The Israeli and Western reference to Iran focuses on three main issues: Iran’s military nuclear project and rockets; expansion of Iranian presence (direct and indirect) in Arab states, mainly Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen; and the Ayatollahs' regime. Occasionally, there is an allusion to the Iranian economic situation and its COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Rarely, do political, military or editorial elements address the Iranian population which in general is referred to as “The Iranian People.”
That is precisely the point. There is no such People. What exists in Iran is a population half of which is Persian, and the other half a large number of “non-Persian peoples”: Azeris (in the northern part, south of Azerbaijan), Arabs (in Al-Ahwaz overlooking the Persian Gulf east and north), Kurds (north-west), Turkmans (north-east) and many other smaller groups: Lurs, Kashkais, Caspians, Mazendaranis, Gilyaks and others.
Though all are Iranian citizens, and all are required to study Persian at school, citizenship and knowledge of Persian have not turned them into Persians, in the same way that Israeli citizenship and knowledge of Hebrew has not turned Israeli Arabs into Jews.
Some of these groups have undergone a process of integration in governmental agencies. The most prominent example of that is the fact that today’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is Azeri, not Persian. This fact, however, does not convince many of the twenty million Azeris in the state that Iran is indeed their place of choice. On the contrary: many of them look forward to the day they gain independence and join their brethren in Azerbaijan who were liberated from Russian occupation over thirty years ago when the USSR dismantled into ethnic states.
The Iranian state, already during the Shah’s era and following the Khomeini, has been using natural resources in the areas of the non-Persian groups. So it is, for instance, with the oil and gas plundered from the land of al-Ahwaz, while what is left for the area residents are the toxins in the air that they breath, the water they drink and the ground which provides their food. During last summer, Iran rerouted several rivers in al-Ahwaz, deprived the Ahwazis of their water and thus caused the death of hundreds of thousands of herds of cattle and sheep which sustained the local residents. Lately, Iran has started to uproot many thousands of fruit bearing Palm trees from the Ahwazi lands and transfer them to Qatar. Is it a wonder then that the Ahwazis are desperate to free themselves from the Iranian occupation which started in 1925?
The Balouchis and the Kurds are Sunni Muslims and they, too, have been struggling for decades to relieve themselves from the Iranian state.
The Iranian Regime suppresses brutally any form of opposition to its policies and its governance over the non-Persian peoples. Its standard approach to addressing the rebels is hanging them from cranes on city streets so that all passersby should see and fear. The regime also enlists collaborators from among these ethnic groups in order to spot any rebellious and inciting elements.
The non-Persian peoples suffer from several problems that hinder their efforts to unite against the state. The first is the ideological, partisan, tribal and personal disputes among the opposition groups; the second is the fact that these minorities, to this day, have not joined hands in the struggle against the state; the third problem is that their establishments are entrenched with Iranian intelligence and the fourth problem is that many of their leaders live in exile: Iraq, Turkey, Europe, U.S. and others, and the mere fact that they live freely out of the country serves as a challenge to their legitimacy in the eyes of the people that remained under the oppressive Persian regime in their homeland.
In the last several months, one can notice a movement with regard to these problems: some Ahwazi parties and organizations decided to set aside their differences and postpone their resolution until after liberation and independence. Additionally, lately a new form of communication among the leaders of the various ethnic groups has emerged, stemming from the realization that if only one group rebels, the Iranian forces could easily suppress it in a short while and that if all the non-Persian nations jointly rebel, at the same time, they have a better chance to succeed.
Unlike in the past, today’s leaders of the rebellion have modern means of communication: nowadays, some zoom conferences among the exiled leaders take place, the Whatsapp paints a current picture of what is happening on the ground and allows for giving instructions, Facebook and Twitter serve as a platform to spreading the ideas which find their way to the wider public through graffiti which are sprayed in the dark of night. There are also three Israelis who partake in this communications effort, Dr. Edi Cohen, Guy Maayan and the writer of these lines.
The question that faces the leaders of the rebellion is when the best date for its commencement would be. Finally, the eve of March 16th, 2022 was agreed upon. This day was selected since it is the day when Iran celebrates the “Wednesday on Fire” (Cheharshanbe Suri), which is accompanied by much disorder on the public arena, fires, celebrations and, unfortunately, many wounded and dead. The leaders of the rebellion plan, on that night, to burn police stations, attack centers of control and communications, destroy governmental institutions, attack electricity and communication infrastructure, attack political leaders and collaborators.
Their premise is that a general and planned revolt which encompasses all the districts of the non-Persian peoples, will impose upon the Iranian security forces (police, basij, army and the revolutionary guards) an impossible mission due to its size that will cause many of the members of the non-Persian peoples who serve in the security forces to defect and join the rebels of their respective peoples.
The leaders of the rebellion and public activists in the area are aware of the dear price that they may have to pay with their lives and freedom, However, along with it they know very well that liberty is not given out of good will but is torn forcefully out of the nails of those who hold it vigorously.
The publicity of the uprising commenced this week and notices regarding the “Wednesday of Fire” have already appeared on houses in Baluchistan and al-Ahwaz. The armed forces of Iran are already aware of the plan and the questions are piling up: will all the organizations, indeed, join hands and rebel on that evening? Will all the non-Persian peoples enlist themselves to that or would some rather prefer to “sit on the fence” in order to see where the wind is blowing and who wins? Will the rebels be able to arm themselves, train, supply and organize in the four months leading to the outbreak of the rebellion? Will foreign countries stand by the side of the rebels prior, during and after the uprising? What will the U.S. President tell the Iranian leaders as he is watching the suppression of the masses in the streets? What will the reaction be from European leaders who invested billions in Iran? And China? And Russia?
All these questions hover above the planned uprising and are still unanswered.
The Jewish point
Whoever is reading these words and still has not checked their diary, let me reveal: that evening in which the rebellion is expected to commence is the eve of Purim and when the fires will burn on the streets of Iran and will ignite – inshallah – the state, the gragers will sound upon hearing the name of the evil Haman, the evil. If, indeed, the uprising will succeed – and that should be the hope of us all – there would not be a more joyous Purim than the upcoming one. And “salvation and rescue” that will be the part of Jews and the state of Israel because of it, shall not be removed from Am Yisrael’s memory for generations to come.
The dismantling of Iran to ethnic groups will be, for the Middle East, not less meaningful than a similar collapse of the USSR for the global system.
From this post, I wish with all my heart and might great success to the non-Persian ethnic groups in Iran with their planned rebellion. Their success will open and new and optimistic page in their annals as in those of the history of Israel and the Middle East as a whole.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel and is an internationally known speaker on the Middle East.