Jun 19, 2007

Iran: Opposition Groups Unify

A three-day conference aiming to unify Iran’s many opposition movements, including a number of minority communities, was held this weekend in Paris.

A three-day conference aiming to unify Iran’s many opposition movements, including a number of minority communities, was held this weekend [15-17 June 2007] in Paris. 

Below is an article written by Ahmad Rafat and published by Adnkronos International:

The first conference grouping Iran's diverse opposition groups […] has ended with the declared aim to work towards a unitary movement. The three-day event in Paris which ended Sunday [17 June 2007] took place as the Iranian government of ultraconservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is cracking down on civil liberties and confronting a dire economic situation in the domestic arena while facing an international crisis over its pursuit of sensitive nuclear work which has made it the target of two waves of UN sanctions.

"International factors and the acceleration of an international crisis but most of all the country's serious political situation and the growing number of protests by workers, women's rights activists and students have made this conference necessary and possible," said Shahriar Ahi, a well-known opposition member and monarchist.

"Putting around a table representatives of such diverse movements, ideologies and ethnic groups in Iran is by itself a feat which should not be underestimated," said Ahi […].

However, cohabitation in a joint movement is not easy for ethnic minorities, mostly Kurds who were represented in Paris by the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komalah, two historic parties of the Iranian Kurdish population, and nationalists and monarchists. Indeed significant divergences have almost caused the conference to fail given that, except for the Iranian Left, other secular and Islamic movements do not recognise the right of ethnic groups to be "a nation among nations" in multi-ethnic Iran where minorities - including the largest Azeri (24 percent), Gilaki and Mazandarani (8 percent), Kurd (7 percent), Arab (3 percent), Lur, Baloch and Turkmen (2 percent) - accuse the Persian majority (51 percent) of significant discrimination.

"Politics is the art of mediation and I believe we have succeeded in preparing the ground for a unitary movement," said Shahriar Ahi at the end of the conference.

Indeed a member of Komalah, the Marxist wing of the Kurdish movement, who asked not to be identified, said that "we have accepted to continue to discuss and try to find a solution for this divergence which has always made cooperation between ethnic minorities and the Persian majority difficult."

The conference was also attended by student activists and women's rights campaigners who have been recently forced to leave the country following the government's crackdown on their movements under a new moralisation campaign re-enforcing strict Islamic codes to civil society. Out of the roughly 300 delegates taking part in the conference - only about ten are still living in Iran.

According to Amir Farshad Ebrahimi, a former member of Ansar Hezbollah, a paramilitary organization controlled by the powerful Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, "exiled opposition groups cannot and should not impose their choices on movements operating inside the country."

Ebrahimi, who has spent a year in jail for denouncing the role of armed militias in the repression of students' movements, also said that "groups fighting within the country for change believe that the exiled should speak for them, bringing their message to the international public opinion and mobilising the domestic public through radio and television networks as well as the Internet."

Delegates from Iran, mostly activists in workers' groups and women's rights movements, chose not to address the conference because, according to the former member of Ansar Hezbollah, "movements such as that of women and labourers cannot identify themselves with exiles and because by forging too close a tie with activists living abroad they would loose the little freedom they still have."

The conference, which took place amid tight security measures and under the scrutiny of Western governments, ended with the election of a coordinating committee which will have to boost the network of opposition groups aspiring to a regime change in Iran similar to the one achieved by the Solidarity (Solidarnosc) movement of Lech Walesa in Poland, credited with launching an irreversible process towards freedom and the collapse of communism in eastern Europe.