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Headless cat
Perhaps we should start by examining ourselves

By Ramin Tork
August 19, 2002
The Iranian

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 and daughters?

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 enough?

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 present nightmare!

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 future.

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 states:

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 disintegration scenario.

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!

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