June 6, 2019
Agiri Esmailnazhad, Kurdish journalist: IranWire asked me to write an article examining whether Iran should adopt a federal system of government. Instead, I decided I would write about another related issue in Iranian politics: the phenomenon of the “intelligent human”.
The intelligent human, in my view, is a person who employs the tools of their intellect in all aspects of their life. Their most important feature is their ability to discuss a variety of subjects and come to clear and logical conclusions.
In Iran, talking about issues that relate to nationality in the Persian-language media is futile because publications are not run in a way that an intelligent human would run them.
Why Do I Make This Claim?
The rights of non-Persian ethnic groups is one of Iran’s most pressing issues. This subject has not only shaped Iranian politics over the past century, but has strongly affected the country’s economy, culture, security, and society.
It has also arguably had an impact on environmental matters, as well the development and deprivation of areas across the country.
Yet when this subject arises among the political establishment, trivial and specious arguments are put forward by nominally intelligent people.
Using words such as “ethnicity”, “tribe”, and “migrant” insults non-Persian ethnic groups, they claim. At the same time, they deny the existence of a homogeneous Persian ethnicity in Iran.
The goal of this game-playing is to create a shroud of ambiguity and prevent the discussion from arriving at clear and logical conclusions.
The result is that the question of non-Persian ethnic rights is driven to the margins of the Persian-language media.
But this game-playing, and the oppression for which this game-playing provides legitimacy, does not diminish the significance of this question for Iranian society.
The second argument used by the Persian elite to muddy this issue relates to the question of separatism. Non-Persian ethnic groups, they claim, are a separatist threat that could destroy Iran’s territorial integrity.
This view is not only held by members of the Islamic Republic, but also its centralist opponents. Those who stand against the regime often state that, if Iran were to be partitioned, they would stand side by side with the Republic.
Ask them who plans to partition Iran and their answer is clear: non-Persian ethnic groups.
This is the accusation even when non-Persian ethnic groups are demanding only their most basic rights. To put it simply: claiming equal rights for 50 per cent of Iran’s population is interpreted as a threat to the other 50 per cent.
Racism Disguised as Defending the Persian Language
In recent months, people from across the political spectrum have repeatedly expressed their concern about the future of the Persian language. These people range from government officials to royalists, and include both Ayatollah Khamenei and Reza Pahlavi (the son of the late Shah).
These expressions of concern, couched in the language of Iranian nationalism, have political motives. Persian is the sole official language of Iran and under no threat. Yet these people believe they have the right to worry about the future of the Persian language when Kurds have no right to worry about the future of Kurdish.
If we should express such a concern, we are labelled a threat to national unity and security. From Reza Shah (1925-1941) to Ayatollah Khamenei, Iranian leaders have pursued a policy of limiting, banning, and destroying the Kurdish language.
These examples suggest that “unintelligent humans” play a pivotal role in the Iranian media and political sphere. There is therefore almost no chance of having a fair and reasonable discussion on the subject of minority language and ethnic rights.
Intelligent Dialogue Crucial to Avoid Civil War
Ethnic self-awareness among non-Persian groups has risen considerably in recent years. The so-called “nation state” project of the Iranian elite, based on the “Persian-Shia” identity they have been trying to implement over the past century, has failed.
The fact is that non-Persian ethnic groups have always been demanding their political, economic, social, and cultural rights – and still are. Oppression, massacres, and systematic discrimination cannot silence these demands forever.
If we worry about the future of Iran as a country, or about the ethnic groups who live here, then we must all engage in “intelligent” dialogue with each other. This is the only way we can successfully build a new Iran.
If we do not, Iran will descend into civil war and the vicious circle of repression will repeat itself. If the Islamic Republic remains in power, it is possible a civil war could begin sooner than we expect.
The culprits of such a conflict will be clear: the Persian elite who have denied the rights of a large sector of the Iranian people for so long, and strived to legitimize their unjust and oppressive rule.