Iran’s name is often associated with the Persian ethnicity together with the revolution in 1979, when the Shah regime was overthrown, Khomeini came to power, launched the Islamic Republic and adopted what is known as “exporting the revolution.” However, the reality of the Iranian demographic situation gives a different picture to that view, especially with the great ethnic diversity in Iran.
In this report, MENA Research and Study Centre presents “Iran Insider”, the issue of ethnicities and demographic pluralism in Iran and its effects on the political situation, especially regarding the existing republican system.
Persians are a plurality not a majority
One of the things that many are ignorant of is that Iran, in its current geographical form, is not considered a Persian country at all.The World Fact Book, published by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), reveals that the percentage of ethnic Persians in Iran reaches only 51 percent of the population, contrary to what is circulated by the Iranian regime.
“In practice, the Persian ethnicity is concentrated in the central region of Iran, and the capital is Tehran, while other ethnic minorities are spread on the outskirts, which gifted the Persian character, in addition to the policies of the current regime, with Persian as the official language in the country.” Milad Hedayati, an Iranian activist added to MENA.
He also pointed out that it will be a surprise to some to learn that the Persians are part of the current Iranian regime, which is in fact composed of a mixture of several minorities, including Turkmen, Azerbaijanis and Arabs.
Hedayati explained that the current regime includes a Persian majority within its group of officials, but since 1979 the actual leadership has not been fully in their hands.
“According to the current system, the actual power is in the hands of the Wali al-Faqih and this is the position that is followed by two personalities, the first is Khomeini, who is of Indian origin, and the second is Ali Khamenei, who is of Turkmen origin, and the research into the origins of some of the leading figures in the system leads to ethnicities other than Farsi, like Ali Shamkhani of Arab descent from Ahwaz region” he added.
According to some historical references, the original home of Khomeini, whose full name is Ruhollah bin Mustafa bin Ahmed al-Musawi, is the kingdom of Udah, located in northern India, which was ruled by a Shiite of Persian origin.
It is also noteworthy that Shamkhani has held several military and security positions, including Secretary General of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Minister of Defense and Commander of the Naval Force.
And to understand the nature of the Iranian regime, Hossam Yusuf, a researcher in Middle Eastearn affairs, points out that the system is actually ethnically divided, in which the Persian ethnicity represents the largest number of officials, especially in military positions, specifically within the Revolutionary Guard Institution, while some other positions go to a group of ethnic minorities, creating a balance within the institution of government, pointing out that this balance has adopted two ideas: Persian nationalism and Shiite sectarianism have both enabled two non-Persian men to rule the country for 40 years.
“The Iranian regime can be likened to its Syrian ally, based on the idea of Arabism and the Arab issue and nationalist currents, in addition to giving it al-Alawite sectarianism over it, especially since some sources and information indicate that Hafez al-Assad is of non-Arab origins, despite his claim on the issue of Arabism” he said.
Yusuf also indicated that Khomeini’s and Khamenei’s adoption of the Persian principle and the Persian project, as well as the religious project, was a cover that would tickle feelings and make them acceptable to Persian ethnicity.
Yusuf underlines that the consolidation of the Persian facade in Iran came from two aspects, the first the consolidation of the rules of the new regime in 1979 and the creation of principles that helped it ruling the country, and the second came from the leadership of the Persian officials at the front, such as Qassem Soleimani.
He also considered that the Iranian regime’s struggle in the region is primarily a strategic and economic conflict rather than an ethnic one, and that the Iranian regime, as it played the sectarian factor to interfere in the countries of the region, used the ethnic factor on the internal arena, especially since the majority of the Persian ethnic group believed in the Persian project.
As for the most important point regarding the ethnic link between the Iranian and Persian regime is almost the unity of the goals between them, which is the domination of the Arab East, whether for historical considerations and convictions or for political, economic and strategic imperatives, related to oil, water crossings and the general trade movement from the Arabian Gulf.
Ethnic minorities threaten political unity
According to The World Fact book, Iranian society as a whole is composed of several ethnic groups, the largest of which are Turkish Azerbaijanis, making up 24 percent, followed by Gilak and Mazandranian at 8 percent, followed by Kurds 7 percent, Arabs 3 percent, and other ethnicities accounting for 7 percent.
Another statistic, published by the Iranian researcher Youssef Azizi in his book “Kurds and the National Issue in Iran”, indicates that Arabs make up more than 7.7 percent of Iranians, while Kurds make up 10 percent of the country’s population.
Here, the activist Hedayati notes that the presence of a mixture of minorities in the ruling Iranian regime does not mean that their rights are preserved and that they feel belonging to the country.
He also pointed out that, on the contrary, most of those minorities bear separatist tendencies due to the policies of the current regime at the internal level, which the Persians oppose, just like any dictatorial regime in the world that only believes in its loyalists, its supporters, and those in its circles.
Hedayati also doubts the aforementioned statistics about ethnicities in Iran, especially for the Turks, their percentage may reach 30 percent, pointing out that the percentage of Kurds and Arabs is also greater than the mentioned.
As for Yusuf, he indicates that the demographic map of present-day Iran shows that it is a union of several ethnic countries.
Yusuf also underlined that the reality of the situation in Iran indicates that this union is threatened by division into at least six states, especially in light of the armed activity of these ethnicities. In the forefront Arabs in Ahwaz, Kurds in Kurdistan, Azerbaijanis in East Azerbaijan, Ardabil and Zanjan, in addition to the Baloch, who represent a strong separatist movement from Iran, demanding either full independence or joining Pakistan, which the movement considers an extension of it.
It is noteworthy that the first actual separatist attempts against Iran took place in the Kurdish city of Mahabad during the Second World War II, led by Qadi Muhammad, and lasted for 11 months before the Iranian forces invaded it at that time and executed members of the Mahabad government.
During the past four decades, Iran has witnessed several armed uprisings, the largest in the regions of Ahwaz and Kurdistan, amid calls for secession from Iran and the establishment of special ethnic states.
How did Iran reach its current form?
The study of the multiplicity of ethnicities in Iran in general can start in the year 1813, when it was called Persia, and at that time and despite its name, the country included several lands that had nothing to do with the Persians and included different ethnicities that were included under the banner of Persian families.
Among the lands are what is known today as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, which forced the Qajar family of Persian origins, ruled by Persia at that time, to accept their separation from the country in 1813, under pressure from Britain, before Persia signed the “Treaty of Paris” in 1858. Also, according to which the State of Persia at the time recognized the independence of Afghanistan in the days of the rule of Nasir al-Din Shah.
Historical sources also indicate that the British position at that time enabled Persia, according to what it was called at that time, to retake the north of the country, which Russia was controlling, especially after Britain sent General Edmund Ironside, as the new commander of the British forces there, who was the godfather of understanding with Russia.
For his part, Lord Curzon, who was Britain’s foreign minister in 1919, indicates in his book “Persia and the Persian Question” that preserving Iran’s borders at that time represented a strategic interest for his country to confront the Russian tide in Asia, and to preserve the empire. The British, especially since Britain at that time did not have enough soldiers to defend a large country like Iran.
During World War I, Iran was subjected by two invasions of Russia and Britain, despite its standing on neutrality, which brought it into the great-power struggles, where the northern part was subject to Russian influence and the southeastern part to British influence.
In the 1920s and with the establishment of the Pahlavi state by “Reza Khan”, the first steps for Iran to reach its current form and its current name were after “Khan” issued a decree in 1925, changing the name of the country to Iran instead of Persia, relying on centralization rule in the Persian-majority capital, Tehran, in exchange for limiting the dominance of tribal and clan sheikhs.
In April of the same year, Iranian forces stormed the Al-Ahwaz region with an ethnic Arab majority, according to the opposition and the Ahwazi liberation forces, was subjected to a series of measures that would obliterate the Arab identity in it by preventing the use of the Arabic language and dress and holding ethnic celebrations, which also contributed to drawing the map of Iran that exists now.
According to Karen Armstrong, writer and researcher, Khan’s rule was purely totalitarian and dictatorial, which sparked the beginning of protests against him. Some of them were armed, which continued until his overthrow in 1941, after a Russian-British military intervention, due to his sympathetic stance towards Adolf Hitler the German dictator.
With the end of World War II, Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, who had assumed power in succession to his father Reza Khan Pahlavi, through his alliance with the West, was able to prevent the disintegration of the country with the escalation of ethnic separatism, principally among the Kurds, Arabs and Azerbaijanis, especially after the rise of The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, the Iranian government managed to preserve the predominantly non-Persian regions.
Iranian children’s journey to the world of criminality in the security services
Basij, or the institution of terror as Iranians know it, especially since it is the name that has been associated in their minds with violence, murder and blood soaked hands, how can they not be? They are the Iranian regime’s guard, praising and protecting the supreme leader of its revolution among the enemies of the interior, and the tails of US and global American Zionist imperialism, lurking in the Islamic revolution, as the regime describes them.
The importance of Basij, the internal security forces, which are supervised by a complex system, consisting of security leaders, clerics and military experts, comes from being the closest link of the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, and often assigned special tasks related to matters affecting the security and safety of the regime, especially as it possesses the powers to kill, arrest and use excessive violence without control or oversight, raising a fundamental question about what this institution and the agenda its members carry, to make them monsters, considering murder as an important part of their work and livelihood.
From the start, who were the “Basij” elements?
The Iranian opposition activist Mortada Rajaei, a pseudonym, indicated in his interview with MENA Research and Study Center that the elements of Basij are chosen very carefully, being of young ages, with the Iranian authorities prepare them ideologically on the basis of blind obedience to the Supreme Leader, conducted by hard-line clerics, describing that stage as the most important stage in preparing the elements of the establishment, considered as the most powerful arm of the Supreme Leader of the Revolution at the internal security level.
“During this stage, the element is convinced that the supreme leader’s word is from the word of God, and that hearing it is a legitimate duty, and violating it is a great sin, even if an order is issued to the element to kill his parents, then the element must be executed without objection or hesitation, hence the barbarity and cruel hearts of this segment of the system’s clients can be explained.” Rajaei said.
“Basij is formed in such a way that it is difficult to witness any coups against the regime or non-compliance with the orders of the supreme leader, especially since this doctrine, -i.e. the subordination of the supreme leader and the guardianship to the family of the house – is imbibed by the elements from a young age.” Rajaei added.
In addition, Rajaei explained that after the ideological preparation or brainwashing course, the elements go through military and security training courses.
“After the regime cultivates loyalty and blind obedience to it, it begins to prepare them to be monsters and killers, through military and security exercises, and here begins the stage of violence and cruel hearts, and this explains the ability of the Basij element to kill with cold blood, whether with bullets, weapons, or even with sticks. It is no longer just a source of livelihood, but a path to the promised paradise.” Rajaei explained.
The most dangerous stage in the process of forming Iranian internal security, according to Rajaei, lies in the final stage, in which the elements have completed their training and it is time for them to demonstrate loyalty to the leadership, their right to be soldiers by launching them to suppress any protest movement or hostile movement within regime, no matter how small or large, especially in marginalized areas in the Kurdish and Arab regions, which the Iranian government views as a fifth column.
Ask who was an expert
As in the case of the security services that rule in dictatorial countries, the Basij institution is greatly ambiguous, to the point that many activists question the official statistics published by the government, whether in terms of number, tasks or powers, specifically with regard to the numbers and statistics concerning detainees, especially with the news of the existence of secret detention facilities belonging to the security forces in Iran, not disclosed publicly. They are the detention centers to which those described by the state as dangerous or enemies, and which are managed by influential figures in the Basij.
For his part, Rajaei emphasized that what is known about the “Basij” centers and what is most reliable is that they represent a house of terror for Iranians. Inside these detention centers there are all kinds of torture and criminality, the numbers of permitted killings are open and have no ceiling, as is the case, with rape and psychological torture, indicating that death is the most merciful that a person can receive inside.
“Contrary to ethics and human values, the more brutal the warden increases, the number of his victims increases, and the arts of his criminality against detainees are diversified, the closer he becomes to the supreme leader and proves absolute loyalty to him.” He added.
Rajaei also points out that no one can imagine what is happening inside those detention centers, not even those who were able to leave them, especially since the types of torture are also subject to the warden’s mood.
Ambiguity also increases about the security establishment, according to Rajai’s words, when talking about the number of Basij elements in Iran, pointing out that the declared number reaches a hundred thousand or a little more, while the actual number cannot be counted, especially since Basij has secret agents of British informants, and they are no less loyal and criminal than the declared elements.
“If we forgive the regime for the looted and squandered wealth, and if we forgive it for its victims, hunger and poverty, then how can we forgive it for what it did for whole generations, for turning children, who were supposed to be doctors, experts, or craftsmen, into criminals through its system, having nothing to do with humanity.”
Rajai indicated that this violation must be on top of the crimes when the regime is tried in front of a fair court.