Democratic Change in Iran Through an Inclusive “Green Movement”

In response to 32 years of rule by the Islamic Republic, a great deal of national awakening, especially among

Iran oppressed religious and ethnic groups, has taken place. This is all due to the


By Karim Abdian and Mustafa Hejri

By Karim Abdian and Mustafa Hejri Today, Iran like the rest of the Middle East is undergoing significant change that could alter the face of the region. That would certainly be good news for Iran, the region and the world in terms of democracy and security.

  Iran has been suffering for too long under a totalitarian regime.  For over three decades, the Islamic Republic inflicted an unimaginable damage to its peoples. It stifled the human development of a nation of 70 million, while at the same time posing danger for the region and the world.  Iranian citizens enjoy no freedom and their fundamental human rights are constantly being violated.

 These are also the same symptoms that were present in countries affected by the Arab revolt. In fact brutal suppression and oppression, injustice, high unemployment and poverty, religious and ethnic discrimination in Iran are unparalleled anywhere in the world. So then why Iran isn’t in revolt?

 Unfortunately, the regime in Iran has been able to deceive the international community, and at times some of its peoples, about its true nature.  But it seems that the international community has come to realize that the Islamic Republic of Iran is truly a menace to its own peoples, the region, and the international community and that something must be done about it.

 In response to 32 years of rule by the Islamic Republic, a great deal of national awakening, especially among Iran oppressed religious and ethnic groups, has taken place. This is all due to the advent of the Internet, globalization and emergence of satellite TV, social networking tools such as Facebook, Tweeter, etc. These same tools have tremendously affected the events in the Mid-East and North Africa. People in these countries have demonstrated that it’s quite possible to get rid of dictators, even without leadership. It has also been demonstrated that their struggle could quickly gain the support of freedom loving peoples in Western countries.

 Even though the peoples of Iran started their revolution against Mullah’s tyranny 3 decades earlier; however, the clergy hijacked the revolution to reap its fruits.  It should be worth mentioning that the West’s unequivocal support for the despotic monarch in 1979 led to the antagonism against the West and US in particular, thereby bolstering the Mullah’s position and also limited the US and West’s influence on the events that ensued.

 Even though we have witnessed strong opposition to Iran’s regime by the US in the last 32 years, there is little evidence to support that US has done enough to support the Iranian peoples’ struggle to topple this medieval regime.   The widespread demonstrations that took place in 2009 against the regime and the crackdown that followed, well met with near silence from the U.S., which was unwilling to take the side of the peoples of Iran.  As in the 1979 revolution, the US chose the wrong side.

 A fundamental problem evident in the history of US foreign policy toward Iran has been a total misunderstanding of Iran’s society and it’s heterogeneous formation. Iran is a multi-ethnic society composed of various ethnic groups of Azeri-Turks, Persians, Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, Baluch, Turkmen and Lurs. Demographically, it is a country of minorities; no one nationality or ethnic group is alone a numerical majority. The misperception that Iran is all or majority Persians is wrong. This myth has widely been propagated and perpetuated by Persian ultra-nationalists, particularly, monarchists lobby groups in the West. The Persian ethnic group represents a minority in Iran, but continues to dominate the affairs of the country and alienate the rest of the ethnic groups.  The future of Iran belongs to all of its constituent nationalities and peoples. They all should rule with equal voice and actively participate in all affairs of its governance.

 The regime has lost credibility among the majority of the population. The current reform movement, the so-called “Green Movement”, led by those who remain essentially supportive of the theocratic state has not in the past year and half or so been able to articulate or reflect the demands and needs of the non-Persians majority. Hence, these national groups have been extremely suspicious of any changes that do not guarantee their place in a future Iran.  As the world has witnessed, these nation groups who live in the outlaying provinces of Azerbaijan in the North, Kurdistan in Northwest, Khuzestan (Also called Arabistan or al-Ahwaz) in Southwest, Baluchistan in the Southeast and Tuchman-Sahara (Turkmenistan) in the Northeast, mostly have not actively participated in public demonstrations and have shown little appetite to join ranks of Mir Hussein Musavi or Mehdi Karubi leaders of the “Green Movement”. They have clearly demonstrated that they will not risk another change in the country without clear assurances that the future government in Iran will be theirs as well.

 The “Green Movement” lost a golden opportunity to make the movement inclusive. Its reformist leadership clearly lost the credibility as the agent of regime change or any fundamental change for that matter.  Unless this movement becomes widespread and reaches to every corner of the country, the possibility of any success is very remote. Unfortunately, due to its societal diversity, an Iranian person lacks any political group that can represent the majority of the population.  To make the matters worse, the dominant Persians elite were unable to garner support among ethnic groups, as they have been very hesitant to meet the demands of these nationalities that seek a decentralized federal system of government in Iran with regional authorities to govern their regional affairs.

 Decentralization and devolution of power to the provinces and local autonomy in Azerbaijan, Kurdistan Khuzestan (Arabistan), Baluchistan and Turkmenistan and participation in the political power in a federative system of governance, education in their own languages, are the main demands of these oppressed national groups.  Yet, among Persians the mere mentioning of decentralization and federalism are unfortunately interpreted as “secessionism” and “separatism” and this further discourages the Iranian national groups in taking part in the “Green Movement”.

 The misperception that Iran is all Persian or even majority Persian that is propagated by the Persian ultra-nationalists who do not want to share power with non-Persian Iranians, are the main causes of poor understanding of the U.S. foreign policy. It is times that the U.S. realizes that that no change will take place without the participation of these national minorities, which are in fact the numerical majority.  Worse, partly due to this misinformation, the US unfortunately has not approached or tried to engage or open a dialogue with the non-dominant Iranian nationalities, -neither in the government nor in Congress.

 Unlike other opposition groups to the regime, the Iranian national political organizations have created an umbrella organization called “Congress of Nationalities for Federal Iran” comprising of major regional organizations under one common goal that seeks to change the current regime in Iran and replace it with a federal democratic republic.

 Future of Iran must be determined by its own peoples not by foreigners or just an elite within the Persian community. Non-Persian participation and inclusion is the key to a democratic Iran and a good member of the international community.  Iran is well posed to bring this about as it enjoys a vibrant society and opposition groups, and this clerical regime soon or later has to change. It should be noted however that addressing the issue and postponing the demands of national groups for a federal Iran by various forces in Iran under the guise of ”democracy first and devolution of power later” will make the struggle against the current regime more difficult and will lead to the re-emergence of authoritarianism and exclusionist policies that we have seen in the last 100 years.  It is obvious that a group that is not willing to accept the inalienable rights of ethno-national groups to self-determination while out of power will not definitely do so while in power.

 Karim Abdian,Executive Director of Ahwaz Human Rights Organization

 Sharif Behrooz,North American Representative of Democratic Party of Kurdistan

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