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  • 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.

Sign the Petition

 

7,349 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.

Sincerely,

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