05/16/2006, 00.00
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Iran uses repression to counter minority grievances

by Dariush Mirzai

Millions of Arabs, Kurds and Baluchi people do not enjoy cultural recognition, and they must put up with a strong presence of army, police and secret services. The authorities level accusations against the USA, Great Britain and Israel but ignore frustrations and human rights violations at home.

Teheran (AsiaNews) – Repression: this is how Iran is responding to the emergency posed by its vast minorities. Under its religious profile, Shiite Islam is the State religion: getting the permission to build a Sunnite mosque at times can be as difficult as building a church. And the census makes no distinction between Shiite and Sunni Muslims; it is only Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians who are considered to be minorities.

From an ethnic and cultural viewpoint, the Azeri are the largest minority: 20 million out of 70 million residents. They are Shiites and can identify with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Other minorities are Sunni: they do not enjoy any cultural recognition and complain of discrimination: they are Arabs, Kurds and Baluchi people and they live close to the borders with countries in a state of war, where drug trafficking feeds violence and poverty. In these outlying areas, state investments are rare and unemployment is more marked than elsewhere, as are illiteracy and other social ills.

In the east, close to Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is the Sistan-Baluchestan province, where "Jundallah", an extremist Sunni group, regularly carries out terrorist actions and goes so far as to threaten Sunni religious authorities, accused of cooperating too much with the State. On 14 May, Askandar Moemeni, Iranian police chief, broke the news about the murder of 12 people near the Kerman-Bam highway. He accused Jundallah. The deputy governor of Sistan-Baluchestan said six "rebels" were killed by the security forces; they formed part of a group of 15 to 20 militants dressed in police uniform. The Baluchi people add up to 1.4 million, and are mostly of the Sunni Hanafite school.

Iranian Kurds (5-8 million, 7% of the population) live to the west, near Iraq. They are also Sunnis. On 8 May, in the city of Kermanshah (250 km from Baghdad), two blasts injured six people at the headquarters of the governor and the Chamber of Commerce. Kurds have been charged with carrying out the attacks. This ethnic group is subjected to repression when it holds protests and the authorities at times even use military means to suppress dissent, like artillery fire against villages near the border, where the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party, held by Turkey, the USA and others to be a terrorist organization) is charged with having operational bases. But there is also a rival Kurdish party, the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) that at times attacks Iranian targets from Iraq.

To the south-west, still on the border with Iraq, there is the "Arab" province of Khuzestan. This place too is characterized by violence, repression and opposition between the Shiite state and the Sunni minority. At the beginning of May, a "Wahabite sheikh" was arrested and accused of being the instigator, if not the organizer, of rallies and bomb attacks. This region, inhabited by two million Arabs, possesses 80% of hydrocarbon resources.  So the "Guardians of the Revolution" concentrate on control and repression of this part of the country: a new military base has been established in Abu al-Fadl.

What do the Arabs (two million) want? First of all, better public services and an end to socio-economic discrimination against their minority.

Iran accuses the United States, England or Israel of supporting these rebel groups but it does not admit to the deep roots of this violence: frustrations linked to discrimination, arising from a lack of respect for human rights and a rule of law. For the moment, Iran is reacting to the emergency, reinforcing its Secret Services and resorting to repression. The governors of these provinces have been replaced by men in the confidence of Ahmadinejad and the regime. The Interior Affairs Minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, yesterday mentioned the problems of arms and illegal immigrants, once again refusing to recognise that there is real cultural diversity in Iran (50% are not "Persians"), as well as a major problem of discrimination against minorities.

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