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  • 9 March 2011
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 3 Comments
  • Neo-Con Agenda, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Putting pro-people lipstick on a pro-war pig

Neoconservatives behind the propaganda film Iranium continue to mask their pro-war, pro-sanctions agenda as being somehow supportive of the people of Iran.  The producers of the film, which has been criticized as “using the struggle of the Iranian people to push for their war-agenda,” recently released a clip arguing that Iranians need communications technology in order to foment a “new revolution” in Iran.

Problem is, the Iranium crowd and its supporters have worked ardently to expand sanctions and help ensure that Iranians cannot freely access this very technology.  The clip in question tellingly links to a petition to “support the Iranian people” but which actually focuses on the Iranian nuclear issue and calls only for “stronger sanctions.”  Some support.

Iranium, in fact, spends much time bemoaning the fact that ordinary Iranians are able to obtain limited consumer technology through the black market in spite of sanctions. In one of the film’s scenes, two young Iranian boys play a videogame system at shopping mall while former CIA Director James Woolsey argues that Iran sanctions should be “crippling” in order to cut off such goods.  Accordingly, he says, only “food, pharmaceuticals, and bare necessities” should be allowed in Iran.

This might explain why Iranium ignores the fact that US sanctions make it illegal for even the most basic American software or technology to be available to ordinary Iranians, other than through the black market.  Thankfully, due in part to efforts by NIAC following the June 2009 elections, the US Department of State recognized this counterproductive policy and issued an exemption from sanctions for free Internet communication software.

But despite this positive step, it still remains illegal to send most software, anti-filtering tools, modems, servers, and satellite dishes to Iranians without first getting a special US government license.  In fact, it wasn’t until January 2011—over a year and a half after Iran’s post-election protests and nine months after State issued the sanctions exemption—that Google finally was able to make certain basic software like Google Chrome available in Iran after finally obtaining a US government license.

If the Iranium crowd actually wants to help, they would encourage that sanctions be reformed to not help the Iranian government stifle communication and to allow for software and technology to be freely available to Iranians.  But this is not part of the pro-war agenda.   Instead, they continue to argue for even more broad, untargeted sanctions while claiming to stand with the very Iranian people they are helping disconnect.

  • 29 June 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

A Majlis of the IRGC, by the IRGC, and for the IRGC



The recent battle over Azad University and its assets is not only a sign of a growing division in Iran’s hardliners. If one looks more closely, the growing importance of the IRGC in Iranian politics is also becoming clearer.

Originally created by Ayatollah Khomeini to be the Supreme Leader’s personal militia, the IRGC acts independently from the official armed forces. While it already controls a large segment of the Iranian economy, in the last decade the IRGC has also been increasingly acting like an independent branch in the government.

In recent decades, the IRGC has been used to suppress Iran’s rapidly developing civil society and student movement. Over the last two years, though, it has reached a boiling point: Hillary Clinton said Iran is becomming a “military dictatorship,” and the disputed electoral victory for Ahmadinejad last June was labeled a military coup.

“It is not a theocracy anymore,” said Rasool Nafisi, an expert in Iranian affairs and co-author of an exhaustive study of the IRGC. “It is a regular military security government with a facade of a Shiite clerical system.”

Now, the IRGC’s ascendancy is playing out in a battle over Azad University, its board, its 1.5 million students, and its billions of dollars worth of assets.

On June 19, Azad University’s board secured a temporary injunction preventing the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution (SCCR) from enforcing its revision of the university’s charter. In support of Azad University, on June 20 a bill was rushed through the 270-member Majlis that allowed universities to endow their properties to the public, thus circumventing the government takeover of the University.

As all political moves in Iran are protested by one group or another, shortly thereafter Basijis and Ahmadinejad loyalists protested outside Majlis, claiming the bill was against Khamenei’s will. Protesters threatened to place the Majlis “under fire” unless it backed away from its bill.

What is interesting to note is that the Basij and Ahmadinejad loyalists were not actually acting in the name of the Supreme Leader as they claimed. In fact, Khamenei came out and called for unity, saying “I object to any comment, move, action, or written text that leads to division and rift…We need to promote consolidation.” It thus seems that the Basij have actually developed a position of their own, independent of the Supreme Leader.

As a result of the heated protests, 100 legislators voted for emergency discussion of legislation that would support the SCCR’s authority in the matter. In other words, this discussion could overturn the endowment bill passed earlier on June 20.

The fact that protest by the Basij led many Majlis members to change their mind is a sign of their growing power.  According to U.S.-based political analyst Reza Fani Yazdi:

“It seems that from now on any bill that is due to be ratified by the parliament [must] be approved by the security military forces, otherwise the same thing will happen and they will bring their pressure groups to the streets and force the parliament not to make any independent decisions— even the current parliament, which includes many former members of the [Revolutionary Guard] and close aides of Ahmadinejad’s government.

As NIAC Advisory Board Member Reza Aslan said shortly after the June elections, “There is a genuine fear… that Iran is beginning to resemble Egypt or Pakistan, countries in which the military controls the apparatus of government.” If the IRGC begins to control the Majlis as well, Aslan will have proven to be right.

It is important to note, of course, that the IRGC is far from a monolithic organization. Members voted for various political candidates in the elections and of course do not all support Ahmadinejad. In fact, many former members denounced the regime’s brutal crackdown following the June 2009 elections. The effects of this great diversity on the battle over Azad University remains to be seen.

For now,  if the Ahmadinejad camp wins this political battle, they will control the billions of dollars of assets belonging to the university. The university’s campuses will be controlled by the government’s security and military apparatus. But most important, and perhaps most frightening, their victory will also serve as a precedent for the IRGC to effectively control the Majlis in the future through intimidation and violence, thus permanently overshadowing the most representative branch of the Iranian government. And with such a diverse IRGC, who knows what will happen next?

Photo Credit: Radio Farda

  • 14 June 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 1 Comments
  • Events in Iran

IRI’s Helping Hand

Hardline backers attacked and vandalized Grand Ayatollah Saanei's office on Sunday.

While some Iranians came out to protest on the one-year anniversary of the fraudulent presidential elections this weekend, others came out to attack Mehdi Karroubi and the offices of Grand Ayatollah Saanei and late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri.

Karroubi, who traveled to Qom on Sunday for a mourning ceremony, planned on visiting Grand Ayatollah Yousef Saanei, Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, and the family of late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. Shortly after arriving at the house of Saanei, a group of pro-regime backers encircled Saanei’s house, chanting slogans against Karroubi and Saanei. They also attacked Karroubi’s car, which despite being bulletproof, was still heavily damaged due to the severity of the attacks.

While these attacks were not particularly surprising — just another statistic added to the many other attacks this past year — what was surprising was the IRGC’s aid to Karroubi. The IRGC not only urged the violent crowds to disperse, but Karroubi also took refuge in a building owned by the Revolutionary Guards per their request until 4 in the morning on Monday when he finally left for Tehran. He escaped through a corridor made by the anti-riot police to ensure safe passing of Karroubi’s car.

As any Iranian who first points to an underlying conspiracy as the reason for an unnatural event taking place, I assumed it was the regime that set up the entire thing. Photos of Saanei’s office greatly resembled photos of university dormitories attacked by the Basij following the elections last year. Plain clothed thugs were hired by the regime, I thought, and then the IRGC came to the ‘rescue,’ showing the regime’s kindhearted nature, even to the opposition. It would serve for a brilliant propaganda campaign. But after fruitlessly searching on Press TV for any news of this event, I realized I was slightly off.

But only slightly. The place to look was Raja News, not Press TV. The state media was broadcasting the event, and of Karroubi’s flee from the people on domestic news sites, not international ones. The state-run media seemed to mock Karroubi for escaping a violent crowd — though I couldn’t imagine anyone in their right mind doing differently.

And all the while, the police did nothing. Shortly after Karroubi escaped, police and security forces stood by, watching while the mob attacked Saanei’s house and office and vandalized the late Montazeri’s office.  Said opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi’s son Hossein:

From the sudden gathering and the behavior of this group, it is obvious that they did not act by themselves and have orders.

This elaborate, and very organized plan, served the regime quite well. First of all, it allowed them to score some cheap points through the fear of violence.  Also, the IRGC very deliberately prevented the mob from going too far — because the last thing they want to do is create another martyr for the opposition movement.

Iran was shaken up after the death of Neda, and again, after the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri last year.  Another martyr would serve as the very flame needed to ignite the relatively smaller protests on the anniversary this year and turn them into something bigger, resembling the protests that followed the previous deaths. And so the IRGC prevented that from happening.

To be clear, this could have been a very major event — and it appears the senior leadership in the IRGC knew it.

For me, it wasn’t the violence that was surprising — thankfully, no one was hurt — it was its target: two grand ayatollahs, Montazeri and Saanei.  I was looking through the pictures of Saanei’s attacked office and saw a broken mohr.  A Mohr is a small clay tablet that Shi’a Muslims use to pray.

There’s no better illustration than this of what Montazeri meant when he said Iran is no longer Islamic nor a republic.

Underground Music Eludes Government Efforts to Silence It

Music has become political as Iranians turn to alternative outlets to express their frustration at the leaders of their government. Avid fans of blocked music have found ways to maneuver around government censors to download the “resistance music” the Islamic regime has so doggedly tried to silence.

Rap, folk, and classical music artists have all come together to give rise to a varied and dynamic underground music scene which has grown rapidly in the wake of the 2009 election in Iran. The lyrics of dissent have caught the attention of a wide public audience, speaking to the young and old alike.  As street demonstrations and open rebellion have been repressed, music has become a subtle but powerful form of protest according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Standford University.

The lyrics to one such song by traditional artist Mohammad Reza Shajarian titled “Language of Fire,” are pointed and powerful, making it an overnight hit:

Lay down your gun/ As I hate this very abnormal shedding of blod/The gun in your hand speaks the language of fire and iron/But I, before this fiendish tool/Have nothing but, the language of the heart/ The heart full to the brim with love for you/Who are in love with the enemy.

Unsurprisingly, the music has come under the ever-watchful government eye in Iran. Some artists like Persian classical musician Shahram Nazeri have paid a steep price for artistic freedom. Nazeri was held in custody and threatened after his release of an anti government song, “We Are Not Dirt or Dust.” His song was a response to President Ahmadinejad’s dismissal of protesters as “dirt and dust” in the aftermath of the demonstrations following the disputed presidential election last year.

Artists like rapper Shahin Najafi and folk artist Mohsen Namjoo have found themselves homeless.  Najafi now lives in Cologne, Germany and faces three years in prison and one hundred lashes should he choose to return to his native country. As Namjoo, who now lives in Palo Alto, California, told New York times reporter Nazila Fathi, “you have to constantly live with fear.”

However, there have been victories. When broadcasters tried to play Shajarian’s music as part of a government propaganda campaign, he proclaimed himself the voice of dirt and dust. He stood up to the state-controlled media and threatened to sue broadcasters if they continued. In the end, the voice of dirt and dust triumphed and broadcasters backed off.

  • 28 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Regime doth protest too much

It seems that despite any claims to the contrary, the Islamic Republic is still at least a little bit fearful for its safety and survival with the upcoming anniversary of the June 2009 elections.

This can be seen in the detaining of artists, hikers, Canadian journalists, and French academics (among many others). It can be seen in the execution of Kurds, Afghans, Bahai’s, and election protesters. However, perhaps the most controversial, the most offensive, and the most un-Islamic, is the recent declaration of a documentary to be released by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry to “complete the removal of ambiguities surrounding the murder of Neda Agha Soltan” and provide “new evidence” about the West’s version of events. In other words, to prove that Neda’s murder was staged.

I understand the obsession with Western conspiracies, as there have been many in Iran’s history. I myself am often the first to point to an underlying conspiracy as an explanation for things. Nonetheless, it is clear to any reasonable person that Neda’s death is not a conspiracy. If the initial evidence was not enough to prove it, the regime’s reaction was.

Neda’s family was threatened to make false confessions attributing her death to the West. Her family was prohibited from holding a funeral for her, despite funerals being very important in Iranian and especially Muslim culture. Neda’s fiancé and the doctor who tried to save her life in the video, both scared for their lives, left the country. Her grave was desecrated by supporters of the regime. And now, after all this time, the regime brings it up, yet again, by pointing its finger to others.

But I do not want to argue that Neda’s death was indeed the work of the Islamic Republic, because there are many others who have done that before me. Rather, I would like to point out the regime’s psychological insecurity, at bringing up a death from nearly a year ago. This documentary, like the recent arrests, executions, and detentions, is to be released shortly before the one-year anniversary of the June 12 elections. These events all happening in the span of a few days are more than a coincidence; they are to continuously dissuade people from participating in expected protests. This documentary is likely meant to undermine the powerful symbol she has become as well as the legitimacy of the opposition movement in Iran.

But how long is a family to suffer? The Islamic Republic ought to stop exploiting and hurting the Iranian people simply to allay its own fears and insecurities. Besides, who is really going to believe that the blood coming from Neda’s death was from a ketchup bottle?

As one of the many who cried upon watching Neda’s death, I can only imagine how her family must feel. My advice to the Islamic Republic: show a little Muslim compassion, it is what we are best known for. Let the dead rest in peace. And let the living finally move on.

The Bastions of the Paramilitary

Hossein Sajedi, Tehran’s police chief, said yesterday that despite the fact that “some media” (read: Mousavi and Karroubi) have called for rallies on June 12, Iranian security forces will confront any “illegal” demonstrations. “Police will confront any illegal gatherings … police are vigilant and in charge of public order and security,” he said.

My question to Mr. Sajedi is: what is the definition of an illegal demonstration? Is it one that involves students staging a sit-in at their university? Is that illegal? Are singing and holding up peace signs also a threat to national security?

On Saturday and Sunday, students at Tehran’s Islamic Azad University staged a sit-in as protest against the fraudulent June 2009 presidential elections and calling for the release of their classmates who had been imprisoned in the months after the election.

Apparently, this was deemed illegal, as security forces broke up the protests. According to Daneshjoo News, at least four students who were critically injured by Basij forces, rather than receiving medical attention, have been arrested.

I fear for a government which violates its own constitution in arresting those partaking in peaceful protests. Of even bigger concern though, is the way the government has transformed the country’s bastions of knowledge into bastions of the paramilitary. As a result of the sit-in and the attacking security forces, afternoon classes were canceled, reminiscent of the way classes were often canceled for the same reason shortly after the 1979 revolution. In addition, security forces threatened students with harsh sentences from the university’s disciplinary committee, a clear violation of university rules.

When the university officials become involved in oppressing their own students, the very nature of the university as a free and safe atmosphere is threatened. Not only is the canceling of classes obviously detrimental to the students’ learning, but this oppression will undoubtedly negatively affect many students’ forms of thinking at an age when they are most receptive to new ideas. While this may be the aim of the regime, this generation is the very future of the country. And to attack one’s future generation and their chance of flourishing is not only stupid, it is also self-destructive.

  • 24 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 4 Comments
  • Events in Iran

The People’s Enemy

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEeMnedfUy0&”]

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the liberation of Iran’s southwestern city of Khorramshahr, captured by Iraq in 1980 near the start of the Iran-Iraq War.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei made a speech marking the occasion, declaring that “Enemies of the Iranian nation will definitely be defeated today as they were defeated in 1980.” Denouncing the actions of the US and its allies in different parts of the world, namely Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and the Palestinian territories, Khamenei attributed Iran’s enemies as the root cause and element of crimes and insecurity in the world.

President Ahmadinejad also made a speech in Khorramshahr for the occasion, but this speech didn’t go exactly as planned. Ahmadinejad was interrupted by loud chants coming from the crowd, saying: “Bikaree! Bikaree!” (“Unemployment! Unemployment!”)

With this interruption, the citizens of Khorramshahr reminded the president as well as the Supreme Leader that they don’t blame Iran’s enemies for the double-digit unemployment in the country.

To top it off, the speech — and the ensuing chants — were carried live on national TV.  This forced Ahmadinejad to respond, saying “The government… with the help of the youth in Khorramshahr and Khuzestan [province], hopefully will eliminate unemployment in Khuzestan.”

Unemployment was also one of the main issues in the 2009 presidential campaign, and one of the main issues distinguishing incumbent Ahmadinejad and reformist candidate Mousavi, who criticized Ahmadinejad for his handling of the economy in his four years in office.  In his 2005 election campaign, then-candidate Ahmadinejad gained significant support among the voters for his promise to put “a chicken in every pot.”

But perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on detaining artists, hikers, Bahai’s, election protesters, Canadian journalists and French academics (among many others).  This has to have been a distraction from the government handling the double-digit unemployment in the country, which is also an “enemy of the Iranian nation.”

Why Rafsanjani is so important for the Greens

Six months ago in Mashad, Iran, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani delivered a speech to a group of Iranian student activists saying: “If people want us, we will govern; and if they don’t, we will have to go.”

This might have seemed like nothing new, but it wasn’t coming from just anyone — it was said by Hashemi Rafsanjani,  Iranian cleric and a two-term Iranian president.  Still to this day known as one of the most powerful individuals in Iranian politics, Rafsanjani leads the body that has the power to unseat the Supreme Leader.

This one statement, coming from Rafsanjani, cracked the entire foundation of Velayat- e- Faghih — the rule of God’s representative over man and country.

Just a few days ago, Rafsanjani reiterated his statement when delivering a speech at the anniversary of a religious ceremony in Tehran. After welcoming his guests, Rafsanjani started speaking about the will of the people and how people are in charge of their own destiny. He said God will not take anyone to Heaven by force who doesn’t want to go himself; each person has the right to choose for him or herself the path he/she will take.

“We have to find the path of God ourselves with our own will. Our own will and that is what is important.”

These subtle political messages are common among Iranian clergies, and they regularly communicate with each other through speeches at different sermons, which can be extremely frustrating to an outsider. Rafsanjani later said:

“The path of good vs. evil has existed since the beginning of time and will continue to be around until the end of time. Humans have been and must continue to be responsible and free to choose their own path in this world.”

No wonder the hard-line conservatives have been severely attacking Rafsanjani lately. He has been around even before the Iranian revolution and has actively been one of the main pillars of the Islamic Republic establishment since its inception. At this point in time, though, he is coming to realize the incompatibility of the current establishment with the new Iranian generation and the democratic world.

He is aware that significant reforms will be needed in order for modern Iran to survive, which is exactly what the Green Movement has been saying for the past year. If the system does not bend with the demands of its people, then it will be just like what Rafsanjani said, but perhaps much harsher.

  • 21 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Afghanistan, Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran

Ethnic Overshadowing in Iran

The domestic situation in Iran has been overshadowed by recent talk of the deal brokered between Iran, Turkey and Brazil, imminent UN sanctions, and Congress’s push for unilateral sanctions.

While last week’s protests against the execution of five Iranians encompassed all Iranians, there was especially large participation by Iranian Kurds. (Recall that four of these five Iranians were Kurds.) This fact has not been  emphasized for several reasons.

First of all, to emphasize the Kurdish aspect of these execution would allow the government to paint the Green Movement as a “separatist movement” similar to PJAK or PKK, which conflicts with the nationalist narrative that Mousavi has worked so hard to construct.  More importantly, however, it has been noted that these executions were more of a warning against the upcoming anniversary of the June 2009 elections than as a crackdown on an ethnic minority. The parallel can be seen in the executions prior to the anniversary of the 1979 revolution in February, also meant to deter protests.

Nonetheless, the role of ethnic conflict in Iran’s internal politics has only increased in recent weeks.  Protests following the controversial hangings took place throughout Iran, and in several cities in other parts of the world, but the protests in Iranian Kurdistan were especially dramatic. Many Kurdish cities in Iran went on strike on May 13 in response to the executions, including Mahabad, Ashnaviyeh, Sanandaj, Boukan, Saghez, Marivan and Kamyaran. All businesses in the area were closed as well as most of the schools, as many students refused to attend school. Due to growing tensions in the area, security troops were stationed in the streets and state troops reportedly threatened shop owners in the bazaar, demanding them to end the strikes, the Green Voice of Freedom said. In response, the Islamic Republic arrested another Kurd, this time human rights activist Ejlal Ghavami.

While this may have been the end of it, ethnic tensions seem to have only increased, this time across Iran’s borders. On the same day of the protests in Iranian Kurdistan, Iran temporarily detained an Iraqi border guard after mistaking him for a member of the Kurdish rebel group PJAK.

Additionally, this past weekend Iranian artillery bombarded parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, where Kurdish rebels opposed to Tehran were said to be holed up.

“From 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) Saturday until [Sunday] morning, Iranians fired on the villages of Khanawa, Totma, Marado, Sourkan and Nalia Rach, causing extensive damage to agricultural land and losses of livestock,” said Azad Oussou.

In the bombardment, Iran’s security forces killed at least two Kurds near Iran, alleged members of a Kurdish guerrilla group near the Islamic Republic’s western borders according to a report by state television on Tuesday.

And Iran’s crackdown on ethnic minorities still continues. According to Human Rights Watch, 17 Kurdish dissidents remain on death row in Iran.

Evidence of ethnic concerns for Tehran goes beyond the preoccupation with Kurds, however. After the execution of a number of Afghan refugees in Iran last week, thousands in Afghanistan protested in Jalalabad, Herat, and Kabul. While Tehran officials put the number at six, protesters and rights groups say Iran has executed 45 Afghans in recent weeks on drug smuggling charges.

While the increased paranoia could be attributed to the anniversary of the June 2009 election, as were last week’s protests, this does not fully explain Iran’s recent clashes with Iraq and its “scenario” with Afghanistan. The more likely explanation is that the very overshadowing of the recent flood of news about Iran has emboldened it in its recent actions. Who will pay attention to such news when the nuclear issue and sanctions are front and center? The issue of human rights in Iran has continuously been subjugated to other issues assumed to be more important, and thus minority rights within Iran are almost completely ignored as well.

The domestic situation in Iran has been overshadowed by recent talk of the deal brokered between Iran, Turkey and Brazil, imminent UN sanctions, and Congress’s push for unilateral sanctions.

While last week’s protests against the execution of five Iranians encompassed all Iranians, there was especially great participation by Iranian Kurds. (Recall that four of these five Iranians were Kurds.) This fact has been not emphasized for several different reasons. First of all, to emphasize the ethnic aspect of the execution would be a cue for the Iranian government to point out the separatist nature of the Green Movement, which has always been looked down upon in Iranian history. More importantly, however, it was noted that these executions were more of a warning against the upcoming anniversary of the June 2009 elections than as a crackdown on an ethnic minority. The parallel was made to the executions prior to the anniversary of the 1979 revolution in February, also meant to deter protests.

Nonetheless, and despite the accuracy of both the aforementioned arguments, a recent ethnic focus on internal politics can in fact be seen. While protests did occur throughout Iran, and in several cities in other parts of the world, the protests in Iranian Kurdistan were especially dramatic. (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/05/iran-strikes-in-kurdistan-violent-protests-at-scandinavian-iranian-embassies-over-executions.html ) Many Kurdish cities in Iran went on strike on May 13 in response to the executions, including Mahabad, Ashnaviyeh, Sanandaj, Boukan, Saghez, Marivan and Kamyaran. All businesses in the area were closed as well as most of the schools, as many students refused to attend school. Due to growing tensions in the area, security troops were stationed in the streets and state troops reportedly threatened shop owners in the bazaar, demanding them to end the strikes, the Green Voice of Freedom said. (http://en.irangreenvoice.com/article/2010/may/13/1869 ) In response, the Islamic Republic arrested another Kurd, this time human rights activist Ejlal Ghavami. (http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/middle-east/Report-Kurdish-Rights-Spokesman-Arrested-in-Iran-93781959.html)

While this may have been the end of it, ethnic tensions seem to have only increased, this time across Iran’s borders. On the same day of the protests in Iranian Kurdistan, Iran temporarily detained an Iraqi border guard after mistaking him for a member of the Kurdish rebel group PJAK. (http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64D5H220100514)

Even more important, this past weekend Iranian artillery bombarded parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, where Kurdish rebels opposed to Tehran were said to be holed up.

“From 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) Saturday until [Sunday] morning, Iranians fired on the villages of Khanawa, Totma, Marado, Sourkan and Nalia Rach, causing extensive damage to agricultural land and losses of livestock,” said Azad Oussou. (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hH925s3QsKRthLnNPG8qheENUvJw)

In the bombardment, Iran’s security forces killed at least two Kurds near Iran, alleged members of a Kurdish guerrilla group near the Islamic Republic’s western borders according to a report by state television on Tuesday. (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE64H1TZ.htm)

In addition, Iran’s crackdown on ethnic minorities within the country still continues. According to Human Rights Watch, 17 Kurdish dissidents remain on death row in Iran. (http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/11/iran-executed-dissidents-tortured-confess)

Evidence of ethnic concerns for Tehran goes beyond the preoccupation with Kurds, however. After the execution of a number of Afghan refugees in Iran, thousands in Afghanistan protested last week as well in Jalalabad, Herat, and Kabul. Protesters and rights groups say Iran has executed 45 Afghans in recent weeks on drug smuggling charges while Tehran officials put the number at six. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8679336.stm)

Granted, because of the diverse nature of the population, minorities have always been of concern to Iran, and not only in the Islamic Republic. Nonetheless, with these recent incidents, one can only wonder what has spurred the recent increase in concern.

  • 11 May 2010
  • Posted By Setareh Tabatabaie
  • 2 Comments
  • Events in Iran, Human Rights in Iran, Iran Election 2009

Executions Meant to Be a “Warning,” Spark Protests Instead

Protests took place in Tehran and major cities around the world including Frankfurt, London, Vienna, Toronto, Koln, and Paris, among many others, on May 9 and May 10, 2010 after the execution of five political prisoners in Iran’s Evin Prison.  The Tehran protests included chants of “Freedom,” and “Basiji get out of here,” and “Students would rather die than surrender to oppression,” while elsewhere chants also included “Death to the Islamic Republic.”

Convicted of “moharebeh” (enmity against God)  Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alam-Holi, and Mehdi Eslamian were all hanged on Sunday, May 9, 2010 in the prison. Of the five prisoners, four were Kurds, sparking outrage at Iran’s continued poor treatment of the large minority in the state.

Amnesty International has condemned the act and is calling on Iranian authorities to halt all executions, or at the very least adhere to their own laws regarding their implementation.

The five were accused of “enmity against God” for carrying out “terrorist acts” and convicted of this vaguely worded charge which can carry the death penalty and is usually applied to those who take up arms against the state.

“We condemn these executions which were carried out without any prior warning. Despite the serious accusations against them, the five were denied fair trials. Three of the defendants were tortured and two forced to ‘confess’ under duress,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Citing “security” concerns, the government has in the past often accused activists, journalists, and writers of “stirring trouble and ethnic and racial conflict” and of “working with opposition groups,” including the murder of Shivan Qaderi and the subsequent arrest of several Kurdish activists in July 2005 and the murder of Mohammad Islamian in December 2009.

While this recent act may have simply been a continuation of Kurdish oppression in the country, it is more likely that it was to serve as a warning for upcoming protests on the anniversary of the June elections. Regardless, one thing does remain clear. This was a blatant violation of human rights.

It is quite ironic that while the purpose of these executions was likely meant to deter Iranians from future protests, it in actuality served as a reason for other protests to take place.

Everyone knows that the Iranian people have continued to be upset at the actions of their government — whether they have come out into the streets to protest or not.  These smoldering demonstrations, though small, seem to represent a welling up of indignation and outrage as the anniversary of the June 2009 election approaches.

It will be interesting to follow this new trend, as protests of Iranians inside and outside the country are becoming more frequent and can now be expected without warning.

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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.

Sincerely,

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