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Will Iran's Protests Write A New Chapter In The History Of Balochistan?

Iran has been implementing same strategies as Islamabad against the Baloch leading to rise of resistance movements.

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Opinion
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Will Iran's Protests Write A New Chapter In The History Of Balochistan?
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She will, perhaps, be killed tomorrow. Or the day after.

She'll be killed because, according to the Iranian police, she was leading a student's revolt at the Azad University of Zahedan. She'll be killed because she is a girl and, above all, because she is a Baloch. Her name is Faezeh Barahuii, and she is 24 years old. The more-than-two-months-long revolt in Iran, started and driven by girls and women shouting 'Life. Woman. Freedom', has quickly changed into a wider movement, against Iran's theocratic regime.

The same regime that, in Sistan-Baluchistan province, is using this movement as a pretext to crack even more harshly on the Baloch demanding their rights.

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Snapshot
  • Faezeh Barahuii was arrested on 3 October, three days after a bloody crackdown in Zahedan where at least 82 people were killed.

  • Iran is using the people's movement as a pretext to crack even more harshly on the Baloch demanding their rights in Sistan-Baluchistan province.

  • In addition to being an ethnic and cultural minority, Baloch are also a religious minority within Iran. They are Muslims of Sunni confession, in a country with a Shiite majority.

  • In the past few years Tehran has repeatedly accused the CIA and the Mossad of fomenting and financing Baloch fighters and other groups in revolt against the regime.

  • Tehran government in the past weeks, in a move that may raise tensions further, has executed two Baloch militants convicted of "terrorism" charges dating back to about 2016.

Iran's Crackdown on Baloch People

On 30 September, 2022, citizens gathered around Zahedan police station in protest against the rape of a 15-year-old Baloch girl by a police officer and in support of the nationwide anti-government protests. According to Amnesty International, at least 82 people were killed during the crackdown: 66 Baloch, including minors, were killed on the spot, while another 16 people were killed in the following days.

The protests began around 12 noon local time after Friday prayers, with hundreds of people pouring into the streets of the city heading to a police station to condemn the rape of the Baloch girl by a provincial police commander. Iranian security forces opened fire on demonstrators to disperse the crowd. A video posted on social media shows some young demonstrators falling to the ground injured or killed after the security forces fired on the crowd.

Faezeh Barahuii was arrested on 3 October, three days after this bloody crackdown. The Revolutionary Court of Zahedan held her trial on 1 November, and they announced the verdict would be handed down in 20 days or so. She might be already dead by now. Or just, if not physically, be killed by the silence and the tortures in her prison cell.

The authorities accuse her of leading the riots, but her fellow students say she had only insisted on investigations into the rape.

Balochistan was divided into East and West Balochistan in the nineteenth century: former under the control of the British empire while West Balochistan remained part of the Persian empire.

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Uneasy History of Balochistan/Baluchistan

Balochistan was divided into East and West Balochistan in the nineteenth century: former under the control of the British empire while West Balochistan remained part of the Persian empire.

The East Balochistan, which more or less coincided with the borders of the then Khanate of Kalat, enjoyed a certain autonomy within the British empire while the West Baluchistan, occupied by the Iranians, practically disappeared from the map turning into a province of Iran.

East Balochistan has been forcibly annexed to Pakistan in the aftermath of the 1947 India-Pakistan Partition and has been constantly fighting against Islamabad for independence.

In Iran, the demands of the Baloch nationalists were held until the Shah's fall in 1979. Under the control of the Tehran government, which has always used an iron fist, the army, and the secret police to prevent organised nationalist movements from strengthening themselves. Iran has been implementing the same strategies as Islamabad, eventually obtaining—more or less, albeit with the necessary differences—the same results: the birth of resistance movements and guerrilla organisations.

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Iran's Attempts to Erase Balochistan's Identity

Exactly like in Pakistan, Iranian Balochistan is extremely rich in gas, gold, copper, uranium and oil. Despite this it has the lowest per capita income in Iran and it is estimated that about eighty percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Infant mortality is the highest in the country, with the lowest literacy rate. According to the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons, more than half of Iran's executions take place against Baloch citizens. Over the years, as has happened in neighbouring Pakistan, many permanent military bases have been installed in the area and internal immigration has been encouraged to keep the riots under control, putting the Baloch population in minority.

All geographical names have been changed to Persian names and even the name of the region itself, from Balochistan, has been changed to Sistan-Baluchistan. According to the inhabitants of the region, within a few years it will simply become 'Sistan'.

In addition to being an ethnic and cultural minority, the Baloch are also a religious minority within Iran. They are Muslims of Sunni confession, in a country with a Shiite majority. The advent of the ayatollahs has worsened the situation. Shiite missionaries were sent from Tehran into the region to 'convert' people, and job opportunities or schools have been denied to those not converting from Sunnism.

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Iran's Allegation of Foreign Hand Stirring Baloch Sentiments

In the past few years Tehran has repeatedly accused the CIA and the Mossad of fomenting and financing Baloch fighters and other groups in revolt against the regime. They also accused the rebellious Baloch of having ties to Al Qaida and the Taliban: ties that have never been proven.

Invariably, to justify the killing of innocent people in Zahedan, the Iran government has blamed the Jaish al-Adl, also known as the Army of Justice, for the unrest. Iran considers it a militant group linked to the Al-Qaeda while the Baloch say that it is fighting for an independent Balochistan. And the government in the past weeks, in a move that may raise tensions further, has executed two Baloch militants convicted of "terrorism" charges dating back to about 2016.

Faezeh Barahuii might be killed tomorrow, or maybe she's already dead. The clerical regime executed her father 12 years ago. The National Council of Resistance of Iran has published the names of more than 300 protesters killed by security forces during the protests. Dozens of women are among them, many of them just young girls. But their death will only further fuel the revolt: the revolt not only of the Baloch, but the revolt of the rest of Iran. It started with a strand of hair out of hijab, it has become a fire. 

(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets @francescam63. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for his reported views.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from voices and opinion

Topics:  Iran   Iran Hijab   Iran Hijab Protests 

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