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  • 2 December 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Sanctions, Uncategorized

California to Divest Iran Investments

The Associated Press is reporting that insurance companies that do business in California are being asked to withdraw any of their finances currently invested in Iran. A probe conducted by California’s Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has revealed that insurance companies in the state have $12 billion invested in Iran.

Poizner has said that he is currently asking insurance companies to voluntarily divest their funds from the Islamic Republic; however, if companies do not heed his request within 120 days, then Poizner will seek a court order requiring divestment.

According the report, Poizner is looking for support from insurance commissioners in other states. Insurance companies have argued against a piecemeal approach to divestment, and suggest that such an approach will disrupt the foreign policy plans of the federal government. However, it appears that a state-by-state divestment may be already underway, since,

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, said he is consulting other states’ commissioners to see if it is practical to develop a national effort similar to California’s.

“We ought to do it through the states, but in a coordinated fashion,” said Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Joel Ario, who also is considering a divestment push.

The probe conducted by Poizner did not discover direct investments in Iran’s financial sector by any of the insurance companies, and the $12 billion in investments are through indirect means.

  • 30 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran

IRGC Given Expanded Naval Command

The Agence France Presse reports that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been given command over “naval operations” in Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. A study conducted by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence concluded that,

the military reorganization launched in 2007 transfers responsibility for the Gulf from the regular navy to the elite Guards’ naval force, which has an arsenal of small, high-speed boats and cruise missiles.

The Islamic Republic’s regular naval forces are now responsible for the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea regions.

This change in the operational theater of the IRGC navy is likely designed to allow Iran to effectively shut down shipping through the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf; something that the Iranian government has threatened in the past. Of course, as the Agence France Presse article points out, shutting down either sea lanes would have a massive deleterious effect on Iran’s economy in addition to damaging the economies of Europe and the United States.


On November 25, the Iranian Navy has detained five British nationals who accidentally sailed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. The Britons were sailing a yacht, possibly named the Kingdom of Bahrain, on their way to Bahrain for a Dubai-Muscat race.

The five sailors are reported to be in good health and are being well treated.

  • 20 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Human Rights in Iran, UN

U.N. General Assembly Censures Iran


The Iranian government’s treatment of protesters following the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including torture and arbitrary imprisonment, was censured today by the United Nations General Assembly.

The General Assembly, consisting of all 192 member governments of the world body, voted 74 to 48 to adopt a resolution sponsored by the U.S. and most European Union nations that details human rights abuses in Iran. There were 59 abstentions from the vote.

The measure expresses concern about “harassment, intimidation and persecution, including by arbitrary arrest, detention or disappearance, of opposition members.” It also cites “violence and intimidation by government-directed militias,” torture, rape and forced confessions.

“This resolution demonstrates that the international community is deeply concerned over the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran and the government’s failure to uphold its obligations under its own constitution and international human rights law,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.

“Those in Iran who are trying to exercise their universal rights should know that the world continues to bear witness and their voices are being heard,” he said.

  • 19 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran, Uncategorized

What Could Come after the Last Supreme Leader?

A recent article published on the Newsweek website discusses the widespread discontent amongst Iran’s religious scholars with the position of Supreme Leader, and suggests that the position itself is in danger of being abolished after Ayatollah Khamenei’s death. According to the author,

the religious establishment—including those who helped create the system—plainly sees the institution [Supreme Leader] as bankrupt. As the religious and political crisis unfolds, it is becoming clearer that the central problem, among many, lies with Khamenei and his absolute power as Supreme Leader. Why would they want another serving?

However, there is at least one problem with the decision to get rid of the office of Supreme Leader that should be considered. That problem is the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Currently, the IRGC reports directly to the Supreme Leader.

The Basij militias and the nuclear program are under IRGC command. Therefore, the IRGC represents a massive number of regular and irregular security forces, and the soldiers who are members of the Guard Corps are more highly trained and outfitted than the regular army.

Over the years, the IRGC has expanded beyond its original mandate. The organization is now involved in a wide array of enterprises, such as: “laser eye-surgery clinics, manufactures cars, builds roads and bridges, develops gas and oil fields and controls black-market smuggling.” In addition, there is evidence that the organization is making a move into media and news. The IRGC is becoming a dangerously independent actor in Iran’s political and social spheres.

The rise of the IRGC has not gone unnoticed in Iran. According to the Newsweek article, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a frequent critic of Khamenei, recently stated “What we have is a military velayat, not a [religious] velayat.” This was in response to the IRGC crack down on Iranian citizens protesting after the June election.

A question comes to mind, what would happen if the position of Supreme Leader is actually abolished. To which person or organization, will the IRGC declare their allegiance, or will the IRGC declare its allegiance to itself? If the IRGC’s link to the Islamic Republic, which is the office of Supreme Leader, is severed what would hold the organization from assuming full and open control of Iran? In fact, the commanders may even decide that they are required to do so because their mission is to protect the leaders of the Islamic Revolution.

The IRGC would also have an economic incentive to assume control of the government. There would not be any guarantee that whichever person or government body they were placed under would allow them to continue their forays into non-military interests. The combination of economic and ideological motivations could certainly convince the Guard’s leadership that they would be far better off ruling the country than risking an uncertain future.

This entire line of reasoning may seem alarmist and consisting of far too much conjecture, but there is concern amongst Khamenei’s supporters. Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi, a confidant of Khamenei, had to reassure the IRGC leadership that the position of Supreme Leader is secure;

That’s like [the] chairman of the Democratic party reassuring people that the presidency has a future. According to Persian state-run news reports, Mesbah-Yazdi said, “Velayat-e faqih is like the column that keeps the tent of Islam standing. In an Islamic state, everything derives its legitimacy from the velayatAny movement weakening the velayat is equal to weakening Islam and doing a satanic deed…Khamenei’s representative in the Revolutionary Guards assured a gathering of adherents in universities that the leader could never be removed from power. “In the Islamic system, the office and legitimacy of the Supreme Leader comes from God, the Prophet and the Shiite Imams, and it is not the people who give legitimacy to the Supreme Leader and are able to remove him when they want,” said Mojtaba Zolnour, a little-known Khamenei representative.

The dangers of removing the office of Supreme Leader, at least as I see it, is that the government will transform from a authoritarian theocracy to a military dictatorship. Which would be worse for the Iranian people is a matter of degrees.

  • 18 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

“A Death in Tehran”

Frontline’s “A Death in Tehran” has long been billed as a documentary re-visiting the June 20, 2009 murder of Neda Agha Soltan. However, the segment focuses more on those who are still alive, and who carry the emotional scars of those who have both lost a loved one and had their government turned against them. The story examines the heartbreaking stories of those close to Neda, from her sister and boyfriend, Caspian Makan, to Arash Hejazi, the doctor who tried to save Neda, Faranak, a former reporter for PressTV, and Bilba Tavakoli, a friend.

Makan, Hejazi, and Faranak are now living in exile but have been consistently threatened by the Iranian government for speaking out about the circumstances surrounding Neda’s death. Hejazi decided to speak out against the government’s attempts to obscure the truth because

in every life a moment comes that the integrity of some person would be tested. I realized on that day that this was the moment in my life. I had to chose between keeping myself safe or proving my integrity.

Faranak left PressTV when, after the election, she became disillusioned with the station’s coverage of the election and joined the protesters. After being shot in the knee with a plastic bullet, Faranak was taken to the hospital where she witnessed Basij forces storming the emergency room and attacking the patients. If Faranak’s testimony is viewed in conjunction with Ahmadinejad supporter Nader Mokhtari’s forceful statement “we will not lose Iran,” then it becomes clear just how far the current government is willing to go in order to maintain its power.

“A Death in Tehran” includes numerous clips – albeit largely from cell phone cameras – of the protests and government’s reactions. Videos of Basij members firing into crowds of protesters provide some of the most chilling images of the entire documentary. Even if the crowd were attacking the militia and military buildings, it is impossible that the Basij firing from the rooftops were strictly targeting the few violent protesters.

 What they [the Iranian leadership] don’t want to accept, don’t want to understand, this is the people of Iran. Like the Islamic Revolution that was the people of Iran as well; like the Constitutional Revolution. This is the majority of the people who want freedom, who want democracy, who want human rights,

said former Deputy Prime Minister Mohsen Sazegara when discussing the government’s crackdown on the protesters.

With its investigation of the events leading up to and following Neda’s murder, Frontline provides a chilling, insightful account of the ongoing post-election violence that is taking place in Iran.

  • 12 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Culture

A History of Exchange

As I meandered through the Falnama: The Book of Omens exhibit at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, I was reminded once again of the shared history between Europe and Iran, the East and the West or the Occident and the Orient. However and wherever the dividing lines are drawn, they obscure a history that is far richer in cultural and intellectual exchange than is often recognized or acknowledged. Among the paintings depicting events that are specifically Persian in heritage, there were ornate paintings of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and, my personal favorite, Hippocrates riding the Simorgh.

The Simorgh is a creature of Persian mythology that symbolized, among other things, nearness to the Divine and wisdom. The image is evocative of the Simorgh carrying Zal to its nest. In Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh the Simorgh imparted some of its wisdom to Zal, including showing Zal how to perform a cesarean. What a perfect image then, the Simorgh carrying Hippocrates who is lauded as the progenitor of modern medicine.

The picture reminded me of a point made at a colloquium on Islamo-Christian civilization I attended some years ago. The speaker said that if you compared the total time that consisted of peaceful intercultural exchange between the East and the West is compared to the total time that was consumed by hostilities, the relationship is overwhelmingly defined by peaceful exchange and not by mutual hatred and mistrust.

Unfortunately, the media and academia are nearly always focused on the instances when communication has broken down. This presents a skewed view of history that sees current conflicts and tensions as the result of historical events, as simply the nature of things. For example, this attitude can be found in works such as Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.   

The truth of the matter is that internal conflicts, i.e. Christian vs. Christian or Iranian vs. Iranian etc., has been a far more regular occurrence than us-versus-them style conflicts. One great example is that at the height of its power Venice built forts along the Mediterranean coast ostensibly for defense against the Ottoman Empire. In reality, however, Venice had a fantastic trade relationship with the Ottomans, and was building the forts as a defensive line against the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, Venice often continued trading with the Ottomans, albeit surreptitiously, when other European countries had declared general war on the Turks.

I do not mean to portray an idealized past of perfect cooperation, but, instead, to point out the fact that there has been an enormous degree of cultural exchange between the East and the West. Cultures do not exist in individual bubbles isolated from the rest of the world. They are syncretic. They are the products of a continuous process of the borrowing and exchange ideas and beliefs.    

We would do well to think of the current tensions between Iran and the United States, or between the Muslim world and the West, as an interruption in a long tradition of exchange, and not as a continuation of historical practice. The blame for this break with tradition cannot be assigned to any one group. We are all responsible, and we should all work towards re-forging avenues of intellectual and cultural exchange.

  • 10 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Diplomacy, Nuclear file

Deal or No Deal, Talks Must Continue

The rigmarole surrounding the supposed failure of negotiations with Iran is causing the media and government to lose sight of what is really important: talking with Iran. Talking is, in and of itself, a confidence building measure. It allows for the growth of familiarity between the parties, and, therefore, greater confidence that the other side will honor any agreements. At this early stage, negotiations with Iran should be viewed as means to that end.

Negotiation is the ongoing process of discussion. A failure of negotiations, as they currently exist with Iran, would only really happen when the talking stops.  What is currently happening between the U.S. and Iran is a failure to compromise–it’s frustrating, seems like a deadlock, and feels like we’re banging our head against a brick wall.  But it’s not a failure. Further rounds of talks will beget further confidence from both sides, and toward that end even the stalemate over the Vienna proposal is not necessarily a cause for alarm.

The possibility of Iran gaining nuclear weapons in the future must be dealt with in a serious matter. But there is time before Iran will be able to construct a working nuclear weapon.

  • 9 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran

(Updated) Espionage Charges for American Hikers?

Reuters is reporting that the three Americans who crossed into Iran while hiking in Iraq are being charged with espionage.

“The three are charged with espionage. Investigations continue into the three detained Americans in Iran,” Tehran general prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said.

The three were held after they strayed into Iran from northern Iraq at the end of July.

The three, Shane Bauer, 27, Sarah Shourd, 31, and Josh Fattal, 27, crossed into Iranian territory nearly two months ago. Their families say they strayed across the border accidentally.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested in an interview with the American television network NBC in September that the Americans’ release might be linked to the release of Iranian diplomats he said were being held by U.S. troops in Iraq.

Under Iran’s Islamic sharia law, espionage is punishable by death.”

Important update (h/t Sanaz): According to IRNA, the hikers are “accused” of espionage, not charged. Tehran’s prosecutor said “investigations about these three people continue and an opinion will be issued soon…”

  • 5 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Reporter Arrested by Security Forces

The Associated Press is reporting that a reporter working for the Agence France Presse was arrested on November 4th. The Agence France Presse has said it has not heard from reporter Farhad Pouladi since Wednesday.

The AFP’s acting bureau chief in Tehran said Iranian reporter Farhad Pouladi was taken into custody Wednesday as he headed to cover a state-sanctioned rally outside the former U.S. Embassy. Anti-government protesters also clashed with anti-riot police during counter marches not far from the rally.

Since the June elections in Iran, foreign press agencies have been barred from covering protests. Numerous reporters, both from foreign and domestic media outlets, have been arrested by the government in the months following the disputed election.

 The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is reported to be examining Mr. Pouladi’s detention.

  • 3 November 2009
  • Posted By Matt Sugrue
  • Culture, Events in Iran

The Bakhtiari Alphabet Documentary

Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut is screening “The Bakhtiari Alphabet,” a documentary that follows the nomadic Bakhtiari tribe. The Bakhtiari are located in southwestern Iran. The film is directed by filmmaker Reza Ghadiani and Professor Cima Sedigh. According to a press release for the film,

“The Bakhtiari Alphabet” was created over the course of 7 years in the remote and mountainous regions of Iran, where the Bakhtiari live and migrate. Over that time, Dr. Sedigh lived with the nomadic tribe anywhere from a few weeks to a few months each year, studying their geography, history, economy, politics and culture. The film reveals both the struggle and humanity of this rapidly disappearing culture.

The screening will take place Friday, November 6th at the Schine Auditorium.


Sign the Petition


7,350 signatures

Tell Google: Stop playing Persian Gulf name games!

May 14, 2012
Larry Page
Chief Executive Officer
Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, California 94043

Dear Mr. Page:

It has come to our attention that Google has begun omitting the title of the Persian Gulf from its Google Maps application. This is a disconcerting development given the undisputed historic and geographic precedent of the name Persian Gulf, and the more recent history of opening up the name to political, ethnic, and territorial disputes. However unintentionally, in adopting this practice, Google is participating in a dangerous effort to foment tensions and ethnic divisions in the Middle East by politicizing the region’s geographic nomenclature. Members of the Iranian-American community are overwhelmingly opposed to such efforts, particularly at a time when regional tensions already have been pushed to the brink and threaten to spill over into conflict. As the largest grassroots organization in the Iranian-American community, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) calls on Google to not allow its products to become propaganda tools and to immediately reinstate the historically accurate, apolitical title of “Persian Gulf” in all of its informational products, including Google Maps.

Historically, the name “Persian Gulf” is undisputed. The Greek geographer and astronomer Ptolemy referencing in his writings the “Aquarius Persico.” The Romans referred to the "Mare Persicum." The Arabs historically call the body of water, "Bahr al-Farsia." The legal precedent of this nomenclature is also indisputable, with both the United Nations and the United States Board of Geographic Names confirming the sole legitimacy of the term “Persian Gulf.” Agreement on this matter has also been codified by the signatures of all six bordering Arab countries on United Nations directives declaring this body of water to be the Persian Gulf.

But in the past century, and particularly at times of escalating tensions, there have been efforts to exploit the name of the Persian Gulf as a political tool to foment ethnic division. From colonial interests to Arab interests to Iranian interests, the opening of debate regarding the name of the Persian Gulf has been a recent phenomenon that has been exploited for political gain by all sides. Google should not enable these politicized efforts.

In the 1930s, British adviser to Bahrain Sir Charles Belgrave proposed to rename the Persian Gulf, “Arabian Gulf,” a proposal that was rejected by the British Colonial and Foreign offices. Two decades later, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company resurrected the term during its dispute with Mohammad Mossadegh, the Iranian Prime Minister whose battle with British oil interests would end in a U.S.-sponsored coup d'état that continues to haunt U.S.-Iran relations. In the 1960s, the title “Arabian Gulf” became central to propaganda efforts during the Pan-Arabism era aimed at exploiting ethnic divisions in the region to unite Arabs against non-Arabs, namely Iranians and Israelis. The term was later employed by Saddam Hussein to justify his aims at territorial expansion. Osama Bin Laden even adopted the phrase in an attempt to rally Arab populations by emphasizing ethnic rivalries in the Middle East.

We have serious concerns that Google is now playing into these efforts of geographic politicization. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Google has stirred controversy on this topic. In 2008, Google Earth began including the term “Arabian Gulf” in addition to Persian Gulf as the name for the body of water. NIAC and others called on you then to stop using this ethnically divisive propaganda term, but to no avail. Instead of following the example of organizations like the National Geographic Society, which in 2004 used term “Arabian Gulf” in its maps but recognized the error and corrected it, Google has apparently decided to allow its informational products to become politicized.

Google should rectify this situation and immediately include the proper name for the Persian Gulf in Google Maps and all of its informational products. The exclusion of the title of the Persian Gulf diminishes your applications as informational tools, and raises questions about the integrity and accuracy of information provided by Google.

We strongly urge you to stay true to Google’s mission – “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – without distorting or politicizing that information. We look forward to an explanation from you regarding the recent removal of the Persian Gulf name from Google Maps and call on you to immediately correct this mistake.



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