No Regime Change for Iran's Ethnic MinoritiesJohn R. Bradley
Violence and unrest have increased among Iran’s ethnic minorities, which make up half of the country’s 70 million inhabitants. As Western countries show growing interest in these developments, author John R. Bradley warns against using the ethnic tensions to effect regime change. Bradley, a journalist who enjoyed insider access to the provinces, argues that while there is a transethnic and anti-government element in the turmoil, none of Iran’s ethnic groups are presently seeking to secede from the state. A divide-and-conquer strategy by the West would be likely to boomerang in the form of a nationalist backlash.
For example, Iran’s most oil-rich regions are heavily populated by ethnic minorities, whose radical elements could aim to exploit the geographic situation through what Bradley deems “economic terrorism.” A disruption in oil flow could put pressure on the Iranian government, but it could also result in considerable economic and political repercussions worldwide. Indeed, Iran considers some of these radical groups to be terrorist organizations and has accused Western countries of hypocrisy for supporting them.
Tehran has blamed the United States and Great Britain for the growing unrest among minorities, but the main causes of dissatisfaction are actually domestic: economic deprivation and cultural discrimination. Conflict is especially problematic in border provinces, where the socioeconomic gap is largest. In addition, many non-Persian ethnic groups have ties with individuals from neighboring countries that are mostly pro-US, or at least hostile to the Iranian government. These groups are liable to be accused of disloyalty.
Washington Quarterly, Winter 2006-07
Ethno-Linguistic Map of Iran (click on map for enlargement)
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Annette Poelking, Iran Deadline Expires Today: What Next?
- Maximilian Terhalle says that Quid Pro Quo is Best Deal For US and Iran
- Christoph Bertram on Gently Nudging Iran to Play Ball
- John K. Cooley Calls For A Comprehensive US-Iranian Dialogue
Prepared by Nike Jung