Repression by the morality police: Iran’s ethnic minority ‘taming’ policy - opinion

As South Azerbaijani dissident Babek Chalabi noted, the world needs to "break free from Iran's nurturing of terrorism."

 IRANIAN POLICE officers patrol a street amid the revival of the morality police in Tehran, this week.  (photo credit: WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
IRANIAN POLICE officers patrol a street amid the revival of the morality police in Tehran, this week.

After an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Baku was thwarted, it was recently reported that Iran’s morality police are now patrolling the streets of the Azerbaijani minority in Iran, enforcing the mandatory hijab as a collective punishment against the Azerbaijanis. 

This appears to be how Iran chose to punish Azerbaijanis for thwarting the terror attack that Iran attempted to implement at the Israeli Embassy in Baku. Thus, since their external oppression against Azerbaijanis failed, they now are going after the Azerbaijanis who try to survive under the Iranian yoke.

Targeting women as a kind of ethnic repression is a well-known Iranian practice to “tame” the ethnic minorities in Iran: The Kurdish human rights activist, Mahsa Amini, was brutally murdered by Iran’s morality police on September 16, 2022, for “not donning a proper hijab.”

State repression and societal backlash: Extensive violence against minorities, women 

For South Azerbaijanis, Kurds, and other ethnic minorities across Iran, this latest move highlights another arena in which the women from these communities are facing increased repression from the mullah regime in Tehran, as many minority women want to live in freedom and be able to dress how they please and not how the mullahs dictate that they dress. For this reason and many others, Iran’s ethnic minorities have been protesting against the regime in droves.

Marginalized ethnic groups in Iran such as South Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Baloch, Ahwazi Arabs, Turkmens, and other groups face arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced disappearances, and executions. \

 A young woman lies in hospital after reports of poisoning at an unspecified location in Iran in this still image from video from March 2, 2023. (credit: WANA/REUTERS)
A young woman lies in hospital after reports of poisoning at an unspecified location in Iran in this still image from video from March 2, 2023. (credit: WANA/REUTERS)

In Iran, over 350 executions are carried out annually. A disproportionate number of the victims are members of minority groups. To add insult to injury, it was reported that thousands of schoolgirls in Iran were poisoned between November 2022 and March 2023, with many of the victims suffering from respiratory distress, numbness of the limbs, heart palpitations, headaches, nausea, and vomiting, causing hundreds to be hospitalized. Many of these schoolgirls who were poisoned were members of Iran’s ethnic minorities, who were active in protesting against the regime.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, “People who face multiple layers of discrimination, such as women,” are confronted with both “state repression and a societal backlash in their own communities.” 

This regime leaves no possible defense for women

For example, in Iran, the courts are only conducted in Persian, which once prompted an Azerbaijani woman Rahele Zamani to get executed for murder because she was unable to make a proper defense for herself in Persian. She killed her husband after the birth of her second child because of his extreme physical abuse. 

As Sevil Suleymani wrote in Azerbaijani Women in Iran, a thesis presented to the faculty of San Diego State University: “Rahele had three medical emergencies in the hospital in Sarab after sustaining physical injuries following domestic abuse. Once, when her husband struck her over the head, she spent three days unconscious in the hospital.” 

Nevertheless, every time she tried to get a divorce, the judge dismissed her. But when she finally killed her husband because of the abuse, she was executed.

Due to the language gaps, she did not learn Persian until she was in prison, as her parents never sent her to school because she was a girl and married her off at age 14, since it gave them one less mouth to feed. So Rahele was penalized both by her family and her society for being a girl, not being educated, and for being part of the South Azerbaijani community. This story highlights one of the reasons why the South Azerbaijani people want this regime overthrown.

Oppression through the restriction of Azerbaijani language

I RECENTLY addressed the European Parliament about the oppression faced by the South Azerbaijani people, who have endured years of discrimination, marginalization, and cultural suppression, which has hindered their ability to live a life of dignity and equality. While the Azerbaijani language is an integral part of their identity and heritage, it is systematically repressed by the Iranian regime.

When ethnic minorities such as South Azerbaijanis have children, they are forced to select Persian names for their children. Later on, as the children grow up, South Azerbaijani parents are forced to speak Persian with their children because the schools are taught only in Persian, and children who fail to master fluency in Persian are dumped into special education. In some cases, like Rahele’s, this linguistic problem causes the child to not even attend school.

This policy has led to decreasing the education level in South Azerbaijan and other areas where ethnic minorities live. Kurds, Baloch, Ahwazi Arabs, Turkmen, and other ethnic minorities face similar discrimination. 

Furthermore, adults are forced to work in Persian, which leads to economic discrimination against Iran’s ethnic minorities, thus prompting South Azerbaijanis and other members of Iran’s ethnic minorities to live below the poverty line. 

Also, classes in the Azerbaijani language and other minority languages, such as Kurdish and Arabic, face repression. For example, the Azerbaijani poetry by Shahryar faces persecution, censorship, and other forms of discrimination. All this affects the literacy levels in South Azerbaijan and other ethnic minority regions in Iran.

Regional and global powers must act against 'Iran's nurturing of terrorism'

As South Azerbaijani dissident Babek Chalabi noted in an interview that this massive poverty in South Azerbaijan and other regions where ethnic minorities live enables Iran to “exploit domestic resources such as hydrocarbon reserves in Al Ahwaz and mineral and agricultural resources in South Azerbaijan and other regions, which furthers Iranian Persian hegemony.”

According to Chalabi, “The nations under Iran’s occupation, including the Arab population of Al-Ahwaz, and the people of southern Azerbaijan and the region – and the world – need to break free from Iran’s nurturing of terrorism.

Therefore, regional and global powers must support the national movements of South Azerbaijan, Al-Ahwaz, and other oppressed nations under Iran’s rule to curb Iran’s audacity.”

The writer is vice-president of Newsreal and a prominent Middle East scholar, who has published in Makor Rishon, Arutz Sheva, Israel Hayom, and many other publications. Fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, he is described as “one of the few Arabic-speaking Israeli pundits seen on Arabic satellite channels defending Israel.”