The Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran, an Iranian political party formed by Iran's ethnic minorities in February, has launched a new website to promote a democratic alternative to monarchy and theocracy in Iran. [www.federalcongress.org]
Comprising Ahwazi, Kurdish, Azeri, Balochi and Turkmen parties, the Congress is campaigning for recognition of Iran's identity as a multi-cultural, multi-faith society. The website states that "The present theological government, as did the previous monarchist government, treats Arabs, Baloch, Kurds, Turks, and Turkmen as second and third class citizens. This has resulted in policies that do not regard other languages and religions as equal to Persian and Shi'a Islam. The present system has hindered the economic, cultural and social progress of all oppressed nations in Iran. Except for the Persian and Shias, minorities are subject to reactionary and discriminatory government policies."
The Congress comprises the Azerbaijan Cultural Society, Balochistan People's Party, Baloch United Front, Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz, Komeleh - Revolutionary Party of Kurdistan, Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran and the Organization for Defence of the Rights of Turkmen People. Their common agenda is the devolution of power to regions and ethnic groups that have long been oppressed by successive Iranian governments, while maintaining Iran's territorial integrity.
The Congress's manifesto states: "we believe the establishment of a federalist system of government on the basis of ethnicity-nationality and geography is the only political mechanism that is enduring, and it (Federalism) allows all Iranian nationalities to realise their aspirations and the exercise of self rule in a framework of a free, united and a democratic Iran." [click here for the manifesto]
Nasser Ban-Assad, spokesman for the British Ahwazi Friendship Society, said: "Federalism is the best way forward for Iran. Secessionism will never work as it is unlikely to gain the recognition of the international community. In order to maintain the unity of a democratic Iranian state, ethnic minorities and outlying geographical regions must be assured that there is an even balance of power between the authorities in Tehran and provincial authorities. At least half the population is of non-Persian descent and many non-Persian minorities wish for a distribution of power that recognises Iran's multi-ethnic identity.
"Critics claim that federalism is reactionary and ethnocentric. They fear that any move towards regional autonomy would lead to the Balkanisation of Iran. We say that there are plenty of examples where federalism has succeeded in maintaining stability in large and often diverse states: India, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Spain and Germany.
"In Iran, the devolution of power would help ease ethnic dissent, which has grown dramatically in recent months in Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan), Kurdistan and Balochistan. Only the Congress is putting forward a solution that can end the ethnic unrest that has affected these provinces."