In part one, of this major report about Iran we mentioned the so called 'Constitutional Revolution'. Ervand Abrahamian (1979) has provided an excellent picture of linguistic diversity during the Constitutional Revolution:
The geographical barriers were compounded often by linguistic differences. Persians, Bakhtiyaris, Qashqayis. Arabs, and Lurs lived in the Central Plateau. Small groups of Baluchis, Afshars, and Arabs were scattered in the southern deserts. Kurds, Lurs, Arabs, Afshars, and Mamesenis inhabited the western mountains. Azeris, Shahsavans, Kurds, together with scattered settlements of Armanians and Assyrians, lived in the northeastem districts. Gilakis, Taleshis, and Mazandaranis populated the Caspian provinces. Finally, Persians, Turkomans, Kurds, Shahsavans, Afshars, Timurs. Balushis, Tajiks, and Jamshids resided in the non-Eastern regions. Iran, thus, was a land of linguistic diversity. (1979, p. 389)
As expected, a Fars-centered ethnic nationalism failed to include in a democratic manner the non-Persian groups and nationalities within an emancipatory discourse. In spite of this, the non-Persian ethnic groups and their representatives in the parliament managed to insert in the constitutional text a very important article regarding the formation of "Anjomanha-ye Ayalati va Velayati" (the local and provincial councils). Although such councils were not permitted to take form, this clause served to affirm that non-Persian ethnic groups were fully aware of their ethnic and national identity and the rights to which their distinct identities entitled them vis-a-vis the dominant Persian group.
Peoples of various ethnic origins, such as the ancestors of contemporary Azeris, Kurds, Baluchs, Turkomans, Arabs, Gilaks, and others have lived in Iran for centuries. These diverse ethnic groups have always constituted the numerical majority in Iran, from ancient times up to present. However, the continuation of the Pahlavi regime's monolingual and monocultural agenda for Iran has brought the country to the brink of ethnic discontent and nationalistic tensions since 1925.
As we have seen, after the fall of Pahlavis, the Islamic Republic has continued to emphasize the importance of Shia Islam and the Persian language as the two tenets of Iranians ' national identity. However, the conventionally dominant view of a national identity based on the Persian language and Shia Islam is increasingly wearlng thin, particularly in the face of growing demands for the recognition of various ethnic. National, cultural, linguistic, and religious rights and freedoms. The current Islamic Republic's response to the growing challenge of diversity has been dismally inadequate. Moreover. the fall of the Soviet Union has culminated in the creation of a number of important nation-states such as Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in which the Azeri and Turkmeni languages have become official and national languages. The ruling elite in Iran has been using polemics such as the inadequacy of non-Persian languages to become languages of instruction, correspondence, etc. How can they explain this lame excuse now that these languages are the languages of instruction, learning, and teaching in neighboring countries?
There has never been a census in Iran based on language or ethnicity regarding the country's population composition. All the available figures and numbers alluding to the linguistic breakdown of Iranian society are based on secondary sources and unsubstantiated estimates. The latest national census conducted in 1996 showed Iran' s total population to be 60,055,488, of which 50.81 per cent were men and 49.19 percent women. According to this census. about 61 percent or 37 million of the population resided in urban areas and 39 percent or 23 million in rural areas, with a small percentage living as nomadic tribes. Of the total population, 39.56 percent were below the age of 15; 56.12 percent were in the 15-64 age group and 4.32 percent in the 65 and above age group. Life expectancy was 69 for women and 66 for men. Not surprisingly, the census indicated nothing about the diverse linguistic and ethnic backgrounds of Iran's peoples.
Among the various ethnic groups inhabiting Iran. there are no visible physical markers such as the skin color distinguishing different groups and individuals from one another. The diverse population iso however. distinguishable from one another through easily identifiable cultural characteristics such as language, religion, ethnic affiliation, and to some extent, geographical location.
The reformist president Mohammad Khatami, took notions of Aryan race' and 'true owner of Iran'
to new heights in recent years.
And politics of using the race card and belonging to the same 'Aryan race' slogan became major issues that Ardashir Mehrdad (2001) explored in an interview with Mostafa Hejri, a Kurdish activist and a former First Secretary to the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran.
A. Mehrdad: Since Khatami was elected as president there has been a shift in the official propaganda towards the Iranian nationalities. A discourse has emerged with clear racist nationalism at its core. It claims that Kurds are Aryans and of the same racial characteristics as the Fars. Not only does this viewpoint deny Kurdish claims for national distinction, but also it aims to put a barrier between them and other nations and thus weakens the national solidarity within Iran. What do you think? Indeed what are your views of the racial viewpoints on the national question?
M. Hejri: Given the discriminatory and racist politics of the Islamic Republic, it is no wonder that the Islamic government is playing the race card to seduce different nationalities away from pursuing their legitimate social, cultural, and national demands. President Khatami of Iran attempted to present a nationalistic image of himself among the Iranians. Like other sorts of Iranian nationalism, his nationalism is also deeply rooted in Aryanism, the Aryan-Persian ownership of the country, and eventually the supremacy of one Aryan ethnic group over others. Ethnicities like Kurdish, Baluchi, Luri, Gilaki and Mazandarani are looked at by the dominant group as speakers of Iranic languages. And from this linguistic definition the dominant group extrapolates a racial understanding in the sense that. if all these groups belong to the same language family, then they must be related racially as well. And from this categorization they propagate the absurd notion that as speakers of an Iranic language, these diverse ethnic/national groups are and ought to be the true owners of Iran. This line of argument may appeal to the ultra nationalist element amongst these otherwise marginalized communities. The majorities of people, however, do not buy into this absurdity and continue to struggle for their cultural and national rights. This is a fact to which the continuously fierce and bloody struggle of Kurdish community attests. The people of Kurdistan have sacrificed, and suffered, hugely. We have given tens of thousands of lives in these two decades. We have lost such personalities as Dr Ghasemlu and Dr Sharafkandi and many Kurdish militants. We know that approximately 5,000 pishmargehs from the KDP-I alone have been martyred. Hundreds of Kurdish freedom seekers are in the prisons of the Islamic Republic. If the Islamic Republic believed in the right of the Kurdish people there would have been no need for so much bloodshed and imprisonments. It is totally erroneous to believe that these achievements, and the democratic process, which have been obtained through the blood of committed people, is a present by this regime. The Islamic Republic is too weak to be able to give freedom to the people of Iran. I have no doubt that the people of Iran will get their freedom through their own efforts. There are many cultural associations. Books are now being translated into Kurdish and there are now writers who write in Kurdish. They are forever being arrested and tortured but they go on writing. (2001, pp. 3-4)
Amongst Iran' s various nationalities, perhaps the Kurdish nationality has been the most persistent and determined in its struggle for national, social, cultural, and political rights. Yet, by all accounts the Kurds are speakers of a language belonging to the Indo European linguistic family. If there were any truth to the claim of the dominant group that Iran belonged to the Aryan race.' then the language and nationality of the Kurds would have been accorded similar status as those of the Persians. However, the Kurds have been subjected to acts of assimilation, genocide, and cultural annihilation similar to the other nationalities-if not more so.
The forced Aryanization of various ethnic groups in the country has come to find its expression in the humiliation and marginalization of Iran's non-Persian peoples. Non Indo-European speaking nationalities and ethnic groups in Iran have been constantly attacked in the Persian literature for being subhuman savages, donkeys, bare-footed lizard eaters, and so forth. Echoing the goveming apparatuses. the majority of Farsi intellectuals along with the Farzi intelligentsia have advocated the notion that the Aryan race is the superior race in Iran and has therefore the exclusive right to role over all other nationalities and ethnic groups.
In January 1999, also more than 65 Azeri parliamentarians, writers and poets wrote an open letter to President Khatami of Iran. demanding that, among other things, the use of Azeri language in media as well as its teaching in schools and universities be permitted.
“All segments of our people's social life has been cut off from their mother tongue. Our radios, Our televisions, our press. Our wedding cards and obituaries, even our tombstones are talking in a language other than our mother tongue. It is a bitter fact that Iran is the only country in the world where the language of millions of people are absolutely discarded. (Qurtulush,1999, p.56)
In spite of hundreds more of these requests and demands, there has not been a single positive step taken on the part of government today, to address any of these legitimate concerns. The demands made by the marginalized communities illustrate the high importance that non-Persian groups attach to the use of their language in schools, universities, press, media, government and elsewhere.
In August 2004, a collective letter signed by over 100 Turkic speaking students of the city of Maragheh was sent to the office of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lran's current supreme, spiritual leader. Today (April 2, 2006) they still are not allowed to read and write in their mother tongue. The future looks even bleaker as far as their right to education in their language is concerned.
Even this year (2006) collective letters were written and signed by hundreds of students from such non-Farsi speaking areas as Tabriz, Orumiyeh, Zanjan, Hamadan, and even the capital- Tehran.
While the dominant order in Iran seek to colonize the identities, languages, cultures and histories of marginalized non-Aryan communities, these communities have started to resist acts of colonization and assimilation.
In conjunction with the writing of their indigenous/local histories today, this creative act of decolonization takes place not just by way writing of the history today, but also through the establishment of festivals, meetings, and rituals whose aim is to validate various historical events, heroes and figures that have often been appropriated by the dominant group. A standard example of this took place late summer 2005, when many Azerbejanis intended to attend a celebration in Babek Qalasi. President Ahmadinejad, in turn send the Basiji militia, plain-clothes secret service agents plus 40.000 of his Revolutionary Guard. They set up checkpoints where they confiscated the drivers' registration and car ownership documents of those Azeris who wanted to drive to the city. Furthermore they rented, before hand hotel rooms, hostels. and rental spaces where visitors were going to stay and they marked the open areas around the city center as spaces reserved for military exercises. They pitched large khaki tents in every available nook and cranny. Furthermore Ahmadinejad's current Governement dispatched groups of religious fanatics all dressed in black to mourn the death over 13 centuries ago of Hazrat-e Fatemeh, the daughter of the Prophet Mohammad.
From intimidation to psychological warfare to open arrest and detention, the 40.000 members of the Revolutionary Guard next would stop any pilgrims that made it into the city walls by walking there, all to prevent Azeris from participating in their festival. The dominant Fars-centric media and press furthermore censored any reporting about what took place, and of which we know because since this was the time when we started our investigation for this project, one of our two field researchers responsible for bringing this material together, was in the town at the time.
The dominant media, in Iran and particularly its extension abroad on the other hand is run by pseudo-intellectuals who dismiss the legitimate demands of non-Aryan or at least non-Persian communities as backward, traitorous, and reactionary demands. They brand the democratic struggle of these communities to restore their human rights as inspired by (outside) imperialist powers.
Meanwhile the Azeris, a distinct ethnic group numbering over 30 million, still have not a single school where they can read and write in their own language. They cannot contribute to works of history, literature, anthropology, sociology, self-expression, and self-identification.
Iranian racism openly identifies Iran as the land of these so-called Aryans who are in turn identified with the dominant Persian group, its language, culture, and identity. Through this racist process. Farsi -becomes the national language and the Persian culture gets identified as the national culture of an lranians; just as Iran' s history gets appropriated to the advantage of this so-called 'Aryan' race by excluding, distorting, and erasing the histories, stories. and narratives of other ethnic groups. This exclusion takes place in government-sponsored research projects schoolbooks, university texts, curriculum, allocation of funding, etc.
So in conclusion of this researchwe can say that:
1) Drawing on formerly Nazi racist views, the dominant discourse in Iran equates language with race and tries to fabricate Indo-European language ties for non-Farsi speaking peoples such as the Azeris in an attempt to show that over a thousand years ago they spoke an Indo-European language and are therefore Aryan. This kind of racist reconstruction of prehistoric (imaginary) languages is based on a fabricated history of origins, arrivals. etc., giving rise to the absurd idea about who has come earlier than whom. who has come first, who has come second, who has come last, whose language was spoken earlier than the others; and who, as a result, should have mastery over others. These kinds of non-sensical absurdities serve to create unnecessary competitions among various ethnic/national groups which lead to animosity, mistrust and lack of cooperation among them. while leaving them vulnerable to be colonized and oppressed by the dominant Persian group.
2) Using an anachronistic method of analysis, the hegemonic discourse in Iran offers purely racist and racialized interpretations of history, historical events, and classical texts. It interprets these ancient texts in accordance with racist theories and notions which were not in existence at the time these texts were written. The anachronistic reading of these texts becomes central to the maintenance of racist order in Iran in that such a reading legitimates the ownership of the country by a single race, just as it privileges a single language, history, culture, and identity. Anachronism gives a historical justification for contemporary oppressions, exclusions, and annihilations in Iran.
3) The dominant group plays the race card to create hostilities among marginalized communities. Thus Iranian racist order uses the coercive force of governing to marginalize, criminalize those who advocate the cause of minoritized communities, labeling them as traitors, secessionists, agents of foreign powers and so on. In so doing so it refuses, justice and fairness.
4) Given the recent treat by the current President of Iran to use atomic weapons, it did not come as a surprise when one of our two field researchers currently still near the border of Iran this week, reported about American funded activities in the area and was able to find out the same is happening now in four different border areas of Iran. Thus we decided to publish what we have, and move our fieldresearcher out.
years to realize that Hitler and Stalin meant what they said. A huge leap of
the imagination is now required to take the measure of Ahmadinejad.
The son of a blacksmith, he grew up in the provinces, and owes his career exclusively to the Islamic Revolution and membership in the Revolutionary Guards, the paramilitary body responsible for the regime’s security, the equivalent of the KGB or the SS. Personally he seems honest, a rare quality in Iran where corruption rules, among the clerics especially. At any rate, the ayatollahs parachuted him into the presidency to do their bidding, rather as Boris Yeltsin once promoted the then unknown Vladimir Putin. The analogy is not quite exact, since in Iran power is in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the president has the subsidiary role of ensuring the governing doctrine that "any action that weakens the sacred Islamic Republic is not permissible."
To someone of such limited background and experience, the outside world is an unknown quantity. Ahmadinejad’s religious beliefs are no doubt as sincere as they are narrow, and they prompt regular pronouncements in a messianic style: "The wave of the Islamic Revolution will soon reach the entire world." Or again, "Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi." In the middle of the 10th century, this imam went into hiding, supposedly in a well in Jamkaran, south of Teheran, but it is an article of Shi’ite faith that he will return and herald the End of Days.
Ahmadinejad and his cabinet signed a petition to the hidden imam, proceeded to Jamkaran, and threw it down the well for his attention. Similarly unself-conscious, he claimed that while speaking at the United Nations "I became surrounded by a green light," so that for 27 to 28 minutes all the attentive listeners did not blink - the chronological exactitude is a touch a thriller writer might envy. And he closed that speech by urging God to "hasten the emergence of Your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one who will fill the world with justice and peace."
Nobody projected the accompanying sense of impotence and humiliation more eloquently than Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, a Shi’ite from Persia now Iran. Muslims in his view were backward, but the blame for this lay with other people, and not themselves. Europeans had stolen a march on Islam unfairly. He wrote, "It is science that everywhere manifests its greatness and power. Ignorance had no alternative to prostrating itself humbly before science." For him, science was not the _expression of a civilisation, but something Muslims had only to copy as a means to recovering the supremacy that is theirs by right. The reigns of the two Pahlavi Shahs of Iran in the 20th century duly paid attention to science, but not to Islam. The Islamic Revolution now aims to reconcile the two elements. Ahmadinejad’s boast about the "young scientists" doing nuclear enrichment corresponds to the spirit of Afghani.
The United States alone appears to cast a shadow over the Shi’ite future, and so in the rhetoric imposed by the need for honour and supremacy, it is depicted as "arrogant" and the "oppressor." In strict defiance of reality, Ahmadinejad asserts, "Our enemies should know that they are unable to even slightly hurt our nation and they cannot create the tiniest obstacle on its glorious and progressive way." A Revolutionary Guards commander spells it out: "America should accept Iran as a great regional power and they should know that sanctions and military threats are not going to benefit them."
The Iranian regime makes sure that nobody challenges it. The Interior Minister, Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi, is responsible for the summary execution of thousands of political prisoners. Hojjat Zamani was executed on February 6 in Gohar Dasht Prison in the city of Karaj, near Teheran, and Valiollah Feyz Mahdavi is slated to be executed there in May. The charge against both of them was "enmity with God." Another who received the death sentence is Ateqeh Rajabi, a 16-year-old orphan who went to work as a waitress to feed her siblings. Her efforts were called "acts incompatible with chastity." A crackdown on universities is under way, involving purges of staff and students. In absolute control of the media, the regime uses sophisticated equipment to censor bloggers, arresting them by the score.