Iran The Role of Minorities in Internal Security
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
Ethnic cooperation has been a consistent national security problem for successive regimes throughout the twentieth century, and, after the 1979 Revolution, the Khomeini government faced one of its earliest challenges from Kurdish, Baluch, and Turkoman tribal members. The Turkoman and Baluch rebellions, reminiscent of secession attempts in the 1970s, were quickly ended. The revolutionary regime went out of its way to accommodate opposition because it did not want any instability to develop on the border with Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Tehran wanted at all costs to prevent foreign powers from exploiting ethnic discontent in southwestern Iran. By emphasizing shared religious and cultural values, the revolutionary government persuaded some tribal members to accept the central authority of Tehran, while it sought to co-opt others, such as the Turkomans and Baluchs, by providing special economic incentives.
A more pressing ethnic challenge to the regime came from Kurdish rebels in the northeast, who had long struggled for independence. In several 1979 meetings, Khomeini warned key Kurdish leaders that any attempts at dismantling Iran would be met with the harshest response, and he sent Pasdaran units to the north, underlining the seriousness of the government's intention. Despite these warnings, in the spring of 1979, seizing on the turmoil of the Revolution, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, the Komala (Komala-ye Shureshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Komala, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan) and the Kurdish branch of the Fadayan mounted a well-organized rebellion, but the revolutionary regime was ready.
The confrontation between Tehran and the Kurds intensified sharply when the Iran-Iraq War broke out. It was assumed that Iraqi Kurds and their Iranian brothers would cooperate to exploit weaknesses on both sides. Past divisions within the Kurdish communities were temporarily shelved in pursuit of the long-cherished goal of an independent state. Not surprisingly, neither Baghdad nor Tehran was willing to accept this outcome. Rather, both sides insisted on organizing special loyalist Kurdish military units to participate in the war and to demonstrate allegiance to their respective states.
In contrast to the Kurds, the Arab population of Khuzestan stood firmly behind the revolutionary government. Iranian Arabs rejected Saddam Husayn's call to "liberate Arabistan" from Persian rule and overwhelmingly opted to remain loyal to their country. Since 1980 Khuzestan has witnessed some of the bloodiest battles in the twentieth century, but its Arab inhabitants have not wavered in their allegiance.
Iran regards ethnic minority challenges with apprehension. It has taken every precaution, for example, to resist Iraqi- or Soviet-sponsored efforts to persuade the Kurdish minority to secede from Iran. Much as the Pahlavi regime before it had done, the revolutionary government considered the unity of Iran vital to its national security. The commitment to defend the entire country, with all its ethnic groups, remained an uncompromised objective, and sensitive, pragmatic, and political steps have been taken since 1979 to strengthen national unity. Despite the commitment of the Khomeini regime to the revival of the Islamic community (ummah), it, no less than the shah's regime, sought to preserve Iran's territorial integrity as an aspect of national security.
Of all the issues facing revolutionary Iran since 1979, none was more serious than alleged human rights violations. Although the trend was toward greater adherence to constitutional guarantees, particularly after December 1982, when Khomeini issued several directives relaxing the application of Islamic laws, Iran's human rights record showed serious abuses. Procedural safeguards were lacking for defendants tried in revolutionary courts, which handled virtually all political cases. In evaluating the hundreds of executions ordered each year, separating cases of executions for actual crimes from executions based purely on the defendant's beliefs, statements, or associations, was difficult, given the regime's practice of cloaking the latter category with trumped-up charges from the former category. Reliable statistics were not available in 1987 on the number killed for political or religious reasons under the Khomeini regime, but the number of persons executed each year for political reasons was high.
Amnesty International's 1986 annual report recorded an estimated 6,500 executions in Iran between February 1979 and the end of 1985; the report noted, however, that "Amnesty International believed the true figures were much higher, as former prisoners and relatives of prisoners consistently testified that large numbers of political prisoners were executed in secret." These killings were largely conducted by the government's own organizations, including the Pasdaran and the SAVAMA.
Political opposition to the revolutionary regime was punished in ways other than execution. Iranians listed as "killed while resisting arrest," but actually alive and in jail, were too numerous to count, according to Amnesty International. Torture in Iran's prisons was rampant and covered a wide range of inhuman practices, particularly in Tehran's notorious Evin Prison. Mock executions, along with blindfolding and solitary confinement, were favorite methods of torture, according to witness reports assembled by Amnesty International. Beatings of all kinds were common, and prisoners were regularly beaten on the soles of their feet until they could no longer walk. Individuals also suffered damaged kidneys as a result of being kicked and beaten.
The revolutionary prosecutors continued to revise Iran's civil code to conform more closely with their interpretation of Islamic law. In January 1985, for example, Tehran announced the inauguration of a new machine for surgical amputation of the hands of convicted thieves. As interpreted in Iran, this punishment consisted of amputation of the four fingers of the right hand. There were subsequent announcements of the occasional use of this device to administer justice. Death by stoning was allegedly reinstituted as a punishment for certain morality crimes, at least in remote areas of the country. There were many reports of floggings, both as a means of torture and as a formal punishment for sexual offenses.
Although the Constitution guarantees many basic human rights, including rights related to due process (e.g., the right to be informed in writing of charges immediately after arrest, the right to legal counsel, the right to trial by jury in political cases), the revolutionary court system ignored these provisions in practice for "security reasons." When there was a formal accusation, the charge was usually subversion, antiregime activities, or treason. Political arrests were made by members of the Pasdaran or, less commonly, by komiteh members. Member of the National Police and Gendarmerie were not normally involved in arrests made on political or moral charges. In political cases, warrants for arrests were seldom used. Consequently, there was no judicial determination of whether these detentions were in conformity with Iranian law. Detainees were frequently held for long periods without charge and in some cases were tortured. For political crimes, no access to a lawyer was permitted; such cases were heard, if at all, by the revolutionary judiciary, and bail was not permitted.
Religious opposition as well as political opposition has met with severe punishment. For example, Iran's largest non-Muslim minority, the Bahais, have suffered persecution. Charges against Bahais were vague, but penalties were severe. As of December 1986, 767 Bahais had been imprisoned and approximately 200 Bahais had been executed or had died following torture (see Non-Muslim Minorities , ch. 2).
Between 1979 and 1982, these abuses of human rights were all defended as necessary to safeguard the Revolution. Tehran launched a systematic attack on its opponents in order to protect its own interpretations of revolutionary norms. Since then, many revolutionary leaders have adopted a more relaxed mood without jeopardizing perceived internal security requirements. It remained to be seen in late 1987 whether the revolutionary regime would be able to maintain the internal security it felt it needed without returning to the drastic measures characteristic of the early period of the Revolution.
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An early, albeit cursory, introduction to the Iranian armed forces after the 1979 Revolution is William F. Hickman's Ravaged and Reborn. Gregory F. Rose's "The Post-Revolutionary Purge of Iran's Armed Forces: A Revisionist Assessment" and "Soldiers of Islam: The Iranian Armed Forces since the Revolution" provide detailed information on the purges of the military and the ensuing reorganization. Nikola B. Schahgaldian's The Iranian Military under the Islamic Republic is the most complete source on the Pasdaran and Basij forces. The best source of current data on the size, budget, and equipment inventory of the armed forces is the annual The Military Balance, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Historical background material is presented most completely in J.C. Hurewitz's Middle East Politics. On the postrevolutionary period, Dilip Hiro's Iran under the Ayatollahs and Ruhollah K. Ramazani's Revolutionary Iran are indispensable. For the Iran-Iraq War, Jasim M. Abdulghani's Iraq and Iran provides comprehensive coverage of events leading up to the war. The writings of Anthony H. Cordesman on the war itself are very valuable, as is the excellent account in Efraim Karsh's "The Iran-Iraq War: A Military Analysis." (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of December 1987
NOTE: The information regarding Iran on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Iran The Role of Minorities in Internal Security information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Iran The Role of Minorities in Internal Security should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.