A common man may think that Iran is populated by a single race or ethnic group, but in fact there are several ethnic groups other than Persians in Iran.
They include Arabs, Kurds, Lurs, Baluchs, Gilanis, Turkmen (Turkish), Gilakis, Azris and Mazandaranis besides other smaller communities. The Persians are in a majority. Most of the minority communities are living on the fringes of the country. Their regions were annexed by Iran in the past.
Persians regard Sunni Muslims as the second-rate citizens. Sunnis are made up mostly of Baluchs, Arabs and Turkmen. The Shiite Iranian government treats them with discrimination because of their Sunni identity. They are denied their legitimate political, legal, constitutional, social, cultural and economic rights. Their miseries multiply because of lack of support or assistance from within or outside the country. The Sunnis had sided with Khomeini in the revolution against the Shah of Iran. But he turned against them after the revolution and refused to honor his promises made to them.
Their presence in the areas close to borders of the county strengthened their affinity to the countries of their origin. Persians always drive the Sunni populations to the borders of the country because of sectarian reasons. In fact, the policy of driving out Sunni communities from central regions to distant border areas was a policy adopted originally by the Safavid rulers. (Safavid dynasty ruled Iran from 1501 to 1722.) The government’s policy till now has been to cleanse major cities and central regions of Sunni communities and relocate them to peripheral areas as much as possible.
The 20-million strong Sunnis are the largest minority accounting for 35 percent of the 70 million Iranian population. In fact, the number of Sunnis is much higher than the official figures. However, they are economically poor, less educated and live far away from the capital city. Hated by the Shiite majority, the Sunni districts are neglected — they lack utilities, basic amenities and other essential services. Sunnis are even denied the right to build mosques or religious schools. Building a Sunni school or a religious madrasa is considered an unpardonable crime. Existing Sunni mosques are subjected to close monitoring. Many of them were demolished on the pretext that they were built for purposes other than worshipping or without a specific license needed for a mosque. Some times a mosque is demolished on the pretext that its imam has foreign allegiance.
On the other hand, Shiites are allowed to build Husainiats (small Shiite mosques) inside Sunni districts to the chagrin of the Sunni population.
Large cities such as Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz do not have even a single Sunni mosque. The official explanation is that Sunnis can pray at Shiite mosques and it will promote unity among them (although a truth, in this context it is a falsehood.)
While no Sunni mosques are permitted, these cities have Jewish synagogues, Christian churches and Zoroastrianism temples. This is nothing but the arrogant oppression of the Sunnis (religions in Iran are Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Bahaism and Zoroastrianism.)
Iranians have a perverted and dictatorial Shiite regime. Its domestic and foreign policies are based on strategic politics, racist nationalism and sectarianism and the victims are non-Persian Sunnis in that country.
The Iranian Sunnis are treated with discrimination not only at hospitals, courts, and other government services, but even in the choice of names for their newborn babies.
For instance, Sunnis are banned from calling their sons with names such as Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, or Abdul Rahman. This, in fact, amounts to a violation of the Iranian constitution, which respects, at least in theory, the minority community’s right to practice its religious rites. But in practice, the government follows the ideology of the Al-Jaafari school of thought of the Shiite Ithna-Asheri sect and discriminates between Shiites and Sunnis. The government also makes deliberate efforts to rekindle the historical conflict between Shiites and Sunnis with the aim of exploiting the strife in its favor.
In a clear violation of the provisions in the constitution the Sunnis are also facing severe discrimination in the freedom to practice their religious beliefs and hold to their national sentiments. They are denied of their right to set up their own particular organizations to protect their interests.
The methods of Iranian suppression of Sunnis include hounding them, detention and assassination. The Sunnis of the Ahwaz (Arabistan) region is a special target for oppression. Men and women of the opposition are executed or lynched indiscriminately in line with a predetermined plan to drive out the Sunni population of Ahwaz to other regions under the slogan of Persian nationalism. Even some Shiites in Ahwaz are the victims of oppression, only because they are Arabs.
The status of Sunni scholars in Iran is far worse. Their lives are under the constant threat of assassination. The two options they are left with are either to embrace Shiism or flee. Their murders are arranged to appear as traffic accidents. If anyone is lucky enough to survive an accident, he would end up in some jail, if not exiled from the country. The authorities are motivated by the hope that the oppressive treatment will prompt Sunni scholars to embrace the Shiite school of thought as the country aims to convert all people to the Shiite creed, or at least reduce the Sunni population to a minimum. This is in fact a revival of the policy followed by the Sawafids in the past.
It is reported that Iranian intelligence service has a role in the oppression of Sunnis and that the Iranian leaders including the supreme leader are informed of such practices.
On the other hand the government always claims that it has nothing to do with the suppression and persecution of Sunnis and denies it or any Shiite leader ever issued an order to harass the Sunni population. If the claim is true, the government’s silence on the acts of violence and discretion against Sunnis, apparently, means that its leaders are happy about such persecutions. The Iranian Sunnis are weak because they are discriminated against and put under a siege like situation.
It is surprising that Iranian government always claims that it stands by the weak and oppressed people in the world.
Is it not true that “anyone who fails to do good to his own people will not do good for others?” Are not the Sunni citizens of the country more deserving to get their government’s care and attention and protection from oppression more than anyone else outside?
If the contradiction in the government’s deeds with its words refers to anything, it is the Iranian hypocrisy. Even if Iran can deceive itself with such claims, it cannot deceive the outside world any more. Internationally approved political and civil rights are not applicable to Iranian minorities, especially to Sunnis. The Sunnis have only a symbolic representation in the country’s Parliament. The representation does not reflect the real Sunni population. The election victory is possible only for Sunnis who support the government.
Sunnis do not have any high position in the government or presidency of the republic, as Shiites alone are eligible for such positions. Religious and national minorities particularly Sunnis in Iran and the people of Ahwaz need the attention and support of international bodies for their deliverance from the Persian arrogance.
Originally published in Okaz newspaper