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Fear of the Fissiparous: Iran Tries to Win Back the Baluchis



The Tehran regime is keenly aware that about 60% the population of Iran is Persian; the other 40% consist of four distinct ethnic groups. These are the eight million Arabs in Khuzestan, right on the Gulf, where most of Iran’s oil fields are located; the nine million Azeris in northwestern Iran, next to the border with Azerbaijan, where another eighteen million Azeris live; the ten million Kurds who also live in western Iran, close to the Kurds in Syria and Iraq, and the two million Baluchis, predominantly Sunnis, who live in Iran’s southeast, while just across the border in Pakistan, another seven-and-a-half million Baluchis live. All of these peoples harbor, to varying degrees, separatist impulses, which at times have led to open revolts, always suppressed – both by the Khomeini regime and by that of the Shah – with great violence. The threat remains, however, and the Tehran regime, having massacred almost one hundred Baluchis who were killed on September 30 in the city of Zahedan, has come to realize that it has to win back disaffected Baluchis, lest their initial protest against the regime grow into a separatist revolt against the state.

A report on this attempt to reach out to the Baluchis can be found here: “Iran leader sends delegation to restive region rocked by deadly unrest,” November 13, 2022:

A delegation from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed sadness and promised solutions in a visit to a southeastern province where dozens have been killed in unrest, official media said.

The violence in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan province which borders Pakistan, erupted on September 30, and authorities say six members of the security forces were among the dead.

The casualties came against the backdrop of nationwide unrest that followed the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, 22, after her arrest by morality police in Tehran for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women.

Some local figures said the protests in Zahedan were triggered by anger over the reported rape of a teenage girl by a police officer.

A rape, or even the rumor of such a rape — of a Baluchi girl, by a non-Baluchi, presumably Persian, police officer — would be sure to arouse murderous rage against those officers. It’s to be expected that several of them — six, in fact — were killed in revenge.

Overseas-based activists accused security forces of firing on demonstrators.

By now, it’s more than those “overseas-based activists” – an allusion to the Iranian exiles who broadcast from Iran International in London – who have accused the security services of using live fire. Such reports are to be found everywhere on social media, and have been broadcast not just by Iran International, but by the BBC and VOA Persian-language services, as well as reported by all the major media in the Western world. The Iranian regime has been using live fire consistently from the second week of protests in late September; more than 400 protesters have to date been killed and thousands wounded as a result.

Zahedan is one of the few Sunni-majority cities in predominantly Shiite Iran.

We came to share the sadness felt by the Supreme Leader concerning the incidents which happened” in the province, said Mohammad-Javad Haj Ali Akbari, spokesman for the delegation which arrived Saturday.

He said they were also there to “report on measures decided [by Khamenei] to resolve these problems,” the state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying on Sunday.

Akbari also referred to a “special plan” from Khamenei to benefit the province’s people, but IRNA gave no further details on such measures.

It’s unheard of for the Supreme Leader to send a delegation to express sorrow over what his own security services have done. Clearly the regime doesn’t want the Baluchi anger over the massacre on September 30 to turn into a separatist revolt; it’s trying to nip things in the bud by a display of feigned sympathy and unfeigned regret. I suspect that the “special plan” from the Supreme Leader “to benefit the province’s people” means there will be an infusion of aid as a way to tamp down discontent in this historically impoverished region.

He also met the imam of Zahedan’s Makki mosque, Iran’s largest Sunni house of worship, and said he wanted to see relatives of those killed or wounded in the incidents “to console them.”…

Will it work? Will Akbari’s bringing to Baluchistan the message of sorrow directly from the Supreme Leader, and his meeting with relatives of those who had been killed or wounded by the security services, manage to assuage the grief and dim the anger? Or will the Baluchis remain unassuaged, and reach across the border, to their fellow Baluchis, in the hope of creating with them a very different future in an independent Baluchistan? Fissiparous fears in Tehran must make it hard for the rulers to sleep at night.