December 15, 2016
On 14 December 2016, representatives of different minorities in Iran were invited by EP Delegation for Relations with Iran (D-IR) for an exchange of views at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. The initiative took place following successful rounds of advocacy meetings in 2016, which led to UNPO being solicited by the D-IR to organise a panel with minority representatives from Iran in order to learn from first-hand account about their situation. During the meeting, representatives from the Ahwazi Arabs, Balochis, Kurds and Turks from Southern Azerbaijani - the four largest ethnic communities in Iran after Persians – spoke about the dire situation to which their peoples endure in Iran.
Ms Mona Silavi from the Democratic Solidarity Party of al-Ahwaz (DSPA) reported about the suffering of the Arabs in Ahwaz, in the South West of Iran. Even though their region provides more than 90% of Iran’s GDP, the indigenous Ahwaz Arabs live in abject poverty. All high and mid-level positions from governor down to mayors are appointed from non-Ahwaz local people, who work for the benefits of central Iran. The Ahwazi region faces severe environmental destruction, caused by dams which diverts the waters of the Karoon River to Persian regions. Ms Silavi also emphasized that peaceful protestors and activist have been arrested, persecuted and are labeled as terrorists.
Mr Aso Saleh, representing the Iranian Kurdish party PDKI, described a similar procedure of the Iranian government applying in Iranian Kurdistan. The Iranian government extracts the natural resources of the region and, at the same time, pursues a deliberate policy of keeping Kurdistan in a state of economic underdevelopment. In addition, the Kurdish youth is suffering from drug addiction; experts believe that the Iranian government intends to destroy the fabric of Kurdish society by facilitating the distribution of drugs among Kurdish youths as part of its strategy to undermine the Kurdish national movement. To conclude, Mr Saleh added that the people of Iranian Kurdistan face constant military attacks, arbitrary killings and disappearances.
Mr Nasser Boladai, Spokesperson of the Balochistan Peoples Party and member of the foreign affairs committee of Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), as well as UNPO President, condemned the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in West Balochistan. According to Mr. Boladai, the IRGC is involved in drug trafficking in this region which is bordering with Balochistan in Pakistan. While giving free rein to the IRGC, the Iranian government at the same time uses the fight against drug trafficking as an excuse to suppress the Balochis’ human rights. Moreover, Mr. Boladai denounced the treatment of Baloch people as third class citizen: they do not have equal opportunities to higher education nor equal job opportunities due to a selection procedure known as “Guzinesh”.
Ms Solmaz Bilgin, representative the Southern Azerbaijan Democratic Party (SADP), in turn, raised awareness of the human rights situation in Iran’s Southern Azerbaijan region. She shed light on the problems associated with linguistic and cultural suppression perpetrated against the people of Southern Azerbaijan, where the local people are not allowed access to education in their native language. Furthermore, Ms Bilgin raised the issue of the human-made disaster at Lake Urmia, where the mismanagement of water reserves is posing serious and catastrophic consequences to the wider region.
During the exchange of views, the MEPs of the D-IR could learn more about the true multi-national identity of Iran, a country with diverse ethnic, linguistics, cultural and religious composition. Not surprisinlgy, speeches from four different minorities converged to the same sad reality of gross human rights violations perpetrated by the Iranian government against them. Nonetheless, the fruitful exchange of information inaugurated a new channel of communication between UNPO, on behalf of its members, and the D-IR, which has manifested its interest to continue talks with minorities in 2017.