The mass executions of members of the Kurdish, Azeri and Sunni Arab minorities in Iran – usually on false charges of espionage, the spreading of blogs, porn, or merely posting photos online – attest to the immense tension faced by the country’s religious-military regime at this time.
As of late, Iran’s TV broadcasts are replete with “admissions of guilt” by candidates for execution, “confessions” of spies and fabricated expressions of regret, against a backdrop of suspense thriller music. Aside from Syria, where a civil war is raging, there is no other state in the Middle East where the regime executes political activists so ostentatiously and lustfully.
The regime fears a return of the protests of millions against it, as was the case in 2009, so it responds wildly in order to deter the masses. “Facebook is a Zionist espionage machine,” computer expert Ahmadinejad explained to his countrymen.
This regime knows that Iran is a country of minorities, where no one sect boasts a majority. The Persians themselves are below the 50% mark, and the other minorities are interested in joining neighboring countries and have no intention of supporting a regime that oppresses them.
The second-largest minority is the Azeri people, some 20 million citizens who make up about one-quarter of Iran’s population, including supreme leader Ali Khamenei and opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Many Azeris would like to be annexed by neighboring Azerbaijan, their cultural homeland. Azerbaijan too views Iran’s Azeri regions as areas belonging to it culturally.
And so, for example, in the 2009 Eurovision song contest, Azerbaijan presented a video of heritage sites, and to Iran’s amazement the clip included a site located in Iran, the Poets Tomb (Maqbaratol Shoara) near the city of Tabriz. Tehran also claims that Azeris are helping Israel’s and America’s spy agencies to hit Iranian regime targets.
Another large minority are the Kurds, who engage in violent clashes with the Revolutionary Guards on a daily basis. Their dream is to desert Iran and join the great Kurdish homeland, once it’s established. Other minorities include the Tajik people, who wish to join Pakistan, and the Sunni Arabs, who dream of establishing a Sunni state within Iran to be called Ahwaz.
The regime in Tehran knows how soft its ethnic underbelly is; officials are aware of the danger of their country breaking up and disintegrating in case of a military clash. Every minority will work to promote its national objectives, at the expense of the Persians.
Meanwhile, Shiite-Sunni tensions within Iran are growing (some 33% of Iranians are Sunnis, including the Arabs and Kurds in the country) and expending into neighboring states. For example, an Iranian newspaper called for annexing Bahrain, ruled by a Sunni royal family, a move that outraged Sunni readers online as well as the miserable Bahraini government.
The possibility of Iranian disintegration is indeed the regime’s weak link, but also its strength. All minorities realize that should the government fall, the result would be chaos and even a civil war, exactly as happened in Lebanon between 1975 and 1989, and as is happening in Syria at this time.
Iranian citizens are looking at Syria and seeing themselves. This is the reason why despite the oppression and their sense of disgust with the regime, they can continue to support it as a buffer between them and a vacuum entailing ethnic slaughter.
This is where the growing economic sanctions enter the picture, further unraveling the ethnic fabric. Yet here is the paradox: As the tendency to split and disintegrate will grow, it may also reinforce the notion that there is no other choice but this regime, and that if it falls, everyone would have to fall with it. After all, they have no other place to go to.
Hence, the Iranian regime’s main weakness is also its main strength.