By Aida Ghajar
January 7, 2019
I met Anam Dehvari in a Turkish city. Dehvari is the son of the late Sheikh Ali Dehvari, who was assassinated in Saravan, Baluchistan in 2008. Later, his brother was also poisoned. After facing pressure as well as interrogation, Dehvari left Baluchistan to pursue his education in Saudi Arabia.
Even though we were meeting in Turkey, he did not trust me. Prior to our meeting, he shared our location with his friends so, in case of his absence, they could inform the police about his latest whereabouts. I’m the one who usually takes these precautions, and this was the first time I experienced someone sitting in front of me telling me he didn’t feel safe being with me.
He was dressed entirely in black, and his long hair covered part of his face. Before asking about his own journey, I asked him about the situation in Baluchistan with regards to immigration and trafficking. I told him about a human trafficker I met in Turkey who was also a sex trafficker who told me he was from Baluchistan. Although he was surprised to hear about a fellow Baluchistanian being involved in sex trafficking, Anam Dehvari told me that smuggling is a part of daily life in Baluchistan.
I asked him to talk about the discrimination he faced. He began with language and his mother tongue, and how absurd it is to not let people learn how to read and write in their first language. No Baluch child has the privilege of going to a school and learning in their mother tongue. “If they are lucky and have a TV at home they might learn some Persian, but for most of them, the first day of school is as alien as it could be,” Dehvari told me.
Drop-outs Turn to Smuggling
According to data from the Ministry of Education, the highest rate of school drop-outs is among children who reside in the border towns, which means the children of ethnic groups including Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Arabs. On the other hand, there are no employment opportunities for Baluch people: “All jobs go to Sistanians, who are backed by the government. It’s been many years since the Islamic Republic started ethnic fights between Baluchis and Sistanians on issues like race and religion. Many of the Sistanian teachers call Baluchi kids ‘animals’ and beat them. I was lucky that I studied in a prestigious school, but normal schools are disasters. The first thing they teach kids is that they’re Sunnis and therefore inferior to Shias. In Baluchistan, religious identity is stronger than ethnic identity, unlike in places like Kurdistan or Azerbaijan. In any other place, kids become inspired in schools to become someone for themselves and the society — not in Baluchistan though. Baluch kids have no future. All my classmates from high school are unemployed right now, every single one of them.”
According to Dehvari, when kids drop out of school, their only option is to get involved in smuggling. “They either smuggle products or fuel. Some people become gas reservoir operators, and some go out and buy gas from locals. Not everyone is working on or around the border, but everyone is involved in the business. This is how people make a living and feed their children in Baluchistan.”
He also talked about multiple tragic instances that resulted in the loss of human life. In one instance, a local man went on a road trip with his family and police officers opened fire at them with no prior warning. Every one of them died at the scene, with the exception of a young child. Dehvari told me another story: “There was a shepherd who was bringing farm supplies for his animals from Isfahan. Police officers pulled him over and asked for a US$15,000 bribe. Since he couldn’t afford it, he ended up [as part of] a national security case for smuggling goods.”
Anam Dehvari told me that not only do Baluch people make a living via smuggling, police officers try to get a share of the smuggling business. He also claims that the Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is heavily present in the area and involved in trafficking narcotics. “I saw it with my own eyes that the IRGC vehicles were escorting the drug lords’ cargo trucks. I saw the driver [and] I knew him and who he was working for.” He believes that the trafficking of narcotics in Baluchistan is still one of the main income streams for the Guards.
He also mentioned one of the Islamic Republic’s projects that supposedly aims to employ Baluch people: “They hire them [Baluch people] to patrol the borders, [but] by doing this they just want Baluch people killing each other. Their salary is US$200 per month, and they are ordered to shoot to kill. Many of the locals go there because of the lack of any other option, but some of them are ex-cons and thugs who love the idea of having a gun and being permitted to kill. The IRGC arms them in the name of safety, but it only ends in tribal blood wars.”
The Business of Human Trafficking
According to Dehvari, human trafficking is also a common business. Afghans who want to go to Iran, Turkey, or even Europe have to start their journey from Baluchistan’s borders. Before the recent changes in immigration laws, Afghans used to choose Iran as their final destination, but nowadays they usually prefer to pass through Iran and head for Europe. Many of them enter Iran from the Sarevan borders and go all the way to the western borders with Turkey. “Human traffickers usually use sedans and pickup trucks. They remove the back seats and, in some cases, fit 20 people in the car. From Sarevan to the border with Pakistan is a four-hour drive. Human traffickers often bribe the border patrols and book certain time frames. Travelers have to make some of the journey on foot, and pass through rocky mountains. There is also another port for immigration, which is Zabol, but Zabol is usually for people who want to leave Iran for Afghanistan.”
I asked him why people would want to make the journey the ‘other way,’ from Iran to Afghanistan. “Most of them are volunteers for the Taliban and ISIS, [and] they recruit from Pakistan and Zabol. When some of the Muslim mullahs ordered Muslims to fight against the Soviet Union, this path was very popular and many joined Al-Qaeda to participate in the war against the Soviet Union. Today it is not that popular, but it still happens,” Dehvari told me.
Another human trafficking path runs from Iran to Pakistan. Pakistan’s government has more of an investment in Baluch people than the Islamic Republic does, and will grant them citizenship. “Most of the immigrants to Pakistan are Baluchis, but you can also find Kurds and other ethnicities there. After arriving in the country, the government asks them what tribe they belong to. The human traffickers have already provided them with fake identities, and also a contact from one of the tribes that they hired. So, with a little money, Pakistan’s government grants them citizenship. The next step for them is to get a passport and, after that, they are free to go wherever they like.”
Baluchis emigrate from Iran for a variety of reasons, and although sometimes they want to emigrate, many people don’t. Although the compulsory relocation of ethnic groups began with Reza Shah, it still continues today. Many Sunni clerics move to Pakistan to pursue their religious and political affairs. “After the 1979 Revolution, Iranian Sunnis thought they would be involved in the next regime. Known figures like Molavi Abd-al-Malek Mollazadeh and Mulla Abd-al-Naser Jamshidi were among the first people who tried to establish a Sunni party after the revolution. They established the ‘Shams Council,’ directed by Kak Ahmad Moftizadeh, but the government declared it illegal. Many of those people like Mullazadeh moved to Pakistan to pursue their political aspirations there. Mullazadeh was a Pakistani citizen when he was assassinated by 21 bullets [shot by] Islamic Republic agents.”
Another group of immigrants is the leftist political activists who were involved in guerrilla operations before the revolution against the Shah. “Before the revolution, one of the power centers of the leftist movement was Baluchistan. Lenin’s books were translated in Moscow to Baluchi and distributed in the region. After the struggles with the Shah, and later the Islamic Republic, the majority of them left the country for the West. Even now you hear grandmothers telling their grandchildren the heroic stories of communists in Baluchistan.”
Dehvari says there is another group of Baluch immigrants, those who leave the country in pursuit of education. “People like you?” I asked him.
He confirmed this with a nod of his head and said, “Some of the Baluch people moved to pursue religious education. I can assure you that 90 percent of Sunni mullahs above [the age of] 40 did not receive any education in Iran. They all studied in India, in a city called Divband, or in Karachi in Pakistan.”
He, however, moved to Saudi Arabia and studied at Medina University. When he was finished explaining the situation in Baluchistan, we began exploring his own journey — what made him leave Iran and what has since happened to him and his family.
The sun was about to set, but our conversation was just beginning. He started telling me about dark days full of terror and death that chased him and his family for years and left him with no father or brother, and a future that holds nothing for him but revenge.