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When and in Which Conditions is Iran’s Fragmentation Possible?

By Artin ARAKELYAN

Expert in the Iranian issues
Yerevan 

In the summer of 2009, after the presidential elections in Iran, the local reformers occupied towns and held large-scale protest actions against the re-elected President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, a number experts of political science and law expressed their concern that the fall of the Islamic regime in Iran can lead to fragmentation of the country, including to declaration of independence by the Iranian Azeris and creation of the Southern Azerbaijan close to the southern border of Armenia. Although this concern has its logic, incorrect comments should be avoided when analyzing the events.

Iran is a poli-ethnic country: numerous tribes, such ethnic minorities as Kurds, Azeris, Baluches, Turkomans, Arabs, Assyrians, Jews, Armenians and others live there.  Do these tribes and ethnic minorities intend to fragmentizeIranand create their own independent states? Yes, for sure. Separatist moods have been available inIranin almost all fronts. Kurds are dreaming about the Greater Kurdistan, Azeris – about the Southern Azerbaijan, Arabs are claiming the oil-richprovinceofKhuzestan, and the Baliches want to join the Pakistani Baluchistan.

But in which conditions may the probability ofIran’s fragmentation increase?

Some observers are of the opinion that in the current situationIranis quite stable, that there is no threat for its fragmentation, andIrancan be split up, if the waves of the Arab spring reachIran, and the rose of the Iranian revolution will sprout up.

However, in their comments the supporters of this opinion ignore the reasons of the separatist moods of the ethnic minorities, as if they have always unilaterally longed for independence.

But the separatism inIranhas its internal and external reasons. Let us consider the internal reasons first.

During the last century the national minorities and ethnic groups have suffered serious hardships. Since the times, when Shah Reza tried to build a nation-state inIran, there has been a tough and even cruel policy regarding the minorities, continuing up to now. Despite some success of the tough policy, conducted by the central authorities regarding the minorities, the situation has become a good pretext for the external forces to exert pressure onIran. The external forces, headed by the West, are using the fact of pressure on the minorities to exert pressure onIranin two directions: first, in the human rights issue in the international bodies, and, second, propagandizing separatist moods in these regions. The external dependence of all secessionist forces inIranproves the mentioned thesis.

Thus, the same question comes out again: “When and in which conditions is the fragmentation ofIranpossible?”

Many think that it is possible, in case if the current regime falls inIran, but I would insist on the contrary: the stronger the Iranian central government’s pressure will be on the ethnic minorities, the greater the threat of fragmentation will hang overIranas the sword of Damocles. In any country the tough policy against the ethnic minorities enforces these ethnic groups to tie up their future with the cultural roots and to shape up their identity not as citizens of the given country, but as a entity, striving for independence and existence without pressure and privations. Naturally, the ethnic minorities will resort to the multifaceted struggle, up to the armed fight, to achieve independence, and it is in this period when it will be most difficult to convince them to leave the chosen path and to live in the country as equal citizens.

If, as a result of the probable changes in Iran, there will be a system that would not exert pressure on its citizens, including the ethnic minorities, only then it will be possible to speak about the safe borders of Iran.

And although now it is more advantageous for us to have stable neighbours and solid borders, we must be ready for any changes and elaborate strategies for all cases, allowing to turn any transformations into a chance, not a threat for us.Iran’s transition to a democratic system, letting Iranians live as citizens of this country, is the best way for establishment of the regional stability. Only in this case the southern borders ofArmeniawill be stable and reliable; otherwise changes, not corresponding to the interests of our country, should be expected at any moment.