How democracy can be the solution to Iran’s ethnic problems?

Honorable members of the Italian Parliament and senate

Ladies and gentlemen

On behalf of the Federal-Democratic Movement of Azerbaijan and as a member of Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran , I wish to express my appreciations to UNPO which gives us an opportunity to highlight and discuss the obstacles preventing the transition of the Iranian society to a democratic system. In my speech, I will point out the main reasons behind these obstacles and our strategies to overcome them.

The most obvious reason for the lack of democracy in Iran is the rule of an authoritarian religious dictatorship in the country. For more than 30 years, the country has been governed by so-called theocratic leaders. In Iran, the state is said to be governed by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.

Theocracy is the backbone of the ruling system in Iran, therefore the state not only prevents any attempt towards progress and innovation, but also it forbids the freedom of thought, conscience, expression, opinion and above all, is against everything democracy depends on.

The constitution of the Islamic republic of Iran mandates that the official religion of Iran is Islam with clear preference given to the shi’a. By this means it has annihilated the solidarity of Iranians. It rejects the equal civil rights of the Iranians clearly and classifies them as first and second class citizens. This constitution denies non Farsi nationalities, Sunni Muslims, women and religious minorities.

The second major indication for the lack of democracy is the absence of the non Persian Iranians from political landscape of the country. For instance, although Iranian Turks are the largest nation in Iran, they are not involved in political power.

The Islamic republic of Iran has continued to practice the Pahlavi tradition of assimilating non Farsi nationalities that by the beginning of the twentieth century through a long-lasting political plan had forbidden the using of their language and the practice of their cultural tradition. The oppressive Islamic regime not only continued, but strengthened the assimilation policies of the shah. The intention was to curtail and weaken the development of the non Farsi nationalities and marginalize their role in Iranian society.

Denying non-Farsi nationalities the right to use their mother tongue in education has not only guaranteed the monopolization of power, knowledge and domination by the ruling authorities, it has also caused the restriction of the ability of critical and analytical thinking, discussing, questioning and interrogation. Paulo Freire, an acclaimed Brazilian educator and influential theorist of critical pedagogy, has called this procedure the” violation of the structure of thinking”.

The economic development of non Farsi regions in Iran have also been negatively influenced by this policy .For example the rate of investment in Kerman province has been about 300 times more than in Azerbaijan.

Before the Islamic revolution in 1979 South Azerbaijan was the second-highest industrially developed province in the country. A few years later, it dropped to 17th place.

South Azerbaijan is the founder of the modern educational system and schooling in the country. The second university in Iran as well as the first newspaper was also initially originated in that province. However, at the moment the rate of the literacy has dropped to 20th place.

Another crucial obstacle that prevents any democratic change in Iran is the repression of the women’s rights in the country. Since the establishment of the Islamic republic there exists a sexual apartheid in Iran. The constitution of the Islamic republic of Iran considers the women as the second class citizens. Additionally after the establishment of Islamic Republic in January 1979, some restrictions such as the enforcement of compulsory Hijab and the exclusion of women from employment of certain occupations, for example working as judges, were imposed on them.

And now what are our strategies:

1-In our opinion to change the Iranian regime to a laic and democratic system it is crucial that the women movement, nationalities, the labor movement and the freedom movement cooperate together.

2- We are opposed the military invasion of external forces and believe that these kinds of foreign interventions only strengthen the power of the ruling authorities in using them as excuses for suppressing the opposition. The security and military regime would use them to consolidate its reign and further destroy the critical opponents.

3- We agree with the sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council and the newly suggested ones by European Foreign Ministers. We believe that the sanctions could be an effective tool to put severe pressure on the Islamic republic.

However, the sanctions should be directed directly against the Iranian government and should not harm the innocent public.

4- In our opinion one of the main reasons of the longevity of the dictatorship in Iran has been the focus of all political power in Tehran. Therefore, we support a decentralization of the system where power and influence would be divided among the provinces. We believe that a federal system would restrict and eventually undermine Tehran’s monopoly on power.

We suggest the ethnic (national) federalism for Iran.

The federal republic of Iran ought to be established by the voluntary unity of Iranian nationalities and ethnic groups. It ought to be based on a democratic and national federal system and with two Houses of parliament. This ethnic federalism would be totally appropriate to Iranian national and linguistic reality.
5- We believe that only that constitution is able to unite the people living in the political geography of Iran that guarantees laicism, equal rights for all citizens and accepts the multinationality of Iran and the language of all the nationalities that live in this country and replaces the present political structure with ethnic federalism.

Dr. Sedigheh Adalati