The United States Congress, Thursday March 13, 2008.
Dr. M. HOSSEINBOR
A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia and Author of Iran and Its Nationalities: The Case of Baluch Nationalism, Pakistani Adab Publications, 2000.
Oppression of Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Iran: The Case of Baluch and Baluchistan
It is a great honor to appear before you to present the case of the Iranian Baluch, one of the most persecuted, oppressed, and neglected peoples of the Middle East. On behalf of over 5 million Baluch people of Iran, I would like to thank the United States Congress, the US Government, the Leadership Council for Human Rights and all those who helped organize this hearing.
Baluch and Baluchistan: A historical Perspective
Iran is a heterogeneous state comprised of six distinct nationalities including Arabs, Baluch, Kurds, Persians, Turks, and Turkmens. Although there are no accurate data as to the population of Iran’s various national groups, the recent scholarly literature tends to agree that non-Persians are a majority comprising at least 55 percent of Iran’s estimated population of 60 millions. The five non-Persian nationalities have one other important feature in common: They live along the state’s international borders, which cut across their ethnic homelands, thus dividing them between two or three states.
Divided among Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, Baluchistan-meaning the Baluch homeland- covers more than 240,000 square miles with a coastline stretching 1000 miles from the Strait of Hormuz to Karachi in Pakistan. Under the British Empire, the land was divided into three parts. The Goldsmid Line drawn in 1871 and demarcated in 1896 gave Western Baluchistan to Persia, while retaining the larger eastern part for British India. The Durand Line, drawn also by the British in 1894, further divided Baluchistan between the British India and Afghanistan, assigning to the latter a portion of Northern Baluchistan.
The Iranian Baluchistan was invaded and incorporated into Iran by Reza Shah, the founder of Pahlavi Dynasty, in 1928. As the dominant power in the region at the time, the British supported Reza Shah’s annexation of Baluchistan in order to strengthen Iran as buffer state against Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Today, Iranian Baluchistan is divided into three parts to expedite its integration and assimilation into Iran. The largest part constitutes the “Province of Seistan and Baluchistan”. It covers more than 181,578 square kilometers, which is in itself the largest province in Iran. The second part of Iranian Baluchistan is officially known as the Province of Hormuzgan for its location on the Strait of Hormuz. The third and northern part of Iranian Baluchistan is included in the neighboring Persian-speaking Provinces of Kerman and Khorasan. All three parts combined cover around 280,000 square kilometers.
In addition to their ancestral homeland Baluchistan, Baluch speak their own language called Baluchi, an ancient Indo-European language, have their distinct culture, share a common history, and adhere to Sunni Islam while Persians follow Shi’ate Islam, the official state religion of the ruling clerics. As a result, Baluch have been subject of constant ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic discrimination and political and military repression ever since their forceful incorporation into Iran in 1928. In turn, the Baluch have been striving to preserve their language and culture and to secure a degree of self-rule within a secular, democratic, and federal Iran.
The Human Rights Violations and Discrimination against the Baluch and Sunnis
Both Iranian constitutions of 1906 and 1979 failed to recognize the non-Persian national groups or to protect their political and cultural self-rule in their own respective homelands. Consequently, the Baluch and other non-Persian groups have been marginalized and subjected under both monarchial and clerical regimes to blatant discrimination in all spheres of their daily lives. The discrimination is institutionalized and systematic and is geared to the ongoing state policies of Persianization of non-Persian nationalities and conversion of Sunnis, Baha’is, and other religious minorities to shi’ism.
Political Discrimination and Oppression
The core policy of the Persian –dominated governments, both clerical and monarchial, has been to forcefully assimilate or Persianize Baluch and other non-Persian nationalities. In this context, the current clerical regime like its predecessor, refers to all six nationalities comprising Iran- namely, Arabs, Baluch, Kurds, Persians, Turks, and Turkmen’s- as constituting a single nation called Millat-e Iran or the “the nation of Iran”. As embodied, interpreted, and implemented in the first Iranian Constitution of 1906 as well as in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of 1979, the concept of “Millat-e Iran” is a manifestation of Persian nationalism which is equated with Iranian nationalism.
Aside from its theocratic color and content, “the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran” hardly differs from the Constitution of 1906 in respect to preserving the unitary state system in the country. Like its predecessor, the new constitution ruled out the question of autonomy or any other form of recognition of national, cultural, and religious rights of non-Persian nationalities. It declared in Article 12 that “the official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelve Ja’fari School of Thought and this principle shall remain eternally immutable”. Similarly, Article 15 recognized Persian as the official state language, while prohibiting the use of non-Persian languages in schools, offices, or for any other official use in their respective homelands.
Moreover, the rights of Baluch and Iranian Sunnis in general were further restricted by the provision of Article 115, which excluded Sunnis from holding the office of the Presidency of the Republic, thus reducing Baluch and Sunnis to the status of second-class citizens. In addition, the provision of Vilayat-e Faghih (governance of religious jurist) in Article 5 had no base in the tenets of the Sunni branch of Islam and as such it was not acceptable to Sunnis. According to Article 5, the Valii-e Faghih or governing jurist, who is not elected, is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and has ultimate authority over all the three branches of the government. As the non-elected supreme leader, he is empowered to dismiss the elected president, to dissolve the parliament, and to remove at will the supposedly independent judicial authorities. Obviously, the concentration of such broad and unchecked powers in the hands of one unelected individual has been strongly opposed by Baluch and other national groups as well as by secular opposition.
In addition, the Baluch have been totally excluded from all the decision-making positions at local, provincial, and central government levels. Almost all provincial governors, city mayors, and the heads of all provincial departments are non- Baluch appointed by the central government. The Baluch and Sunnis were never represented in decision making positions in central government. No Baluch or Sunni ever served as a minister of cabinet or as an ambassador. Even the number of the Baluch in the provincial administration is hardly more than five percent of the total civil servants.
Similarly, the Baluch-speaking areas have been arbitrarily divided administratively into three parts to expedite the Baluch assimilation in accordance with the clerical government’s Persianisation and Shiazation policies as mentioned earlier. This policy towards the Baluch is in no way distinct or different from that pursued toward other non-Persian national groups including Arabs, Kurds, Turks, and Turkmen’s. The differences, if any, are merely in degree not in kind. Although all these national groups possess historically defined geographic homelands, none has been constituted or recognized as a separate administrative unit let alone as a self-autonomous province. Each ethnic region or homeland has been arbitrarily divided into several parts and incorporated in different provinces at different times. Like Baluchistan, Kurdistan and Azerbaijan have been arbitrarily divided into several parts to facilitate their Persianization and to prevent any threat that may arise if Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, or Baluchistan were reconstituted to incorporate all parts of their respective historical homelands.
The use of Baluchi language, Baluchi schools, and Baluchi publications have been strictly prohibited even in their own homeland Baluchistan. That is also the case with other non-Persian languages. Only Persian history is taught as “Iranian’ history, never the history of Baluch or other national groups. No cultural institutions or activities are tolerated among the Baluch or other non-Persians. Even the Iranian census data do not reflect the nature of its ethnic heterogeneity. Instead, it uses religious designation to emphasize Muslim homogeneity and to distort the multi-ethnic nature of the country.
Among many instances of cultural oppression against the Baluch was the arrest of six members of the Voice of Justice of the Young People’s Society, a Baluch cultural association registered under Iranian law, in early May 2007. This NGO was primarily involved in organizing concerts, arts exhibitions, and educational courses for young Baluch. Subsequently, the head of the organization, Mr. Ya’qub Mehrnehad, a student, Journalist and civil activist, was tried in secret and convicted to death for an unknown offence in early February 2008. He has allegedly been tortured. He is currently on death row without access to his family members or a lawyer. His brother, Ibrahim Mehrnehad, is also in jail and has been also denied access to his family or to a lawyer.
Iranian Baluchistan is one of the poorest, least developed, and neglected provinces in Iran. According to the UN Common Country Assessment for Iran ( www.undp.org.ir/reports/npd/CCA.pdf ), Baluchistan has the worst indicators among Iranian provinces for life expectancy, school enrollment, adult literacy, infant mortality, and access to drinking water and sanitation. All major economic activities are concentrated in central Iran where the dominant Persians live. Although Baluchistan is known to be rich in minerals including gas, oil, gold, and marine resources, the province is characterized as the “forgotten land”, implying a prolonged economic and social neglect. In spite of the province’s vast resources, there are no major industries in Baluchistan, the Baluch have no control over their resources, and have no say in running Baluchistan’s economy. Literally speaking, the land is being looted by Baluchistan’s new colonial masters in Iran and Pakistan.
The Baluch’s lack of control over their resources is the main cause of underdevelopment of Baluchistan. As a result, there is a growing economic and social gap between Baluch and Persian-dominated regions of Iran, a fact that makes Iran a prime example of uneven development in the world. Under both monarchial and clerical governments, most of the development expenditures in the province were and are geared towards the expansion of the military-related infrastructure such as roads, military bases, and facilities serving Persian bureaucrats and settlers, thus hardly benefiting the Baluch masses. In addition, as far as non-military projects are concerned, they are planned behind closed doors in Tehran, due to the highly centralized nature of economic planning in Iran, and implemented through the Persian-controlled provincial bureaucracy. The needs and wants of the Baluch population are not taken into consideration because the Baluch are not represented in economic and political decisions at the provincial level, let alone at the national level.
Overwhelming majority of the Baluch adhere to Sunni school of Islam as are Kurds, Turkmens, people of Talesh region in the Gilan Province along the Caspian Sea, Persian-speaking regions of Khorasan Province bordering Afghanistan, and the population of southern coasts and islands in the Persian Gulf. Together, the Iranian Sunnis constitute more than a quarter of Iran’s estimated population of 60 millions. In spite of its claim to the leadership of the Islamic world, the Islamic Republic of Iran has subjected its Sunni population to religious discrimination and, in some instances, to forceful conversion to Shi’ism. As a matter of fact, the Sunnis have not been allowed to build a mosque in Tehran where several million Sunnis live. This is in spite of the clerical regime’s claim for leadership of the Islamic world. If fellow Muslims are treated so harshly by the Islamic Republic, the fate of Baha’is and other non-Muslim religious minorities should be of great concern to international community.
Numerous Sunni clerics from Baluchistan, Kurdistan, Turkmen Sahra and other Sunni regions have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and assassinated. As documented by Amnesty International in its report cited above, “A number of Baluchis, including Sunni clerics, have been killed in suspicious circumstances both in Iran and Abroad. Similar suspicious deaths of members of other religious minorities or of those opposed to the Iranian authorities point to a pattern of extrajudicial executions by the Iranian authorities”. The said report names only few of the victims including moulavi (religious title used by Sunni clerics) Abdolmalek Molaazadeh, Moulavi Abdolnasser Jamshid Zahi, Moulavi Ahmad Sayyad, and Moulavi Aman Naroui. The author personally knew Moulavi Habibullah Hosseinbor who was summoned to the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence in 1984 when he disappeared. Since then, no one ever heard from him and it is believed that he died under torture. Hundreds if not thousands members of the opposition groups and minorities have suffered a similar fate.
A practice widely used to discriminate against Baluch and other minorities is Gozinesh meaning selection, an ideological test requiring applicants to universities and candidates for government jobs to demonstrate allegiance to Shia Islam and the Islamic Republic of Iran including the concept of Vilayat-e Faghih (Governance of Relious Jurist), a concept not adhered to by Sunnis. This practice has been used to exclude Baluch from admission to universities or employment by government ever since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. As observed by Amnesty International in its report titled Iran: Human Right Abuses Against the Baluchi Minority, dated September 17, 2007, “ In law and practice, this process (i.e. Gozinesh) impairs- on grounds of political opinion, previous political affiliation or support or religious affiliation-equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation for all those who seek employment in the public and parastatal sector ( such as the bonyads) and, reportedly, in some instances in parts of private sector.”
Oppression of Ethnic and Religious Minorities in Iran: The Case of Baluch and Baluchistan Dr. H. Hosseinbor
Film: Iran Working Group, congressional hearing on human rightsVOA
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