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Bakhtiari voice in Brussels: "Stop Iran's Ethnic Cleansing"

The culture of the traditionally tribal Bakhtiari and Luri people is being eradicated through Persianisation, poverty and despotism, said Faramarz Bakhtiar at a human rights conference in Brussels this month.

Mr Bakhtiar of the Lorestan and Bakhtiaris United Party told the conference at the European Parliament that "The policy of the central government has always been anti- ethnicity; it doesn't make any difference if it is in the form of monarchy or republic. The main strategy of the central state is to annihilate the other cultures and languages and to assimilate them in to one nation, one language, and one religion."

The Lor and Bakhtiar homeland is located in western Iran, numbering 5.5 million and representing around eight per cent of the Iranian population. Lors and Bakhtiaris, who share a common culture and language, are found in the provinces of Lorestan, Khuzestan, Charmahal and Bakhtiari, Kuhgiluye and Boyrahmad and Isfahan. Around 800 years ago, the Lori established its own autonomous government in Atabakane Lorestan, which lasted for 200 years, with its own monetary and tax collection systemand trade system.

However, the tribes have suffered after Tehran imposed central control over their homeland. Like the Ahwazi Arabs who are also indigenous to Khuzestan, their homeland is oil-rich, but the revenue generated from oil reserves is not redistributed to the indigenous people, who endure some of the highest rates of unemployment, suicide, drug addiction and poverty in Iran.

Mr Bakhtiari said: "We are deprived of the very basic human needs, we don't have any local radio and television stations in our land, our children are forced to speak Farsi in the first day in the school, in our rural areas, we don't have any health care, public service, any roads, educational institutes, welfare, sanitation, water pop line, fuel system, and so many other necessities of life."

Only federalism could ensure genuine national unity in a country that is composed of minorities, which are themselves majorities in the regions they inhabit, according to Mr Bakhtiar.

He said: "In 1911 we had the constitutional revolution, in order to establish a nation-state and a modern democratic Iran, by establishing the local parliaments in different provinces, which was a sort of traditional federalism, but by interference of the colonial powers of the time, this effort failed and ever since the central despotism has been the prevailing course in political scene , our ethnic-national identity and existence has been denied by central governments, which is the obvious violation of the human rights, in this vacuum of identity crisis, our identity has been replaced by a false religious identity of either Sunnite or Shiite.

"The sovereignty of one nationality over the others in a multinational land, leads to apartheid, racism, discrimination, and monopoly of the power and the resources. The best way to practice democracy in Iran is by establishing a federal structure, in which, all of the nationalities enjoy the political participation, self determination, and national identity."

Mr Bakhtiar concluded by saying that if the "pressure becomes unbearable on the nationalities of Iran" they will seek separation from Iran, leading to civil war. Only by devolving power and allowing self-determination within a federal structure will Iran become a stable democracy, he said.