Recently, there was a panel discussion held by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, titled “The Unknown Iran” led by Mr. Michael Ledeen. These types of discussions occur routinely, but this was reminiscent of ‘pre-Iraq’ invasion panel discussion groups that focused on federalism and the role of various ethnic groups …in preparation for a post-invasion plan for Iraq. Also the very presence of Michael Ledeen provided an overall cloud of suspicion over the meeting’s topic and timing.
Michael Ledeen was the person who approached Shimon Perez (in Israel) to help Oliver North with arms sales to Iran through Israel. Remember the Iran-Contra Scandal or what is now better termed “the October Surprise”? Remember Reagan’s presidential campaign arranging for the US Embassy hostages to be held during the Presidential campaign (to humiliate Carter) in exchange for arm sales and security assurances to the Mullahs? Yes, he was the point man with Israel.
Most recently Michael Ledeen was at the center of the AIPAC Spy Scandal. That’s the scandal that involved direct Israeli influence of congressional policy.
In fact there has been speculation that he is one of the top Mossad agents in the US. As far back as the early 80’s it was alleged that the CIA listed Ledeen as an agent of influence of Israel. He has been long associated with Richard Perle who was one of the significant proponents of the Iraq invasion. He is currently Karl Rove’s foreign policy advisor. Ledeen’s wife worked at the Pentagon office of Stephen Bryen who was investigated by the FBI for allegedly passing secrets to the government of Israel. Ledeen also founded the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a lobby group working for the defense interests of Israel.
One of the opening comments in the discussion was along these lines: “With 50% of the population are the “Persians” dominating all these other ethnic groups? So maybe Iran should be partitioned or possibly have a federal system of government”. Thankfully there were many panelists and even audience members that reinforced the essential unity of Iran and helped reject the notion of “Persian Domination”.
Time and time again, in our checkered history foreign powers have tried to splinter Iran, and exploit ethnic tensions.
During the days of the British presence in South Asia, they tried but failed to achieve this goal. Although it could be argued that they succeeded in helping Afghanistan splinter off.
In the past, the Russians had also pushed separatism from the North. And even though they had absorbed some parts of Iran – such as Azerbaijan into their fold – in the end, the cold war splintered Russia itself. Also, it should be noted that while they occupied Afghanistan, the Russians did try to organize the Baluchis and spark off their independence (so they could get a direct access to the warm waters in the Arabian Sea from Afghanistan). But, this plan failed miserably after the Russians got bogged down or distracted battling the Taliban fighters.
We’re now in a new age of Israeli-American dominance in the region. It’s their turn to adopt a partition strategy for Iran. Iran’s current government represents a large threat to both Israel and US forces now stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. With long range missiles, an active nuclear program, financial assistance to Hamas and Hezbollah, tacit assistance to insurgents in Iraq …Iran’s mullahs are the source of a lot of headaches. To add insult to injury, Iran’s current President, Ahmadinejad’s recent comments about ‘wiping Israel off the map’ has created a hostile atmosphere that is forcing everyone to draw swords.
There have been several attempts to reform the regime (using internal and external pressure). They have all failed. The mullahs have in fact become stronger than ever – with a very firm grip on power.
Since invading Iran is not an option any more (after America’s debacle in Iraq), perhaps the next best strategy is to get Iran’s ethnic groups to fight the battle for them. Several, simultaneous ‘battles for liberation’ from different directions (Kurdistan, Baluchestan, Azerbaijan, etc) would topple Iran’s central government, and create a number of weak client states which would pose no threat to anyone.
If you think this is a remote possibility, think again. All the seeds have been planted to implement this strategy.
– Azerbaijan: Since splintering off from the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan has now become a Western oriented nation – with substantial revenue from Caspian Sea Oil – driven by major investments by BP etc. Azerbaijan’s government has been broadcasting TV and Radio programs into the heart of Iran’s Azeri communities. With broadcast images of new found oil wealth, a secular government (that appears to be democratizing), and a European outlook (Azerbaijan considers itself to be European nation). It is an attractive alternative to Iran’s backward, religious central government.
– Kurdistan: With a federal structure in Iraq, and a well equipped local militia, the Kurds in Iran have developed new confidence in what they might achieve too. Their cultural identity has remained strong and has been reinforced with international TV and Radio broadcasts directed at the region. Again the appeal of statehood for the Kurds is attractive given their circumstances… of having a very weak voice in Iran’s current governance.
– One could go on and on about developments in every region …Baluchestan, Khuzestan, etc. There have been reports of bombings in Khuzestan and demonstrations in front of government buildings – just this past week.
The threat of separatism has never been more real.
The irony of course, is that we live in an age of ‘Unified’ States. After centuries of bitter and bloody wars, Europe is uniting. African nations, with all their backwardness are also uniting…
And above all Iran’s ethnic tensions fly in the face of cultural, historical and economic realities. In fact all of Iran’s current ethnic groups, as well as some of Iran’s neighbors (that were once part of Iran) share a common heritage that would imply that there is in fact a basis for a ‘unified’ nation.
One of the questions raised at Ledeen’s meeting was “what does Persian mean”? And no one could or would answer the question.
To me, Persian implies the sharing of a very specific set of common identities and interests. You have a Persian identity if you celebrate Now Ruz, follow a solar calendar, love Chelo-kebab (and other “Persian Foods”), enjoy poems by Saadi, Ferdowsi, Hafez, Bahar, etc. , listen to Googoosh…or Persian Classical Music (using scales involving quartertones, played on very specific instruments) or support Iran’s soccer or wrestling team. Religion is really not part of it. Regardless of ethnicity…Azeri, or Kurd or Baluchi or Lori … there is and can be cultural engagement and appreciation.
You have Persian interests, if you believe as I do, that being part of a larger economic framework i.e. sharing a market with 70 Million other people, with a multi-hundred billion dollar GNP is better than and more efficient (in the long run) than establishing a weak, dependent, locked in state (that would have to import everything at a higher cost to simply survive … cars, food, etc.). Having greater “Interests” then implies a requirement for a ‘lingua franca’ which is what “Farsi” is. It is the basis for currency denominations, bond/stock/commodity referencing, a central banking system, invoicing, industrial and engineering standards, a legal framework, etc. Even if you do not speak Farsi as a first language, it can serve a useful purpose as a second language to conduct commerce.
This is not “Persian Dominance” its simply commercial efficiency in play. It’s sort of like Red Indians pursuing their own culture and ethnicity on their reservations, but using English when they interact with the rest of the United States. Interestingly, while “Red Indian” cultures are devoid of any Anglo-Saxon basis, ALL of Iran’s ethnic languages (Kurdish, Azeri Turkish, Pashtu, etc.) have a great deal in common with Farsi…lettering, specific word derivations, etc. It really is not a far stretch for Farsi to be a second language for any of Iran’s ethnic groups…and for Farsi to be an economic and political lingua franca.
I was amazed to see Tadjiks and Afghans at the Googoosh concert in Washington several years ago. Clearly, there is more bonding us together than separating us.
In the end, we have to recognize the fact that Iran’s mullahs are conducting a dangerous foreign policy providing incentives for foreign powers to exploit ethnic tensions in Iran and carve the country up. Instead of ‘wiping Israel of the map’, Ahmadinejad may actually witness himself and Iran being wiped off the map.
The mullah’s are also conducting a repressive domestic policy that is suppressing democracy and ethnic participation in government which in turn is providing incentives for ethnic groups to consider other options to voice their political interests…fanned by foreign powers.
Separatism in fact, does not have a cultural, economic or a historic basis, but it is now finding renewed political footholds. Iranians everywhere must unite and topple the regime in Iran, if only to keep the country together. We must also in the long-run pursue a policy of unification with our neighbors and establish a larger economic and political community (like the European Union) and recreate the bonds we all share with our neighbors. This is the road to Iran’s prosperity.