citizens, who account for about 92% of its 9.8 million people.

While concentrated in the northwest, Azeris live throughout Iran in conditions closely resembling those of the Persian majority. Despite sporadic problems, Azeris are comfortably integrated into Iranian society and hold positions of power in the government and military.

The revolutionary government, while opposed to Azeri nationalist activity in Iran, has defended Azeri-Iranians from persecution, in contrast with its own actions against Arabs or Kurds. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2006 said, “Azeris have always bravely defended the Islamic revolution and the sovereignty of this country.”

Ethnic Azeris have been divided between Iran and Azerbaijan (formerly part of Russia and then the USSR) since 1828, when Iran was pushed out of the Caucusus by a peace treaty with the growing Russian Empire.

Both Iran and Azerbaijan are Shia-majority Muslim nations, of which there are only four in the world; the others are Iraq and Bahrain. However, Azerbaijan is largely secular in practice, in contrast with the public religiosity of Iran’s Islamic Republic.

During the post-Soviet war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in the early 1990s, Iran economically aided Armenia after Azerbaijan’s president suggested a desire to unify “Greater Azerbaijan.” This threatened Iranian sovereignty, since a majority of all Azeris live in Iran.

Iran’s regional rivals Turkey and Israel also formed lasting military and economic ties with Azerbaijan during the war.

Despite some continued bilateral tension, an unofficial strategic understanding has been reached: Iran will not try to spread Islamic Revolution to Azerbaijan, while Azerbaijan will not foster ethnic separatism inside Iran. Neither country’s Azeri population seems to be interested in pursuing such an option anyway.

How to break away

Six steps and conditions commonly shared by successful breakaway nation-states, as summarized from a new article in The Economist:

1. Assemble critical mass in a geographically compact/defined area.

2. Maintain a legitimate, ongoing claim to the area. Keep the separate culture alive to preserve legitimacy.

3. Take every opportunity to draw a border, even before independence or autonomy, and stick to it. This creates precedent.

4. Suffering is righteous. That which does not kill you makes you stronger. If you’re destroyed, that’s it. But if you hang on through violent oppression, you have an even better claim and motivation to achieve independence.

5. Use your diaspora. That one is tried and true. If your people are scattered by violence, leverage them (and their likely higher earning potential in places like the U.S.) to raise sympathy, funds, and foreign support for independence. They will be more hardline and inflexible than the people back home, which can be useful.

6. Wait for the super-state to begin breaking up before trying to exit the sub-state.

Non-violence has cost at least 2.7 million Black US lives

Imagine if health and mortality outcomes for Black Americans were identical to White Americans. How many Black Americans’s lives would have been saved? According to a new study, it’s at least 2.7 million from just 1970 to 2004:

Overall, in the US, the mortality rate for blacks, across age and gender, is almost 18 per cent higher than the rate for whites.

But while Gray’s and other high-profile killings make the headlines, the far greater cause of premature death in African Americans is stress-related disease, says Arline Geronimus of the Stanford University Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto, California. For example, the diabetes rate for black people is almost twice as high as for whites, and blacks have higher rates of cancer and heart disease.
[…]
Using cause of death data from the US Centers for Disease Control, Geronimus and colleagues calculated that if blacks died at the same rate as whites, 5.8 million African Americans would have died between 1970 and 2004. The actual number of black deaths over that timespan was 8.5 million, meaning that African Americans had 2.7 million “excess deaths”, compared with whites.
[…]
Geronimus says she and her colleagues likely underestimated the number of excess African American deaths. For one, they accounted for only 35 years, which means they missed all excess deaths prior to 1970, the year in which good-quality comparable data first became available.
[…]
Journal reference: Social Science and Medicine, DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.04.014

 
The U.S. Civil Rights Movement lost a lot of momentum after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Many of the younger leaders who tried to pick up the pieces in the 1970s and 1980s sort of gave up and decided to accept the partial gains of the 1960s and leave things at that for the indefinite future. White American society then mythologized Dr. King — who had been hated pretty roundly when he was alive — and put his non-violence doctrines on a pedestal as the only right, true, and acceptable path to progress.

He believed that violent uprisings, while understandable, were not acceptable under his religious faith and wouldn’t “solve” anything. However, his movement also benefited from the more violent riots and “scarier” rival groups whose visible discontent with the status quo shocked many White Americans (or at least their policymakers) into action because they realized that the Black population wasn’t actually happy with their lot in life.

But the study discussed above also reveals another truth about the realities of strict adherence to non-violence. Yes, violent revolution results in needless deaths, but so does no revolution at all. Those who die needlessly in the latter case just die quietly and poor, instead of on the scaffold or in front of a firing squad.

In other words, as demonstrated in this study, people do die as a result of non-violent gradualist/incrementalist strategies. It’s just a different set of people. When you demand all resistance to fatal oppression be non-violent, you tell the oppressed to accept the interim cost instead of returning it. Hardline pacifism essentially externalizes the human costs that would be experienced in a violent social revolution or uprising back onto the oppressed people, all in the hope of a peaceful rectification of the situation. Which I bring up not necessarily to suggest that the other way is better than non-violence but rather to force acknowledgment of what strict non-violence really means.

Put yet another way: Since 1970, at least 2.7 million additional Black people have literally died quietly from poor health and mortality outcomes, relative to White people, just so we didn’t have to experience a violent social revolution to give everyone justice. And talk about “justice too long delayed is justice denied”

To make my point yet starker, let’s do some actual comparisons to some famous, semi-politically-motivated major revolutionary purges, genocides, and mass killings:

– French Reign of Terror: Less than 42,000 executed
– Russian Red Terror and Civil War purges: 50,000-2 million killed
– Rwandan Genocide: 500,000-1 million murdered
– Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge: 1-3 million executed, starved, or worked to death
– Armenian Genocide: 1.5 million death-marched or executed
– Soviet Ukrainian Holodomor: 2.4-7.5 million intentionally starved

So, perhaps it still pales in comparison with events on the level of the Holocaust (11 million murdered), but this point remains: Poor health outcomes have resulted in genocide-level “excess” death figures for Black America since 1970. Actual revolutionary terror waves intentionally ordered by radical governments have killed fewer people than the number of Black Americans that racist neglect and traumatic poverty have killed.

But yes, please, let’s discuss broken business windows and smashed police cars some more…


Previously from AFD:
“After Baltimore: In defense of riots” by De Ana
“After Ferguson: In defense of non-peaceful resistance” by Bill

Violent clashes in Burundi as the president clings to power

After Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his long-anticipated plans to seek a third term as president in violation of the post-civil war constitution’s term limits, deadly protests erupted this weekend. They have escalated rapidly after initial fatalities:

Gunfire was heard and streets were barricaded in parts of the capital, Bujumbura, in the third day of protests, witnesses told the BBC. Police are blocking about students in the second city, Gitega, from joining the demonstrations, residents said.

The protests are the biggest in Burundi since the civil war ended in 2005. The army and police have been deployed to quell the protests, which have been described by government officials as an insurrection.
[…]
BBC Burundi analyst Prime Ndikumagenge says the phone lines of private radio stations have been cut, a decision apparently taken by the authorities to prevent news of protests from spreading.

 
This may be the contagion some observers speculated might unfold after the uprising in Burkina Faso last October, when President Blaise Compaoré tried to extend his presidency in a similar fashion.

Flag of Burundi

Flag of Burundi

Burundi’s Army has been accused repeatedly of conducting extrajudicial mass executions of “rebels” and political opponents. Already, thousands of people have fled political persecution to neighboring countries in just a matter of months. Burundi also has a very low median age — half the population is younger than 17, according to the CIA World Factbook — and the President has essentially created child death squads by arming teenage members of his political party’s “youth wing.”

Burundi, which has the same colonially-fostered Hutu/Tutsi split as neighboring Rwanda, experienced a 12-year civil war beginning shortly before the Rwandan Genocide and continuing until 2005, despite repeated attempts to share power. The presidents of both countries were killed in a surface-to-air missile strike on their plane in 1994, in the incident which was widely seen as the trigger signal to initiate the genocide in Rwanda. However, the war in Burundi was already in progress at that point. Hundreds of thousands died before the 2005 peace deal.

It is interesting, however, to note that so far the armed forces have continued to respond to orders from President Nkurunziza. He is Hutu, and the armed forces are a mix of ex-rebel Hutus and the Tutsi regular troops from before the peace deal. In South Sudan, a merger of various ex-rebels from competing ethnic groups, which had been secured around the same time as the Burundi deal, basically broke down completely in December 2013 as certain factions obeyed the president and others the former vice-president, who had been sacked.

A separation of one’s own creation

Estonia has — quite vindictively — done an extremely poor job integrating the older generations of its large Russian-speaking population, which has unfortunately left them closely oriented toward Russia.

For example, Estonia could have provided extensive homegrown Russian-language television programming and instead limited it to 15 minutes per day, which left Russian state television across the border to fill the void, enthusiastically, with anti-Estonian propaganda. Younger Russian Estonians, born shortly before or some time after the Soviet breakup, are somewhat better integrated but only by virtue of cultural assimilation out of necessity, which fosters its own kind of resentments.

These failures, not small military strengths, is what has left the Baltic States vulnerable to Russian intimidation and threats.



 
In related news (pictured above and below), about two weeks ago, the United States rolled a large military convoy with great deliberation 1,100 miles across Poland and 5 other countries, in a show of support to NATO members or a show of force against Russia. NYT:

By the time it is finished, Operation Dragoon Ride, which began a week ago in the Baltics and is due to conclude later this week, will be the longest such movement the United States Army has made across Europe since Gen. George S. Patton diverted his Third Army to relieve Bastogne, Belgium, in 1944.

 

Operation Dragoon Ride, Eastern/Central Europe, Day 4. (Credit: US Army)

Operation Dragoon Ride, Eastern/Central Europe, Day 4. (Credit: US Army)


Also from Arsenal For Democracy on this topic

“Lithuania reactivates interwar paramilitary”
“Poland readies itself to go deep, if necessary”

Black Wall Street: We did it by ourselves and were punished.

When Black people and other People of Color speak out about the lack of representation for them in any medium there is usually a lot of pushback. Replies range from pointing to the one example of non-White representation they can find, to the more extreme and exclusionary “If you want to be represented, make it yourself!” The latter is an interesting piece of advice, but it’s entirely too simple.

Moreover, it ignores the fact that Black people have for many years have been doing just that, only to then be punished for it. Throughout history, in instances where Black people in the U.S. tried to make their own place in society, they were met with extreme opposition.

In Memphis TN in 1889, because the success of his grocery store was taking Black customers away from the competing White-owned grocery across the street, Thomas Moss was lynched.

In 1923, the town of Rosewood FL, a primarily Black town, was destroyed after a rumor was spread that the town was housing an escaped Black prisoner. In both cases, and in many other instances of lynchings or any attack on Black communities, the Black victims were attacked because White people were uncomfortable with the idea of Black Success — or even Black Self-Esteem and Assuredness.

The bombing of Black Wall Street (otherwise known as the Tulsa Race Riot) is a textbook example of the results of this discomfort. In the early 1900s, the city of Tulsa began to grow at a rapid pace. By 1921, just after the first world war, the city was already going through its second oil boom.

The Black neighborhood of Greenwood, although not oil-rich, was prospering in its own right. Segregation meant that the Black residents could not patronize most place outside of the area, but they could own businesses, homes, and more in Greenwood. They did so, establishing good businesses by the hundreds. The neighborhood flourished and became a center of Black affluence, earning it the nickname “Black Wall Street.”

Then, predictably, in May 1921, there was a crime reported. A young White woman was assaulted, and the assailant was said to be a young Black man. The young man under suspicion was arrested and, shortly after the rumors of the events spread, a mob of angry and armed white men decided to take matters into their own hands. They were met by a counter-mob, of Black men, and then the confrontation escalated when shooting broke out.

By the next morning, on June 1, Greenwood had been burned almost to the ground, and up to 300 people were killed. Residents even reported that planes had gone over the neighborhood and dropped crude bombs on businesses and residential buildings. Troops were deployed to try to restore order, but it was too late. The destruction left many of the residents homeless and living in tents for almost a year.

Postcard in the collection of McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, showing the fires the day after the destruction of Black Wall Street. (via Wikimedia)

Postcard in the collection of McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa, showing the fires the day after the destruction of Black Wall Street. (via Wikimedia)

There is a lot of speculation on what the actual motivation behind the attack was. Although it was initially stated that it was because of the alleged (and later dismissed) attack of the young White woman, there was already high racial tension before then. White residents’ membership in The Ku Klux Klan had grown rapidly in the few years before the attack, and many of the White people in the Tulsa neighborhoods just outside of Greenwood were poor.

Seeing the neighborhood just next door doing so well probably made the already existing tension even worse. The initial accusation of an assault on a White woman by a Black man was a common trope in, and racist excuse for, lynchings or attacks on Black neighborhoods that were doing well economically in the South.

Whatever the motives behind the attack were, this is still a horrendous moment in U.S. history. Although the neighborhood was able to eventually rebuild itself over the next five years, it still goes to show that even when Black people are able to build their own communities, there is still the threat of people on the outside destroying everything.

Maybe instead of the emphasis just being on Black people “making their own” there could be an equal emphasis placed on others not destroying what we do make.

Ceasefire deal reached in northern Mali

Just four days of UN-backed talks in Algeria between the Malian government and ethnically-motivated separatists resulted in an immediate ceasefire in northern Mali.

Islamist rebels, however, did not participate in talks or agree to the deal:

The six groups that signed the ceasefire were mostly Tuareg but also included Arab organisations. Signatories included the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA). They did not include groups linked to Al-Qaeda which had fought alongside the MNLA to occupy northern Mali for more than nine months before being ousted in 2013 by French and Malian troops.

 
This ceasefire is the latest stage in winding down — or at least once again pausing — the ongoing, simmering conflict that brought down the Malian government in the south in 2012, led to the proclamation of an (unrecognized) independent state in the north, and brought a French military intervention force into the country in early 2013.

It’s the just the latest step in the seemingly unresolvable north-south resource division conflict that has raged for a century, but which had escalated sharply with the fall of the Qaddafi regime in nearby Libya. The latter had been providing mercenary employment to many jobless, impoverished young men from northern Mali and the Arab Spring ended that arrangement. Additional concerns, such as global warming’s contributions to desertification and drought conditions, also caused a spike in discontent.

The Qaeda-aligned groups who, unsurprisingly, did not participate in the ceasefire deal include a mix of foreign and local fighters. They are likely to continue making trouble in the area for some time to come, unless they head to other pastures, such as the emerging Libyan Civil War and the ISIS satellite provinces rising there.

It’s also unclear how long a ceasefire or peace can endure in northern Mali before breaking down once more, without a wider solution to poverty and resource concerns for the arid, poor region.

As I argued during the 2013 French intervention, the West should seriously consider making a significant anti-poverty investment in northern Mali and other parts of the Sahel, in the tradition of the Marshall Plan, instead of relying on militarized governments and the occasional European or American fighter jet squadron to “fix” these crises briefly.