One of the most important developments regarding the future of the Middle East in recent years took place not in DC, but in Brussels, and was led by leaders of non-Persian nations of Iran, though it attracted representatives of several governments, as well as activists from all over the Middle East, as well as regions. The occasion was a summit dedicated to the countering Iran-led terrorism, and the goal was to unify assorted non-Fars peoples in a coalition opposed to the Islamic Republic.
I was honored to speak at this monumental event – but may have been one of relatively few Westerners who understood the significance of this development. Ahwazi Arabs (of all religious denominations present in that area), Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris (or as some prefer, Turks of South Azerbaijan), and other ethnic groups are, for the first time, standing together to find a practical solutions to expose Iranian crimes of oppression and cultural genocide against the non-Persian populations, to put pressure.
Together, these ethnicities represent approximately 40% of Iranian population, yet are regularly denied the rights to study their languages and engage with cultural traditions, discriminated in hiring and in the workplace, subject to disproportionate arrests, tortures, and executions, and are viewed with suspicions as “separatists” or fifth columnists thanks to divisive regime propaganda.
The West is inadvertently playing into the Islamic Republic’s hands by ignoring their plight. International institutions, such as the United Nations, have not held any emergency meetings, nor passed any resolutions condemning Iran for its targeted oppression, and practices that are increasingly looking like ethnic cleansing of strategically important areas. Ahwazis, for instance, are subject to population transfer to prevent uprisings, and make control of resource rich territories where they live easier to control by the regime. Iran has also flooded that area with Persians in order to dilute the population and make it more difficult to maintain cultural identity. Iran’s careless practices created environmental crises in previously flourishing regions, and its terrible water politics are causing endless suffering to civilian residents.
The protests against these discriminatory, colonialist, and exploitative policies have been going on for decades, but have been rarely and superficially covered by the Western media, at least in part because the US government has not had the policy of working with the opposition in the peripheries. The massive dissatisfaction added to the general outrage of the regime’s misuse of pension funds, sanctions relief, and other money towards funding foreign wars and terrorism. However, the massive protests in these peripheral regions, resulting in disproportionate and massive arrests – as well as horrific extrajudicial murders of two individual protesters – likewise received no attention in the West.
In fact, however, the story of Saro Ghahremani, a 24-year-old Kurdish protester, is even worse than it appears (and likewise got attention only in this English-language article). Saro was arrested two weeks prior to the announcement of his death. By that point, protests in Tehran and other central cities have abated, though in the peripheral provinces they continued in massive numbers. Saro’s parents were called in and received the body of their son, covered in wounds from beatings and torture. However, they were told to go on TV and testify that their son was killed in clashes, rather than tortured to death under arrest. The authorities threatened the family’s other son if they parents had failed to go through this lie. Such cynical deceptive practices are systemic in Iran’s legal system. Manipulating family members into going along with cover-ups of human rights violations and gross injustices is par for the course.
Likewise, Western feminists have taken no account of Ahwazi women activists, who have been arrested, raped, tortured, and killed by the regime for the mere fact of demonstrating peacefully for the right to maintain their cultural identity. The massive women’s marches around the world that coincided with the conference in Brussels this past weekend did not mention Iran at all, nor Ahwazis, Turks, Kurds, Baluchis, or anyone else. Rather than utilize the dynamics of an energized movements towards demanding justice and freedom for women fighting for their very survival, these protests were about everything and nothing, and brought no change, no results, only derision from critics due to their over-the-top expression, incoherent messaging, and a history of ideological infighting.
The reason for this blind spot toward Iran’s abuse of non-Persian peoples throughout the West is in part due to the Iran’s lobby groups, which have suppressed dissent and access for human rights activists and dissidents not in line with the fake “reformist” movement in the US and elsewhere. Likewise, nuclear deal proponents are largely in control of think tanks, media platforms, and educational institutions and have no interests in presenting a diversity of perspectives, which might make the case for letting Iran get away with murder more difficult.
With no access to US government officials, and with the US foreign policy’s tunnel vision focus on countering ISIS at the expense of addressing more serious state-backed threats, such as Iran’s expansionism, the many many nations affected by Iran’s aggression effectively have no voice in the West. Syrian refugees, several hundred of whom appeared at the event, unanimously condemned both Tehran and Assad, whose continuous presence in Syria prevents them from returning to their country. By continuing to support an Iranian pawn in power, and failing to work with the different Syrian factions to overcome internal divisions and find an acceptable governance model that would also dispose of a bloodthirsty dictator, the US essentially ensuring the perpetuation of the refugee crisis and continuation of failed and disastrous policies, that continue to destabilize the region.
What’s worse, Iran is also a threat to the United States and Western countries. It has assassinated an Ahwazi activist in the Hague; Iranian Al Quds brigades violated German sovereignty by spying on Israeli and Jewish targets, including kindergarten; weaponized Hezbullah throughout Latin America, creating a terrorist threat close to the borders with the United States, and infiltrated the US with spies, agents of influence, and pro-regime bodies that are undermining existing US policy. It should be in the best interests of all of these countries to work with the diversity of Iran’s opposition, and people who have the most at stake in trying to liberate the country from the violent and unacceptable regime. Instead, the US continues to turn a blind eye to Iran’s colonialist policy and a deaf ear to the non-mainstream human rights efforts.
Thus, the West is missing out on an unprecedented opportunity to take part in a transformation that is taking part across the Middle East. The gathering in Brussels brought together activists, heads of assorted organizations, a full spectrum of Middle Eastern media, government officials, and lawyers to plan a comprehensive and regional response to Iran’s threats. Over the course of the weekend, assorted speakers expressed support for this movement, and the heads of organizatiions representing different non-Persian people came together to agree on a Memorandum of Understanding. Their future effort in countering Iran-backed terrorism and defending their rights will include joint educational and informational events, development of a strategy to counter Iranian propaganda efforts, and creating a cohesive policy, which will eventually build towards a path for internal regime change.
The Middle East is not waiting for the United States or European Union to come and save them, from what is ultimately a global threat. They are speaking up and working together to create an independent, indigenous regional response aimed towards freeing the world of Iran’s imperialism. Western countries should be excited about this development and should want to be supportive of such an effort, which is placing Middle Eastern nations into a dynamic, active, and forward-looking role in defiance of traditional stereotypes. Instead, the United States is mired in transcient and trivial discussions of White House palace intrigue, endless and distracting internal investigations, and inter and intraparty bickering – while missing the real action. The real action is not in Mueller’s boardroom or on the pages of the New York Times. The real action took place among hundreds of activists in Brussels, determined to build a different and positive future for the Middle East, an important dedication that can have impact around the world. And I could not be happier or more proud to be part of it.