Perhaps we should start by examining ourselves
By Ramin Tork
August 19, 2002
It breaks my heart to even think about it. As an ordinary Iranian I feel helpless.
I think of the future, I try to hold hope and optimism in my mind but I can't help
it, the thought keeps coming back! What is the future of our nation? We see or hear
that there may be signs to move towards an end to fundamentalism, perhaps a democratic
future for Iran?
There are those who might hope for external rescue, and those who believe that
through a peaceful movement we could move towards a more tolerant Government. There
are those who put their hopes in say a particular person. There are those who having
seen the reformists camps fail have put their faith in a third movement, one which
separates religion from the state.
Finally, there are those who have put the entire thing behind them and have broken
their ties with shaping the future and irrespective of living inside or outside of
Iran; they just get on with their lives. Whatever school of thought that you have
and whatever the outcome of our future, one thing is clear. There is no unity. There
is no unity.
We live our scattered lives in a state of Diaspora and like Babylonians who had
the Babel curse we have lost the art of understanding each other. I am not just talking
about Diaspora for those who are living on the outside, what I just said is also
true for those living inside Iran. This is the Diaspora of the heart and not space.
There is no real opposition. We do not trust political parties because
they failed us! Some betrayed us. There have been many who shed their blood and many
who still do, with all heart, with all spirit to secure a better future for Iran.
Where are they now and what did they achieve? Are they the forgotten Iranian sons
It is ironic that some of the individuals who conducted the "Mashrooteh"
revolution were very ordinary citizens and yet they had more intellectual thought,
than the intellectuals who had given up the sovereignty of their disillusioned mind
to political parties and put the entire nation in the abyss that we are in today.
In any case both of these revolutions have failed, we have learnt a lot from them
but as a Nation are we really any wiser than before? When are we going to be wise
Today, we are not living in a democracy and our wealth and intelligence is not
being invested in making Iran a greater nation, and by God we should be. We cannot
cast the first stone at just the so called wise who misled us, the generation of
the revolution were there and took part in shaping that future or should I say our
The other day, I saw the stoning of a woman on the Satellite TV. I could not hold
my tears from my little girl who saw me. Dear God. What do we have to do to make
it stop! I could have just gone back to my very ordinary life, but I simply couldn't.
Who will answer for that poor woman who was brutally murdered and thousands of other
victims like her?
Today, we face a greater threat. One doomsday scenario may be the disintegration
of Iran, one like former Yugoslavia i.e. one conducted through various separatist
movements which are waiting for just the right moment. One backed by external forces
that may not wish to have direct conflict but would see the separatist option as
one that could be beneficial to their interests.
I would like to focus on mainly Azerbaijan but the same principle is feasible
for any other region that has active separatist groups. I should emphasis that one
should not confuse Azaris who are promoting their sub-culture and ask for equal right
i.e. not to be treated as second-class citizens; I am making you aware of those who
are using the status quo to attract Azaris towards the separatist movement.
Why Azerbaijan? This can perhaps be better explained by giving some insight into
the birth of the separatist movement. As David Nissman (the author of the book The Soviet
Union and the Iranian Azerbaijan: The Use of Nationalism for Political Penetration.
Westview Press, 1987) had said:
Azerbaijan was separated into two parts by the Treaty of Turkmanchay, signed between
Russia and Iran in 1828. While believed to be the stimulus for a 'One Azerbaijan'
movement, the treaty primarily affected those merchants who traded across both borders,
who were taxed with various levies. The only significant change from the split was
the creation of a Russian province in Northern Azerbaijan: a cross-border movement
by the Azari population was not impeded.
The real beginning or the modern movement took place during the occupation of
northern Iran, including Southern Azerbaijan, during the World War II. Under occupation,
a large contingent of Soviet Azaris served as liaisons with the local population.
Performing various propaganda and communication functions including the establishment
of newspapers. Magazines, cultural contacts, and the training of Southern Azari journalists.
Writers and political activists in their own language and culture.
The Post-war Period: From 1947 To The Mid-1980s The Soviet Azari experience in
Southern Azerbaijan ended badly. The Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which had been
established in Iranian Azerbaijan under Soviet protection in 1945, collapsed following
the Red Army's departure.
Many Southern Azari political leaders, poets and writers, fled to Soviet Azerbaijan
where they found a warm reception by the literary community. They gradually integrated
themselves into Soviet Azari society, Most of them continued to work for the liberation
of Southern Azerbaijan. Southern Azari writers and poets used the phrase 'second
Fatherland' when speaking of Soviet Azerbaijan. This phrase was dropped in the early
1980s when the poet Suleyman Rustem launched the concept of 'One Azerbaijan'.
The 'Southern Question' And Azerbaijan's Independence. Resolving the 'Southern
Question' in the North became more complicated during independence than it had been
during the years of Soviet rule. During the Soviet period, the Azerbaijan cause was
backed nominally by the Soviet threat. From the Southern standpoint the Soviet affiliation
made unification with the North less palatable. Now that Azerbaijan is independent,
however, unification is no longer tied to the threat of Marxist-Leninism.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan's first years of independence (at the time of this
article) have been fraught with economic, political, and social difficulties. Above
all, the question of unification between Northern and Southern Azerbaijan is not
just a political question: there are other bonds that are of equal importance - their
blood relationship, their common language and past, and their common history of struggle
against national oppression. These are the issues that will define a common Azari
I also found an article from 1997, which caught my eye. This article titled "The
'Great Game' in Play in Azerbaijan" by S. Rob Sobhani". I felt the article
was slightly dated but it did give an insight into the handover of the Azari issue
from the Clinton to the Bush Administration. Here is the extract:
During her recent confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright identified the conflict between Armenia and
Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabagh as a priority of the Clinton foreign
policy team. This was most welcome since U.S. involvement in the peaceful settlement
of this little-known conflict would enhance America's security interests immeasurably
in the volatile, but ever more important, Caucasus region.
Unfortunately for Washington, however, it may be too
late fully to recover the ground lost during the first four years of the Clinton
administration due to its unduly cautious approach toward the Caspian Sea Basin.
If the United States is to secure its enduring national security interests there,
it must now play catch-up with the traditional powers of the region (notably, Russia
and Iran) in the strategic contest long known as "The Great Game".
Those interests are: the rapid and uninterrupted development of Caspian Sea oil
so as to reduce Western dependency on Persian Gulf sources of oil; containment of
Iran's Islamic fundamentalism; restraining Russia's lingering expansionist tendencies;
creating export opportunities and jobs; and the nurturing of truly independent, pro-Western
and democratic states with market-oriented economies.
More than any other newly independent state of the region, Azerbaijan has aligned
itself with America's interests. Clearly, it deserves our support. Azerbaijan can
be critical to U.S. efforts to diversify oil supplies since it is the key to unlocking
the estimated 200 billion barrel hydrocarbon reserves of the Caspian Sea region.
The initial oil projects signed thus far in Azerbaijan are expected to produce more
than 2 million barrels per day -- roughly equivalent to what the U.S. imports from
OPEC's Arab members. Azerbaijan is also on the front line of America's containment
policy toward Iran".
I chose this last article because it reflects the more recent events i.e. the
policy shift between the Russians, and U.S. and to some extend the desperation of
Mr. Khatami's Government in finding new allies. The article was published on May
23rd Economist article titled "Ever more perilous isolation" which
WHEN they met last weekend in Tehran, Iran's President Muhammad Khatami and Azerbaijan's
President Heidar Aliev implied that they had got over their contretemps of last summer,
when they nearly came to blows over the Caspian Sea. They agreed that their relationship
should be closer: both countries are Shia Muslim, with ethnic and cultural affinities.
But there was a tetchy undercurrent. The two are embarked on sharply different
directions in foreign policy, all the while looking over their shoulders, at America
and Russia. Locked into anti-Americanism by ideology and sanctions, Iran's clerical
regime favours an alliance with Russia as a means of securing arms, nuclear know-how
and diplomatic clout.
Until recently, Iran and Russia were at one in trying to prevent America from
dominating the distribution of Caspian oil and gas; they had similar ideas, too,
on how to divide the Caspian between the five littoral states. But Azerbaijan, having
escaped the Soviet embrace, has allied itself to America, and its oil companies.
It was always an unequal tussle, weighted on the side of the Americans and Azaris.
Now, Russia may be switching sides, or, at least, leaving Iran's.
Well since that article Russia has switched sides. So,
we have an isolated Iranian Government which is perhaps preparing itself for conflict,
we have Russia and U.S. and their interest in developing the Caspian Sea oil and
now united, intending to neutralise the threat of fundamentalism. Iranian fundamentalism
is not being pushed. Something has to give, and it will not be U.S.!
Historically U.S. has played a fine balancing act in ensuring that the balance
of power does not get disturbed in this region, but it would seem that since September
the 11th we are facing a different world and different strategies. President Bush
says that he is a friend of the Iranian nation. I hope that he is, and he is not
just here just for securing the Caspian Sea oil. I can see it now. Let say the region
falls into conflict. First starting with Iraq then Iran.
Now it could be that we have the same fate as Afghanistan or perhaps we will see
Separatists movements emerging from almost no where and start fighting for independent
states. I hope that I am wrong; I am not a political analyst so I really hope that
I am wrong! As a nation however, we should consider and be prepared for this possible
Those of you who do not think this scenario is possible. If you are old enough
to remember then ask yourself this, Twenty-three years ago, did you think that you
would have the future that you have as your present time now? Are we going to sit
there and once again let the tides shape our future? What can we do, I ask?
Perhaps we should start by examining ourselves. In the absence of any trust, we
should at least educate ourselves more politically and take part or at least take
some interest in our future. We should treat our minorities with respect and not
like second-class citizens so that they would not feel bitter. We should respect
their rights to practice their sub-culture or religion.
We should respect each other's rights to differ and not start throwing labels
at each other.Do not wait for the person sitting next to you to take the steps.
Do not wait for someone on a white horse to come to the rescue! What I am saying
is nothing new, and despite what I am asking I have not just packed my bags from
the Planet Utopia!
But truly I do not see these very simple principles
being practiced even in the Iranian culture that is living in the free world. The
separatist threat is in fact nothing new, but I think that at this moment where we
have such a divided nation and powerful external forces are preparing to reshape
our topography, that the threat of disintegration is very much real.
So, If you see conflict starting in the region, and Separatists start appearing
on TV, and if you think salvation is coming for Iran in a form of a U.S. convoy then
if you say a prayer for better things to come, say a prayer for our beloved cat and
its head. It looks much better with its head where it is but there may be those
who may want to sell it as an executive toy to an Oil Tycoon! Let us save the sinking
ship and not have to use the lifeboats!