Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Nationalities Issue in Iran and the Prospects for

Friday, June 02, 2006
By Abdulla Mohtadi

Abdullah Mohtadi is the Secretary General of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, one of the major Kurdish political movements in Iranian Kurdistan. The following speech was delivered by Mr. Mohtadi at the “Road to Democracy: Full Political and Human Rights in Iran” conference, which occurred on 30 May at the Russell Office Building of the US Senate in Washington, DC.
Iran is a vast country comprised of a wide range of nationalities and cultures. The main nationalities in Iran, namely Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, and Turkmens, each have their own unique language and culture and make up over 50% of the population in the country. In that sense, they are not minorities despite being usually referred to as such. In our view, the acceptance of pluralism in Iran without acknowledging this diversity and incorporating the various nationalities into the governance of the country is meaningless. By the same token, institutionalizing democracy and bringing stability to Iran is impossible without a resolution of the nationalities issue. That is why we, the nationalities of Iran, have gathered together in the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran. The Congress of Nationalities supports the removal of the Islamic Republic to create a secular, democratic, and federal Iran.

In Iran, the Kurds make up about 10 million of the population and mainly reside in four provinces in western and northwestern Iran. With a long history of fighting for their liberation, Kurds have been at the forefront of struggle against the Islamic regime now for more than a quarter of a century. But Kurds are not alone any more. We are witnessing a new wave of national awakening and a deep dissatisfaction among all of the nationalities in Iran. The Kurdish uprising in the last summer, the Arab demonstrations in Ahwaz last year, and, most recently, the unrest in Baluchistan and the widespread demonstrations among Azeris in the past few weeks are some of the examples of this dissatisfaction and a sign of what we should expect in the future.

The Islamic regime, as always, tries to tarnish these deep rooted demands and protests by claiming that they are provoked or even invented by foreign forces. This, in turn, has been used as a justification for repression of those movements by any means possible including massive military operations and the arrest, torture, and execution of dissidents. But the root of these movements lies simply in the denial of economic, political, and cultural rights of those nationalities. In this sense, if Iran is to be a democratic country, it has to have decentralized and federal government.

One criticism against federalism is that it could lead to the disintegration of Iran. Quite the opposite is true. Understanding and acknowledging the nationalities issue and trying to find a democratic solution for it is not and can never be a threat to the integrity of Iran. What threatens Iran with disintegration is the denial of the existence of nationalities and thus the denial of their rights. It is the policy of discrimination and repression that causes frustration and diminishes the desire for coexistence, whereas forming a democratic system based on mutual respect, power sharing, and inclusion bridges the differences between various ethnic groups, gives them a valuable stake in their country and government, and consolidates unity and solidarity among all Iranians irrespective of their of language, race, ethnic origin, religion and political beliefs. And that is exactly what we, as Kurds and as the Congress of Nationalities, are advocating – a democratic, federal Iran where the rights of different nationalities are attended to. This is the only way to keep Iran united and democratic at the same time. In addition, the Iraq experience and the role the Kurds have been playing in preserving Iraq’s unity is a good example of how baseless this criticism is.

What gives the nationalities issue a greater importance is, in my belief, the role that they can play in the overall democratic movement in Iran. To give you an example, let me point to the role the Kurds and Kurdish movement has played in Iran in the last quarter of a century. Kurdistan was the only part of Iran that remained secular during and after the revolution of 1978-79. While Iran became a haven for Ayatollahs, Kurdistan stood against them. While women in the rest of Iran were forced to go under the thick black veil, women in Kurdistan were finding their place in political and social life. In Tehran, mullahs were closing one newspaper after another. However, at the same time, Kurdistan was the hotspot of free media in the region. While the political, social, and cultural organizations and groups were getting dissolved and banned by the new Islamic regime, groups belonging to women, students, teachers, and workers were flourishing in Kurdistan. Kurdistan was the only region in Iran where the great majority voted against the establishment of the Islamic Republic in the so-called referendum of spring 1979. This was true for the whole period when Kurds ran their territory. When the regime attacked Kurdistan with full force, those gains were the main reason for mass resistance against the military assault there.

The point that I want to make is that Kurdish movement is a democratic and secular movement and it will stay that way. This is the case with other national movements in Iran. As the movement to end the religious dictatorship is gaining momentum, the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran, as it states in its constitution, strives to instill a true democracy in which all civic rights are fully respected, equality for women and freedom of press, expression, religion, and belief is honored, and a friendly relationship with the neighbors and the world is maintained. Unfortunately, the significance of the nationalities and their role in bringing about democracy in Iran is not fully understood and is indeed neglected. One of our objectives in this gathering is to raise awareness about this important issue.

We, the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, believe that the Islamic regime in Iran supports national and international terrorism, fans Islamic fundamentalism, and has a deep desire to develop atomic weapons to spread its dictatorship to other nations in the region and wipe out any democratic movement in the Middle East. But the great majority of Iranians are deeply resentful of the regime and want to change it. What is lacking in this process is a strong united opposition that can lead the Iranians in getting rid of dictatorship and achieving democracy, pluralism, human rights, economic prosperity, and civic justice.

That is why we, the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, have put a tremendous amount of effort to create a united front in Kurdistan which we think strengthens the democratic movement in Kurdistan as well as in the whole of Iran. At the same time, we are for a broad democratic coalition of Iranian opposition groups. We believe that the Congress of Nationalities can be a major participant in this umbrella coalition.

To create this united opposition, two issues need to be addressed, or perhaps it is better to say that two obstacles need to be overcome, both of which are results of the policies of the Iranian regime. One is the baseless paranoia of Iran’s disintegration in the event of democratic change, and the other is the false assumption that the Islamic regime’s nuclear program is a matter of national pride for Iranians. The Iranian regime is using both of these issues to justify its policies and consolidate its grip to power. I have already spoken about the first issue and explained how a democratic solution for nationalities can in fact contribute to the unity of the country. Regarding the second issue, I should say that an atomic Islamic regime in Iran is not only a threat to the stability of the region but also a tool of division to keep the opposition in disarray. The opposition needs to realize that gaining atomic technology emboldens the regime to further pursue its ambition of regional dominance as well as an intensification of the regime’s internal repression against its own people. The genuine reason for the national pride of Iranians, I believe, is a free, democratic and prosperous Iran where the human dignity of its people and the human rights of everybody are fully respected.

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