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A Peace-Oriented Investigation of the Ethnic Identity Challenge in Iran
(A Study of Five Iranian Ethnic Groups with the GT Method)
By: Kameel Ahmady
Social Anthropologist, University of Kent, MA in social Anthropology
In the contemporary era, Iran has undergone a continuous experience of identity/ethnic multiplicity, which has caused serious interethnic conflicts revolving around discrimination and inequality in the urge for identity and justice and with a peace-oriented trace as the process of globalization has developed.
In this research, the influence on Iranian civilization in terms of land, language, and religion have been investigated in five ethnic groups, including Persian, Azeri, Kurd, Arab, and Baloch, given different aspects of Islamic and Western governments. The consideration of the Persian ethnic identity as the exclusive component of Iranian national identity has reduced ancient Iranian identity and brought about claims for identity in other ethnic groups.
The present research has adopted a hybrid qualitative approach (GT), in-depth interview surveys and tools, library documentation, and an open questionnaire in thirteen provinces to extract and classify data in the following areas: religious identity and national identity (interaction or opposition), interethnic cultural borders, ethnic and national movement dead-end, elimination of cultures, and a peace-oriented approach to resolving the crisis.
Thus, a conceptual model has been obtained, shaping basic factors (economic and ideological), intervening factors (media and lifestyle), grounded factors (legal and cultural parameters and resource mismanagement), and phenomenal orientation (claim for justice and sociopolitical gap) and presenting strategic action (peaceful action, acceptance of the present conditions, and state-nation interaction) and its outcomes (stability and decline of social capital).
Keywords: Iran, Ethnic Identity, Iranian National Identity, Persian, Azeri, Kurd, Arab, Baloch, Peace.
Introduction and problem statement
A contemporary social reality, pluralism and diversity of identity has not decreased but even turned into a controversial issue concerning identity distinction and difference. Since the second half of the twentieth century, modern identity-seeking based on gender, sexual orientation, lifestyle, pseudo-religious groups, and other factors has sought acknowledgement through globalization phenomena, such as the ever-increasing development of media, enhancement of identity awareness, and their capability of manifestation along with the old sources of identity construction (ethnicity, religion, and nationality).
Iran is a multi-ethnic country, where the issue of ethnic convergence or divergence with respect to social integrity and social consensus needs to be pondered, and the national ethnic policies were not manifested and realized in many cases upon the Islamic Revolution (1979). Iranian governments have always sought to assimilate the ethnic groups.
That is, the governors have often tended to integrate the variety of identities into a single identity under a Persian umbrella. For example, the ratification of macro-policies concerning the Iranian ethnic groups in 1999 (Haghpanah, 2003) even turned into a source of political activity due to the discrimination and inequality throughout the political, economic, and cultural structure of the society and the conflicts and identity-seeking activities revolving around ethnicity and religion at the most comprehensive level of Iranian collective identity.
Figure 1. Map of Iran and its neighbors
Moreover, ethnic identity has been highlighted and enhanced for important reasons such as intra-ethnic cultural-linguistic commonalities and emotional interactions and relations, collective movements in specific ethnic groups’ residences, development of local media, globalization, development of the sense of self-awareness, superpowers’ influence over the ethnic elite, and specific ethnic claims.
This level of collective identity in Iran involves plenty of diversity and multiplicity, while the ethnic discourse has long been dominated by identity assimilation (in both religious and ethnic terms), incapable of admitting the existing pluralism and diversity).
Different Iranian governments have justified their attempts to assimilate identities in Iran in terms of maintaining national solidarity and security and the political integrity of the country. However, this method of governance seems to have resulted in a threat against national security and developed the sense of deprivation among ethnic groups along with inequality and discrimination, further deepening the gaps between the ethnic groups and between them and the government. The emergence of movements and identity-seeking political groups and their suppression by the central government has intensified extremism, leading the minority holding political power to adopt a monarchic, dictator-like, suppressive tendency rather than democratic, tolerant methods.
The significance of the present research is due to the cultural mosaic in the Iranian society, which has long had a multiethnic lifeworld, composed of a multiplicity and variety of cumulative identities. Therefore, some experts believe that any explanation aimed at a generalization on this multiethnic society will be insufficient if made regardless of the ethnicity factor. Given the lasting, increasing importance of ethnic communities in development and consolidation of social solidarity, scientific investigation of ethnic groups has gained ground.
Ethnic unity and solidarity of the identities can bring about peace and fill in ethnic gaps in a multiethnic, multicultural society. The main problem here involves an explanation of the collective identity of the ethnic groups in Iran. Collective, or social, identity can be identified as the domain of social life that the individual refers to as we and finds himself as belonging, related, owing, and committed to.
There are three major factors on which Iranian national identity is based:
1. land geography, with the variations between the Iranian Plateau and the mountainous regions therein
2. Persian, with all the changes it has undergone as a result of the contacts with Turkic languages, Mongolian, and Arabic
3. Islam, which has remained essentially constant and consistent despite all the differences between the sects.
Like those of all the ethnic groups investigated here, Iranian identity has undergone great changes at several times throughout the history of the land, each time transforming certain elements in those identities. For instance, the Arab have been blamed for the destruction they have brought about in Iran upon their invasion by a number of nationalist thinkers such as Akhundzade, Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, Sadegh Hedayat, and Malek al-Sho’ara Bahar (Bigdelo, 2001).
With regard to today’s Iranian identity, aspects of diversity and pluralism are often referred to that concern the various discourses available thereunder. The present conditions of identity in Iran have been compared appropriately with pieces of cloth of various colors sewn together (Shayegan, 2002, 1999).
The historical notion of Iranian identity took shape during the ethnic, political, and religious movements in the Sassanid era, persisted with ups and downs through the Islamic era, was reborn in the Safavid era, and was manifested as Iran’s national identity in the modern era (Ashraf, 1999).
Due to the particular geographic location, Iranian identity has been influenced by the three Iranian, Islamic, and Western areas of civilization (Kachooyan, 2008). It should be noted that the strategy adopted by Iranian intellectuals has involved a mixture of these three discourses in various shapes and formation of a combinatorial identity. However, most Iranian authors have suffered major weaknesses in the reproduction and recognition of Iranian identity so far, since they have mostly been litterateurs rather than historians. Despite their eloquent, literary prose, therefore, their writings have violated historiographical rules (Borujerdi, 2000).
According to many researchers, the Aryan peoples have lived in in Southern Russia at first, and have left their original settlements over time as a consequence of various unpleasant events such as natural disasters, insufficient dwelling, and improper weather and land, scattering in Central Asia to utilize habitable plains also appropriate for cultivation. A group of them have gradually entered the Iranian Plateau in the late second and early first millennia BC (Sanie Ejlal, 2005, p. 55).
Different ethnic groups, including the Lur, Baloch, Turkmen, Azeri, Arab, Kurd, and Persian, live in Iran today, most of whom can be claimed to reside in regions near the borders, culturally linked to groups in the neighboring countries. This has turned Iran into a heterogeneous country in terms of social structure, where different ethnic, racial, linguistic, and religious identities live, with similar groups residing in the neighboring countries, sometimes turning the borders into sources of crisis. These groups, including the Arab and Kurd in Iraq, the Azeri in the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the Baloch in Pakistan, can be considered as origins of conflict and crisis (Fuller, 1993).
Although Persian is Iran’s official language and the lingua franca of all the Iranian ethnic groups, each of the ethnic identities has its own language, dialect, and accent. As for religion, a comprehensive one has again been dominant around the country usually, with branches thereof observed among ethnic groups, different in some of their laws. Today, Islam is regarded as an important basis of Iran’s national identity.
According to different authors, other national commonalities and symbols are parts of national identity, including the flag, nationalist feelings, the constitution as a national oath, customs, celebrations, and national feasts (Yousofi, 2001). The Twelver Ja’fari branch of Islam has been referred to officially in the Constitution as an unchangeable principle to hold forever, besides the considerations for other branches and religions.
Moreover, Article 15 of the Constitution has acknowledged the diversity of ethnic identities and their languages around the country, and has emphasized and asserted that local and ethnic languages can be used in press and mass media, and ethnic literature can be taught in schools besides Persian. Articles 7 and 64 to 160 involve assertions or implications for the rights of ethnic groups and minorities.
There are also mentions in Articles 24 and 26 of the freedom to establish “parties” and “societies” and that of publications and the press. Despite their linguistic and cultural differences, the Iranian ethnic groups are integrated in the Iranian society. Unlike many in the West and multi-ethnic countries around the world, almost all the Iranian ethnic groups are native to Iran, and have accepted Iranian culture and language as their identity besides their own religious and linguistic identities and regional backgrounds (Ghasemi et al., 2011, p. 64).
The ethnic groups scattered around Iran have usually lived next to each other in peace and with little conflict throughout history. However, conflicts have come to be there between them after the emergence of nation-states and extension of identity-seeking movements around the world, on the one hand, and the formation of ethnic discrimination on the part of the dominant groups, on the other.
This research investigates the ethnic identities of five groups at the local level: Persian (Persian-speaking), Azeri, Kurd, Arab, and Baloch.
The Baloch reside in Southeastern Iran, and have Aryan roots. As the competition between England and Russia has intensified, they have adopted settlements in different countries including Iran, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (Abdollahi et al., 2002, p. 104).
The relations between the Baloch and central governments have always been accompanied by conflict. In fact, the adopted policies have marginalized this group. A source of conflict is their cultural similarity to the residents of the neighboring country, which has caused them to prefer foreign television channels to domestic ones. This has also been effective in the enhancement of ethnic identity versus national identity and of the sense of belonging to the collective identity beyond the borders, leading to the potentials to seek autonomy (Mozafari, 2012).
Since Balochi is spoken in different countries, there has always been little consensus among linguists on its classification, hence the multiple proposals in that regard. Some, for instance, have discussed “Northern and Southern Balochi,” while others have identified “Eastern and Western Balochi.” There are also recent views that have classified the language into three groups: Eastern, Western, and Southern. Ignoring these somewhat complicated divisions to mention the most important, in fact the best-known varieties of Balochi, we should name the Rakhshani variety, with one of the largest numbers of speakers, in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan (Tameh, 2017).
All the Muslim Baloch belong either to the Hanafi Sunni majority or to the Twelver Shia minority, and there is no other sect or branch among them. Some of the characteristics that distinguish the Baloch from other ethnic groups are listed below. Clothing made with a particular embroidery technique known as suzanduzi is a very popular cultural work and artistic product by Baloch women.
Neighboring the Republic of Azerbaijan, this group has the same linguistic origin as the Turk. The ambition to unite the Republic and the Iranian Azerbaijan and to integrate the territories at the two sides of Aras River has been common as a national dream for pan-Turkism since the Soviet era. Most Azeri speakers reside in Southwestern Iran, in East and West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, and Qazvin Provinces, and there are of course speakers of Khorasani Turkic in Iran. Most of the Iranian Azeri are Shia Muslims, while there is also a group among them known as Ahle Haqq.
While adhering to national and religious rites, the Azeri have preserved their own customs in many areas of culture, and the rituals common among them have gained national popularity in some cases. Thus, the mourning processions of the Great Hussainiya of Zanjan, Tabriz, Urmia, and Ardabil are among the best-known groups mourning the Islamic Prophet’s family in the month of Muharram. They also commonly practice rituals such as tashtgozari, ta’zieh, Shah Hussain guyan, chest-beating, and self-flagellation, where lamentation is carried out in Azeri.
The mourning rituals held at Tabriz Historical Bazaar have also been registered nationally. Moreover, Azerbaijani music is considered as an important part of this people’s cultural identity, and Azerbaijani artists have presented unique, creative music, where those who sing their own poems in Azeri are known as the Ashiq. To describe Azerbaijan and its heroes, they sing beautiful poetry accompanied by Azerbaijani music in celebrations and mourning ceremonies, thereby appealing to people. Traditional Azerbaijani clothing is a particular symbol of the Azeri, which has come into existence following long cultural, religious, and other processes involving the ethnic group.
The Persian constitute Iran’s greatest ethnic group, mainly residing in central cities. They are politically dominant; that is, they have gained control over the other ethnic groups as a result of the elements of their identity, including language (Persian), religion (Shia), and other components. Most of the Persian-speakers in Iran are Twelver Shia Muslims, while there are also Persian-speaking Sunni Muslims residing in certain regions near the borders.
The Persian live mainly in large Iranian cities, and culturally dominate areas far beyond Iran. Persian is an Indo-European language spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. In fact, it is the official language in Iran and Tajikistan and one of the two official languages in Afghanistan (alongside Pashto), and it has been the official language of India (before the English colonization).
Following the Arab, Persian, and Turkic, the Kurd constitute the fourth largest ethnic block in the Middle East (Olson, 2003, p. 6). They mainly reside in regions close to the borders of four countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey.
Kurdish is a sub-branch of the Indo-European family of languages, related to Ossetian, Dari, Persian, Tajiki, Tati, Talysh, ancient languages such as Avestan, Sogdian, Khwarezmian, and Scythian, and many others (Diakonoff, 2004, p. 439). It is an Iranian language belonging to the Northwestern or Southwestern group of the family (Bruinessen, 2004, p. 35). The Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji); Central Kurdish, Southern Kurdish, Gorani, and Zaza varieties can be seen within the geographic range.
According to Vali et al. (2019), Kurdish identity is manifested in differences by which the dominant identity is defined. It signifies by not signifying, and is present by being absent. He regards this identity as a kind of subjectivity without the requirements for representation/signification in history and politics. There are both Shia and Sunni Muslims among the Kurd. If the Iranian Kurdish settlements are divided to two religious partitions, most of the Sunni Kurd can be said to reside in the northern half. There is of course another group of the Kurd, known as the Yarsani (Kaka’i/Ahle Haqq), mostly living in certain cities and villages in Kermanshah Province.
The Kurd adhere to the practice of national and religious rituals. They celebrate Nowruz with utmost glory, and highly value religious customs and feasts such as Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, and, particularly, the Islamic Prophet’s birthday. In some regions, food is made and distributed for free for celebration of religious feasts, including a particular type of soup-like dish known as âsh. There are also ceremonies involving daf-playing, prayers, and particular utterances made by the dervish or in praise of the Islamic Prophet and celebration of his birthday. In the Kurd’s settlements, various types of Kurdish clothing can be observed, each in a unique beautiful form, slightly different from the others. Traditional Kurdish men’s and women’s clothing includes headwear and footwear as well as ordinary clothes. The design and application of each of these components vary by season, type of occupation, lifestyle, and ceremony. Although different types of clothing are common in different parts of Kurdistan, such as Hawraman, Saqqez, Baneh, Gogulawa, Gerrus, Sanandaj, Mariwan, and Mahabad, they are all the same in that they cover the entire body.
The Arabic-speaking community is scattered over a vast territory in Asia and Africa, including Southern and Southwestern Iran and parts of Khuzestan Province (Amirahmadi, 1998, p. 32). It should be noted that the Iranian Arab mainly follow the same religion as the center, like the Azeri, not in favor of the ethnic group beyond the borders.
The Arab residing in Iran mostly speak Khuzestani Arabic, a dialect of Mesopotamia Arabic. They are scattered over four provinces, including Khuzestan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, and the southern parts of Ilam, while most of them live in Khuzestan, and are mostly Twelver Shia Muslims. Of course, there is also a Sunni Arab minority in Iran, which makes up a very low percentage.
Like any other Iranian people, the Arab in Khuzestan have their own culture. Following the Arab in the neighboring countries, they find Eid al-Fitr of much greater significance in their public culture, celebrated with a large number of norms, behaviors, and customs. Another ancient tradition common among the Khuzestani Arab is the Gargee’an ceremony, held in Ahvaz on the 15th of Ramadan every year. Another highly important ritual commonly practiced by the Arab is the coffee-drinking ceremony involving pots known as dallah, which is held with a great deal of formality.
With regard to the establishment of Iran and the Iranian government, the following can be referred to:
Gheraldo Gnoli, (1989), The Idea of Iran: An Eassay on Its Origin, Roma: Instituto per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente.
Figure 2. Distribution map of ethnic groups and religions in Iran
The data available on the ethnic groups are insufficiently transparent. For instance, their true populations are inaccessible in censuses, and the Statistical Center of Iran has simply publicized the provincial populations and features.
|No.||Province||Capital||2006 population||2011 population||2016 population|
|Sistan and Baluchistan||Zahedan|
|Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari||Shahrekord|
|Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Ahmad||Yasuj|
Table 1. Populations of the Iranian provinces based on the 2006, 2011, and 2016 consensuses
Iranian ethnic groups’ identity-seeking
The consideration of the Persian ethnic identity as the exclusive component of Iranian national identity has reduced it to Persian identity, introducing the language, religion, culture, and other elements of the Persian identity as official Iranian identity. Thus, Iranian identity claims have emerged in different eras. The ethnic groups have exhibited different methods of seeking identity given the sociopolitical conditions in each era.
The range of research conducted in this regard suggests that the attenuation of the government and its confrontation with political, economic, and social crises has provided ethnic groups with an opportunity to pursue their identity-seeking purposes, followed by a conflict with the central government (Amirahmadi, 1987, p. 363-391). In fact, that is how the direct relationship between a decrease in the government’s control power and crises involving the government and ethnic groups be observed (Ramezanzadeh, 1998, p. 217-227).
The major ethnic group in Iran involves the Persian. The radical version of this perspective introduces the other Iranian ethnic groups as primitive, tribal, and marginal, and manifests Persian culture to the other groups as a dominant, sophisticated model.
The Azeri constitute the second most populated Iranian ethnic group after the Persian. Their ethnic claims date back to less than a century ago, most prominently exemplified by those that occurred in the Republic of Azerbaijan under the leadership of Seyyed Jafar Pishehvari. The most radical Azeri orientations concern pan-Turkist tendencies, originating from the Turkic ethnic groups within the Russian Empire. The Iranian Azeri’s major identity claims are social and justice-based, suggested through civil claims, while the opposition parties based abroad tend to pursue independence-seeking purposes.
The Kurd have also exhibited a wide range of identity claims. The dominant Kurdish nationalist approach is a primordialist one. They argue that the Kurd nation is a primordial entity, a foundation rooted in the Kurd’s nature (Vali, 2018, p. 89). Their identity claims in Iran also date back to less than a century ago, the 1945 establishment of the Autonomous Republic of Kurdistan (centered in Mahabad) under the leadership of Qazi Muhammad. As the protests leading to the 1979 Revolution began, the Democratic Party was reorganized, and other parties, such as Komala and the Khabat Organization, took shape. Today, the Kurd’s identity-seeking is represented as civic institutions and organizations and cultural and artistic activities. Armed identity-seeking political parties are still active abroad, although they have undergone segregations.
The Iranian Arab’s organized identity claims date back to around seventy years ago. After the 1979 Revolution, they publicized their points of view and aims and even took military measures. There are two different levels of claim today, one demanding complete independence for Khuzestan from Iran and the other seeking a federal system formed within the national Iranian framework (Ahmadi, 2018).
The Baloch speak Balochi, and are Hanafi Sunni Muslims. The 1879 division of Baluchistan between Iran and India (present-day Pakistan) caused political borders to take shape within this integrated ethnic group. The ethnic discrimination on both Iranian and Pakistani parts triggered ethnocentric feelings, and brought about ethnic claims among the Baloch. The presence of Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has intensified the identity-seeking movements of the Baloch on both religious and ethnic fronts. Today, however, ethnic claims are made mainly as civil, cultural, and social activities, and have been raised due to the religious gap, economic discrimination, and presence of core-periphery relations.
Aims and significance of the research
The Iranian society has long been based upon multiethnic, multi-identity life. Some experts argue that any generalizing explanation on a multiethnic society will be inadequate if it disregards the ethnicity factor. Given the ever-increasing importance of ethnic communities in formation and enhancement of social consensus, scientific investigation of ethnic groups has received greater attention than before. Along the same lines, many experts maintain that national integrity and identity are rooted in ethnic communities and very old ethnic emotions as primitive nationalism.
Ethnic integrity and identity consensus in a multiethnic, multicultural society can bring about peace and fill in ethnic gaps. The main problem here, which makes the investigation significant, involves a description and an explanation of the Iranian ethnic groups’ collective identity. Collective, or social, identity can be identified as the domain of social life that the individual refers to as we and finds himself as belonging, related, owing, and committed to.
As defined by Max Weber, a state consists of four basic components: the land, or borders, which specifies the geographic territory; the population, or people, which denotes the individuals of that nationality; governance, meaning that there must be no competitive or parallel authority, in domestic terms, and no control or command of the country from any other state, in foreign terms; and government, concerning the political and administrative formation of the country or political unit and its method of administration. On that basis, absence of any of these four components could leave the state inefficient.
Clearly, the first two components, i.e. the land and population, are influenced by the issue of ethnicity and ethnic identity more than the others. To achieve stability and maintain peace and security, which constitute its major obligations, a state first of all needs a comprehensive understanding of the national identity and ethnic identities and of the networks of communication among the members of an ethnic group, with the other ethnic groups, with the official, dominant culture, and with the world community. It is clear for the civil society, intellectuals, identity and cultural activists, and all who care about peace among the people of this land that there should be a comprehensive understanding of the ethnic groups’ points of view and the identities that they believe distinguish them from one another.
The identity of an individual or a group requires another identity to be distinct from. In that case, identity results from distinction, while distinction and its denotation are artificial just as identity itself is. Therefore, it is the other identity that that is there in the first place, and is responsible for formation or development (Grossberg, 1996, p. 93‑96).
In this research, identity is applied to denote awareness of who an individual is and of his belongings. Although obtained through the process of individualization, this awareness does not remain a mere internal, personal feeling, and assumes an external, collective manifestation by representing the similarities and distinctions between the individual and other individuals and groups, turning into a foundation for sociopolitical action and communication (Jenkins, 2014, p. 6‑20). Thus, identity acquires a social aspect, which has been addressed extensively in social science. From a sociological perspective, identity is the identification of the boundary between the self and the other, accomplished mainly through comparison and differentiation between the in-group and the out-group (Brown, 1996, p. 9).
Ethnicity is regarded from a sociological point of view as a cultural product resulting from inter-group relations. The term ethnic has hardly been considered by classical sociologists (except Max Weber). Fredrik Barth (1969) defines ethnicity from the outside to the inside, and bases research not on certain material cultural characteristics belonging to a particular group but on the ethnic boundary that represents the group.
The identity of a group should always be defined with respect to what it does not involve, i.e. individuals that are not members of the group (Eriksen, 1993), and that is how the boundary is also defined by these differences for intercultural distinction. A pioneer, on which theories of social identity are mainly based, is Charles Horton Cooley’s looking-glass self theory, also developed by George Herbert Mead, which expresses the role of the society in the formation of identity in an individual, particularly an adolescent.
Classical sociologists address identity within the framework of social order and structures, and argue that the activist is created by the social system. On that basis, identity is also regarded as a social reality affected by the social structure and conditions, and the individual plays no effective role in the formation of his identity (Abdollahi, 2002, p. 108).
The conflict school of thought emphasizes that the class is determining in the formation of individuals’ behaviors, feelings, thoughts, and attitudes and of social relations (Giddens, 2019, p. 125). On that basis, distinct collective identities are developed in the society by class differences, which are based in turn on economic differences, and class awareness plays a fundamental role there.
Scholars in the school of social interaction point out the individual-society communication in dynamic and dialectic processing, indicating how man’s behavior and the formation of personality, i.e. social identity, in a person result from his interaction with the environment. In general, emphasis is made in this school of thought on the dynamicity of the social interaction between the individual and the society and on the results of the process (Tavassoli, 2019, p. 268).
Activists argue that man has a basic core or an initial relative identity from the beginning of his social life, which brings about new identities every day through socialization and interaction with others. According to the followers of this school, identity is never complete, and is developing every day. Activists’ unit of analysis is the individual, who is given higher priority in their theory than the society (Turner, 1998, p. 375‑382). This leads us to the process of socialization, suggested by Cooley and Mead, where individuals internalize the values and norms available in the society all the time, and are thus socialized.
According to sociologists favoring syncretism, the society is where micro- and macro-elements come together, manifested by legitimization of pluralism and approval that there are various collective identities (Tavassoli, 2001, p. 16). From their perspective, the requirements for identity construction between tradition and modernity have been provided recently as a reflexive project, and are reconstructed in terms of a dialectic interaction between local and global elements (Giddens, 2019, p. 81).
Through integration of agency and structure, Anthony Giddens has arrived at the theory of structuration, where the agent reflexively evaluates his activities in the social structure, and the effectiveness of and changes in individuals’ social conditions basically result from their ability to reflect on their own behavior (Zokaei, 2002, p. 3).
On the other hand, Manuel Castells relies on the contradictory process of globalization and its impact on identity. He states that globalization both accelerates the formation of cosmopolitan identity using electronic media, and leads to the formation of local identity as fundamentalism and particularism of ethnic, religious, and other types. He also discusses three types of identity including legitimizing, resistance, and project identity (Castells, 2010).
Identity can be expressed as in the following table in the traditional, modern, and postmodern processes.
|Approach||Time||Place and space||Sources of identity||Types of identity||Subject||Schools of thought|
|Traditional||Past||– Place identity
– Land identity
– Integration of space and place
|– Customs, religion, and structures
– Need to be identified
|Fixed, stable, power-based essence
– Personal primordialist
– Fixed essence
|– Popular belief
– Religious, supernatural
|Modern||Present||– Emergence of nation-states
– Lands with official borders
– Far-sighted intellect
– Religious reform
– Scientific revolutions
|– Structured and variable by social, economic, and cultural conditions
– Collective (such as national) and individual identity
|– Interaction between the subject and social structures and its meaning investigation||– Interaction
– Marxist structuralist
|Postmodern||Future||– Segregation of place and space||– micro-, local actions and cultures
– Achievement of discourse
|– Open identity
– Contrastive and particularist
– Fragmented and fluid
– Diverse and multiple
|– Different representations
– Multiple, sequential interpretations
Table 2. Overall framework of the three approaches (traditional, modern, and postmodern) (Rashidi, 2008)
The changes that have occurred in societies, even in developing countries, indicate a tendency toward systems of participative management, particularly from the 1960s, which requires the observance of citizenship principles and establishment of civic institutions on that basis (Faulks, 2000, p. 197).
Theories concerning citizenship are among those referred to today to address ethnic groups. The principles of citizenship not only allow individuals to play conscious roles in their and the society’s destiny, but also grant the right to the society to expect its members to acknowledge others’ rights. Citizenship identity is categorized under social identity. Like the other aspects of identity, it matters for two reasons. Firstly, it indicates the individual’s perception of himself and others’ perception of him in the society. Secondly, it takes shape as required by the dynamic social conditions, and results from the identity relation between the state and the nation (Oldfield, 1990).
On that basis, it is inappropriate to discuss John Schwarzmantel’s republican approach. He argues that national identity (nationalism) is a civil phenomenon although a basic factor in the development of common political emotions. This contributes to the encouragement of emotions concerning citizenship and political identity. Therefore, he suggests that democratic systems involved in the establishment of civic institutions should be enhanced, so that the requirements for individuals’ participation in new republics are met (Schwarzmantel, 2003).
Types of identity
قومیت ازمنابع اصلی معنا و بازشناسی درطولِ تاریخ بشربوده است. واژۀ قوم (Ethnic) از واژۀ یونانی Ethnos بهمعنی ملت آمده است. ترکیبی پویا از تبار مشترک واقعی یا مفروض (حافظۀ مشترک تاریخی)، آگاهی مشترک قومی، عناصر نمادین، تعلقات سیاسی ـ سرزمینی در بین یک گروه اجتماعی مبنای تجربۀ قومی قرار میگیرد (Tiffin & Griffths & Ashcreft, 1998, p. 84). اسمیت برای هویت قومی مؤلفههای زیر را برمیشمرد:
Ethnicity has been a major source of meaning and identification throughout history. The word originates from the Greek ethnos, meaning nation. Ethnic experience is based on a dynamic combination of a real or hypothetical common descent (common historical memory), common ethnic awareness, symbolic elements, and political-territorial belongings in a social group (Tiffin, Griffths & Ashcreft, 1998, p. 84). Anthony Smith enumerates the following components for ethnic identity:
- human population
- common ancestors
- historical memory
- common culture
- specific territory
- correlation and integration of interests.
The words national and nationality have entered the lexicon of social science following the Industrial Revolution and spread of nationalist feelings. National identity results from an identified unit of land and a state (military-political), characterized as follows by Ernest Renan.
Some scholars have mentioned two groups of elements as the components of a nation, i.e. objective elements (territorial) and subjective elements (mythical, memories, beliefs, and cultures), and have named two basic characteristics and aspects for it (Alamdari, 2004, p. 27-30). Ahmad Ashraf also lists a number of factors for the formation of national identity (Ashraf, 2004, p. 139-140).
In fact, the idea of association with common human characteristics has long been suggested, aimed at addressing very high levels of belonging to super-ethnic and national collective identity, entitled global identity. Today’s ever-increasing development of media has made Marshall McLuhan’s global village proposal more evident. International attempts such as the Bretton Woods Conference and the establishment and extended activity of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank even enhance its feasibility.
Giddens argues that the present conditions of global identity involve three major elements: the separation of time and space, disembedding and lifting out of social relations from the local context and their restructuring in indefinite spans of time and space through symbolic tokens and expert systems, and institutionalized reflexivity (Giddens, 2001, p. 41). He has developed a theory of the relationship between global and local identity as follows.
|Type of identity||Level of belonging||Time||Place||Effective factors||Place-space relationships|
|Local identity||Local||Pre-modernity||Place particularism||Local customs and traditions||Place-space coincidence|
|Global identity||Global||Post-modernity||Super-local||Thoughts resulting from modernity||Place-space separation|
Table 3. Types of identity according to Giddens
It should be noted in regard to the relationships between the levels of collective identity that the nationalist ideology defends national integrity and harmony against the risk of dispersed ethnic particularism. On the other hand, tendency toward global identity overpasses national claims while confronting national identity by depending on the notion of humanity and ethnic values.
Although it can be approved with an optimistic approach that forms of pluralist coexistence are developing, the objective reality suggests that media representation not only depicts social phenomena, but also turns them into everyday reality (Hall, 1997, p. 2002). Numerous studies have verified the claim that negative images from ethnic groups contribute to promotion of discriminative attitudes, stereotypes, and distinction and superiority myths (See, for instance, Entman & Rojecki, 2000; Graves, 1999).
It should be noted that different events concerning local identities and identity domains indicate the complexity of the issue. Thus, the major meaning (identity) construction alternative in the society for social activists discarded from identity individualization resulting from life in modern global networks and wealth or resisting against it involves cultural communities based on religious, national, or regional foundations. This may lead ethnicity to be influenced by religion, nationality, and locality (Castells, 2010, p. 87).
Theories of ethnicity
Investigation of ethnicity and ethnic relations has not appealed to classic theoreticians, and there is no explicit concern for them in the thoughts of sociologists such as Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Georg Simmel.
In his theory of ethnicity, Durkheim has focused mainly on three integrated issues, as follows: a) loss of significance of ethnicity with the emergence of modernity, b) quality of group-ethnic solidarity, and c) consideration of an ethnic group as a form of moral community (Malesevic, 2004). His mechanical/organic solidarity analysis has revealed the position of ethnicity in his thought, on which basis the more developed a society, the less significant the ethnic and traditional belongings.
Weber explains ethnicity as a form of social prestige in terms of family relations, and regards social imagination and pride as determining factors in its formation (Malesevic, 2011, p. 48). He has investigated ethnicity as 1. a form of social prestige, 2. the mechanism for development of social monopoly, 3. the basis for the multiple forms of social organization, and 4. a phenomenon related to political mobilization (Weber, 1968).
Simmel argues that ethnic groups exhibit symptoms of collective rage, sensitivity, abnormality, and feelings of inferiority or superiority. His theory of ethnic groups involves three themes: ethnicity as a form of the sociation process, the quality of social and therefore ethnic interaction, and loss of significance of ethnicity as a result of social separability (Malesevic, 2011, p. 43). From the perspective of reconstruction and development, man consciously seeks his identity in elements beyond his own ethnic group, tribe, and city as modern elements develop.
The two major themes of Talcott Parsons’ systematic theory include emphases on the solidarity and performance of the ethnic group. He finds the durability and continuity of an ethnic group across generations as its main sociological characteristic. According to him, ethnicity is made up of two constituents: cultural tradition across generations and voluntary dependency on groups.
Contrary to Marxists’ initial conception, Neo-Marxism has acquired the prominent role of ethnicity in social politics, and has even experimentally revealed the patterns of ethnic inequality based on classes and their relationship with governments’ discriminative policies in the capitalist system. However, Neo-Marxism still shares with classical Marxism the view that there is no problem in ethnic or racist conflicts that can be considered separately from the structural characteristics of the capitalist society (Solomos, 1987, p. 107).
The notion of relative deprivation, which is suggested today with regard to ethnicity in multi-ethnic societies, has been discussed in Erikson’s theory on how identity takes shape and by experts such as Henri Tajfel, Bryan Turner, and Mark Broscom (1999) on the relationship between national and ethnic identity (Buurih, 1997, p. 589). The sense of relative deprivation can be manifested as the sense of discrimination. Ted Robert Gurr names three types of discrimination: economic, political, and cultural. The major assumption made by Gurr is that the sense of relative deprivation is a prerequisite of violent internal conflict (Qayyim, 2001, p. 212).
The subject considered by modernists lacks the usual stable, deterministic quality, replaced by fluidity and unpredictability. Thus, they find it possible to discuss and investigate ethnicity and ethnic relations within a fluid framework free of determinant structures already made in that regard.
Three rival theoretical perspectives on formation of ethnic and national identity
Firmly associated with Anthony Smith, the first approach, known as primordialism, regards national identity as a natural phenomenon, and believes in ethnic cores for nations (Barrington, 2006, p. 13). According to primordialists, evolutionary psychology demonstrates man’s successful accordance with the conditions that have taken shape during the prehistoric period (Kaufmann, 2015, p. 194). A fixed cultural formation is assumed there, which has been established by ethnic activists, enabling constant sense-making for generations.
Instrumentalism is the second approach, based on which ethnicity is a resource that is used by the elite for definition of group identity, regulation of group membership and boundaries for making claims, and extraction of resources (Brown & Langer, 2010, p. 413).
The last approach is constructivism. Unlike primordialism, constructivism is focused on processes that help ethnic groups to emerge, containing elements from both the primordialist and the instrumentalist approaches (Brown & Langet, 2010, p. 413). Constructivism argues that national identity is a social construction, like other group identities, including those listed by primordialists as indicators of national identity.
When political claims are based on ethnic elements, ethnic identity-seeking and ethnicity politicization (political ethnocentrism) emerge. This aspect of ethnocentrism specifies the boundary between the nation and ethnic groups (Matil, 2004, p. 1411).
Michael Hechter describes and explains ethnic identity-seeking and ethnicity politicization with respect to “internal colonialism” and “cultural division of labor” (Hechter, 1975, p. 14-15). According to him, the unbalanced wave of renovation in the society causes power resources to be distributed among different social groups and communities unequally. He argues that when the residents of a distinct cultural territory resist against integration in a centralized government, and try to maintain the indicators of their identity, marginal nationalism comes into existence, which causes the identity and cultural indicators of ethnic and racial groups to appear political (ibid., 2005, p. 39‑60).
For recognition and explanation of ethnic conflicts, Stephen C. Fenton seeks to account for how they are aroused by ethnic solidarity (inside view) or ethnic enmity (outside view) (Fenton, 2004, p. 179). According to Karl Deutsch, communication has a significant role in ethnic resurrection (Maghsudi, 2001, p. 138). Walker Connor also argues that communication plays an important role in the development of ethnic awareness (Seyed-Emami, 2000, p. 252-256). According to Castells, the process of globalization and, consequently, the network society attenuate the national government and the relevant national identity.
In all schools of thought, the causes and methods of politicization are explained by ancient associations and ethnic mobilization in the modern age. The basic argumentation made in this approach—observed in works by Jo Girze and Veins Rgah—is that identity and ancient feelings in a group leads to collective ethnic mobilization (Ahmadi, 2018).
Based on this approach, political integration of ethnic groups within a certain nation-state provides a framework where competition over resources, particularly government occupations, makes up the major incentive for interethnic conflict (Coughlan, 1985, p. 414), leading to formation of ethnic organizations and enhancement of ethnic identities (Nagel & Olzak, 1982, p. 214). In conditions where resources may be stable or unstable, the competition causes collective ethnic measures to be taken (Olzak, 1985, p. 76), where a group that regard themselves as identical in indicators of identity belonging, and find themselves subject to discrimination with respect to others or deserving of greater advantage intensify the probability of solidarity and formation of competition.
European colonizers would subordinate the native through domination, force, and violence, restrict their social and political mobility, and humiliate them culturally, thereby exploiting them and plundering their lands for raw materials (Cashmore, 1996, p. 178). Extending these relations to apply within countries, the theory of internal colonialism is focused on existence of imbalanced cultural relations between the dominant culture and the dominated ones within societies (Muir, 1997, p. 201).
Thus, the term colonization has been borrowed in its broad, classical sense in the theorization of the issues and extension of the imbalanced relations between the colonizer and the colonies to the scope of internal relations (Feagin, 1978, p. 37). Milton identifies seven steps in the assimilation process of groups into the core of the society: cultural, structural, marital, identification, attitudinal, behavioral, and civic assimilation (Milton, 1964, p. 71).
Theoreticians such as Hans Kuhn and, more regularly, Anthony Smith have analyzed the elite’s role in nationalist movements, considering the extension of the government’s control domain and greater tendency toward centralization as a cause of appropriate conditions for ideological mobility provided by “scientific intellectuals.” John Viruili also regards nationalism as a particular, successful form of modern policies adopted by the elite to divest the dominant class of the power of government (Ahmadi, 2018).
The term perpetual peace came to be known in Europe after Immanuel Kant’s sketch entitled Perpetual Peace was published. The prerequisites of its realization, according to Kant, included avoidance of intervention in other countries or use of force. On that basis, perpetual peace should always be accompanied by justice. Just peace is capable of turning into a discourse as a structured thought held by the elite, enter the society, and become a behavior with an international function.
Kant believes in six prerequisites for establishment of perpetual peace (Baratalipour, 2015, p. 41-42), which can be met provided that the government intends to observe ethics. He goes on to add three fundamental conditions to the above prerequisites (ibid., p. 42). Therefore, it is considered as a fundamental of a republic system to observe human rights and citizenship rights based on political attachment to the government (Mirmohamadi, 2011, p. 123). Perpetual peace is impossible to realize without establishment of a republic system, where the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are independent. This, in turn, is of course conditioned upon rationality, dominance of justice, intellectual maturity, ethical conduct, and command of power based on the law.
Researchers of peace in contemporary international relations have adopted a fundamental view of the issue. Johan Galtung, Father of Peace Studies, often distinguishes between “negative peace” and “positive peace.” By negative peace, he means the conditions of a ceasefire, i.e. absence of violence (Galtung, 1985, p. 65).
Peace in the religion-oriented Islamic thought
As a divine religion, Islam does not regard religion and politics as two separate issues in its epistemic system. Human interaction and avoidance of war and violence has always been a central cause in the definition of the Islamic political society (Chinichian, 2017, p. 2). In Islamic ontology, man is basically regarded as holding intrinsic tendency toward peace.
The notion of justice has a particular position in Islamic thought, and is considered as a Principle of the Faith, rooted in the Quran and Prophet’s traditions and practices, known as sunnah. God points out the establishment of justice as a purpose of the Prophet’s mission and revelation (The Quran, 57:25; The Quran, 3:103).
Several mentions have been made in the Quran of the approval of pluralism. Awareness of the common interests develops the sense of mutual trust and, in general, an identity based on mutual brotherhood and sympathy (Feirahi, 2011, p. 80). There are two more prominent views of war and peace among Islamic thinkers.
There is a group who follow movements such as Salafism, excommunication (takfir), Wahhabism, Jihadism, Al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant by presenting superficial interpretations of religious texts such as Quranic verses on struggle (jihad) and fight (muqatilah) against the infidel (kafir) and the polytheist (mushrik) according to particular views of Islamic fundamentals of arbitration (hukm) and divination (sharia).
A large group of Islamic thinkers, however, criticize the first group’s views, and emphasize the priority of peace according to several Quranic verses. They prescribe war in case there is no way left toward peace, and find illegitimate practice of violence even against the enemy contrary to Islamic teachings.
Data obtained from research on the notions of identity and ethnicity with a peace-oriented, equality-seeking trace indicate a gap in government performance. Most results have found national consensus conditioned upon achievement of perpetual peace, and have suggested that the national community will be extremely likely to fall down into crisis otherwise.
Religious identity and national identity: Interaction or opposition
Although nationalist orientations have gained ground in the past century, it can be asserted that the dominance of religious orientations in the past half a century has marginalized nationalism. However, the tendency toward one of the above two sides where impossible to aggregate into a single movement exhibits prominent traces of relatively balanced national and religious political orientations in Iran’s contemporary history. Commenting in that regard, Shahin Sepanta (veterinarian from Isfahan) finds Iranian language and customs composed of two parts: national and religious).
هرچند درنهایت چنین سیاستورزهای رسمیای اقبال عمومی به اندیشههای مذهبی را دچار ضعف نموده است و براساس تحقیقات در بین نسل جدید، گرایشات برگشت به تاریخ باستان و گذشتۀ تاریخی و شخصیتهای ایران باستان بالا رفته است.
Nevertheless, such official politicization has eventually attenuated the public admittance of religious thoughts, and tendency toward return to the ancient history of Iran and its characters has increased among the new generation, according to research.
Religious orientations are not opposed to national issues. In case of a conflict, however, religious issues are more vulnerable than those pertaining to ethnicity and identity (Javadi Hesar, journalist and sociopolitical activist from Mashhad).
Therefore, different Iranian ethnic groups are clearly fascinated by national identity, favoring multiplicity. In fact, the integration of the three major waves of immigration (the Median, the Persian, and the Parthian) can be observed after millennia of coexistence following their entry.
The results of the present research suggest that despite the less interethnic contact among the public, 53.9 percent of the elite have been in great contact with the other ethnic groups, while 28.9 percent have experienced less contact.
The findings obtained in this research are in line with Brown’s (Bowen, 2015, p. 2), who asserts that there has been greater emphasis on the national approach before the 1979 Revolution, and religion has been on the periphery, while government policies have been restructured after the Revolution to prefer religion over nationality. Assuming that Iranian culture has two wings representing Iranian identity and Islamic identity, a research participant, Ashkan Zare’i (cultural and heritage activist and writer from Khuzestan), argues that:
They should both be preserved, and cultural ego death or alienation is encountered as Islamic identity has been taught badly after the Revolution, and Iranian identity has not been taught at all.
The domination of a particular type of religious attitude (Shia) has caused discontent among religious minorities an even (Sunni) Muslims.
Jalal Jalalizade (religious-political activist from Sanandaj) asserts that attempts are unfortunately made to apply the only religion that holds the government in hands to all customs, ceremonies, meetings, institutions, and organizations associated with the government.
The legal barriers against appointment of the non-Shia Leader, President, or another political, managerial, or judicial authority appear in the Constitution (Articles 64, 107, 115, and 121), which involves the sense of explicit exclusion and discrimination by itself, as mentioned by the interviewed elite. The following charts show religious gap and discrimination from the perspectives of the participating elite and public.
The research findings report that there are relationships between such attitudes and performance and the existence of national security, terrorist orientations or cases such as assassinations of authorities and congregational Imams, and even invasion of the Iranian Parliament (2017).
Although there are symbols that contribute to solidarity, the diversity of those that bring about gaps needs to be discussed. The Iranian domestic symbols—through which the government can help integrate the Iranian society—can perhaps be divided into three groups. Symbols such as Nowruz, Chaharshanbe Suri, Mehregan, and Yalda are ancient and rooted in myths. The second group originates from post-Islamic religious thought, including Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Ghadir, the Islamic Prophet’s birthday, the anniversaries of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom and other Shia Imams’, etc. The third group of symbols concerns the contemporary era, resulting from the Islamic Republic sovereignty, exemplified by the ten-day Fajr celebration, anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, processions on 13 Aban (3 November) and on Quds Day (9 Dey, 29 December), and flag and the anthem of the Islamic Republic.
Interethnic cultural borders
The findings of research in the area have revealed that Persian-speakers typically adopt global and super-local attitudes to define their identity bases, and have reconstructed and even changed most of their conventional characteristics.
I pursue forty percent of the customs as people in the past have, but this is affected in any case by my personal beliefs (Katayoun Riahi, actress from Tehran).
However, the other ethnic groups under investigation (the Kurd, Azeri, Baloch, and Arab) have greater acceptance. Even if certain modern manifestations are prioritized over conventional rites and rituals, these ethnic groups still exhibit greater cultural acceptance both from the Persian identity and from regional and global collective identities.
Any nation wishes in principle to preserve all its ethnic customs, and thus continue life and introduce itself to other nations… Why shouldn’t I be able to retain my ethnic costumes and customs (Mullah Ahmad Bahrami, religious activist and former Iranian Parliament member from Javanrud, Kermanshah)?
Another issue involves the politicization of the mother tongues of the ethnic groups under investigation. This means that the ethnic groups regard the government as responsible for their deprivation of education in their mother tongues, making claims in that regard against the political system.
We are deprived of the right of education in our mother tongue, but claim it as a right; this is also reflected in the Constitution of Iran, but not realized (Sa’dun Mazuchi, civil rights and political activist from Mahabad, West Azerbaijan).
The following charts show the elite’s and the public’s beliefs about legitimacy of education in the mother tongue.
Chart 3. Legitimacy of education in the mother tongue – Public
Chart 4. Legitimacy of education in the mother tongue – Elite
If you accept as a principle that Iran is multiethnic, it will be a natural consequent principle that everyone should speak their own ethnic language… Duality in education postpones learning (Amir Sajjadi, history teacher from Saqqez).
The idea of a unified ummah (‘community’), emphasized by the Islamic Republic government, does not approve of the nation-state notion, assuming all Muslims from different countries and societies as a single nation by applying a kind of Islamic (Shia) worldview.
Abdorrashid Triz (Mawlawi (‘religious scholar’), history researcher, and sociopolitical activist from Sistan and Baluchistan) states that:
The government seeks to expand its own religion, Shia, and consumes many of our resources in other countries to promote it.
Threats arising from the borders that cross the ethnic groups have intensified separatism and the occurrence of ethnic crises at those points. The Azeri exhibit homogeneity across the borders in terms of language, ethnicity, and religion, and are homogeneous with the center only in religion. Kurdistan Province is different from the center in all the above factors, which are shared with those beyond the border. Iranian and Pakistani Baluchistan involve homogeneity in terms of language, ethnicity, and religion.
Iranian rulers’ coercive, suppressive approach to confrontation of the ethnic groups’ identity-seeking movements has brought about social rebellions. Thus, it would make sense for the rulers to consider the identity groups’ claims, naturally rising up from the heart of the society, upon the end of a protestant process, as many of these are civil claims, and can be resolved through negotiation.
Ethnic and national movement dead-end
The incapability of the Pahlavi Regime’s identity-construction policies in ethnic nation-building and their emphasis on the superiority of the central ethnic group (Persian) resulted in the development of resistance movements, local commanders’ conflicts in different regions, and even separation of Azerbaijan and Kurdistan from Iran.
The government suffers political and cultural dogmatism, does not tolerate any criticism, and refuses to reform (Rahmatollah Hemmati from Semnan).
Not much change has been observed in this area in the past half a century despite the presence of different governments from different political parties within the system. All of them, from the Government of Reconstruction and the Reformist Party to the Radical Right (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Government) and even the Government of Moderation (Hassan Rouhani’s), have addressed but certain concerns about economic inequality, incapable of addressing social and cultural concerns. The research findings also suggest that the dominant strategy of the central government in that regard has persisted during the past one hundred years.
Seeking to account for the persistence of the discriminative, non-democratic perspective, a participant stated that:
The problem is that everyone is counted as an Iranian upon war and trouble, i.e. at the time of expenditure, where all must fight. When resources and advantages are distributed, however, some of them benefit more as they are considered more Iranian than others (Amir Nabavi from Tehran).
There is also documented reference to the application of government restrictions to ethno-social forces and activists, as stated by Dr. Jalal Jalalizade (religious-political activist from Sanandaj):
As the general secretary of a party, who has been disapproved of in parliamentary elections, could you really encourage political activity in youngsters?
Others find the discriminative ethnic attitudes adopted in appointment for government positions, employment, etc. an effective factor that is intensified in the atmosphere of ethnic groups’ lack of knowledge of their rights in the Constitution.
An examination of the Azeri’s political behavior indicates their more dynamic political behavior in different contemporary governments, involving a higher level of loyalty to the national government and membership and activism within their frameworks of norms. Exceptions to such political behavior include the foundation of the Azerbaijan People’s Government (1945-1946), led by Seyyed Ja’far Pishevari, the Azerbaijani and Turkish flags raised by a group of the audience during a soccer competition in Tabriz, and pan-Turkist slogans.
The Kurd have been known as a non-peaceful population struggling to obtain an independent cultural and political identity. Their political behavior aimed during the past century at autonomy and independence is evident from the attempts by Ismail Agha Simko, the government founded by Qazi Muhammad and the movements by Kurd parties after the Revolution.
Despite the religious commonalities (Shia) of the Arab in Khuzestan with the central part of Iran, holding political power in the contemporary era, there have been political movements, such as the case of Khaz’al Ibn Jabir, and other crises led by separatist forces, which have failed mainly due to the lack of support from the people.
In the past century, there have been a number of political autonomy-seeking activities in the Baluchistan region, such as Dost Mohammad Khan’s uprising (1906-1928), nationalist Baloch movements for autonomy purposes upon the Islamic Revolution, and movements by individuals such as Abdolmalik Rigi and the Jundollah group.
Previously, all lived together under Iranian identity. Today, everyone wishes to stick to their own ethnic group (Ashkan Zare’i, cultural and heritage activist and writer from Khuzestan).
In fact, results from different studies and the data from this research suggest that most of the above claims persist at the heart of the ethnic society, and government policies have bolded the identity boundaries and brought about social gaps sometimes so wide, which calls for particular solutions.
Elimination of cultures
Under conditions of ethnic and cultural diversity, it is the quality of management that specifies whether they should be considered as a threat, or they can be regarded as an opportunity. However, the interests of a particular group within the governments and their inability to manage diversity usually direct it toward cultural elimination and ethnic segregation.
The research conducted in this area has led to a classification for most of the Iranian history that involves the dominance of three categories: confrontation, elimination, and ridicule of the ethnic groups’ cultural manifestations. Part of the elimination is carried out by the national media.
On the radio and television of the province, with a 70-80% Baloch population, the fewest programs are in Balochi, no investment is made in the folklore and public culture of Baluchistan, and the activists are granted no opportunity (Abdorrashid Triz, Mawlawi (‘religious scholar’), history researcher, and political activist from Sistan and Baluchistan).
The following charts show the attitudes toward the restriction on ethnic and religious ceremonies.
Chart 5. Restriction on ceremonies – Elite
Chart 6. Restriction on ceremonies – Public
Therefore, many scholars and experts in the field of social science argue that the current conditions in the country is anomic, discussing attenuations of social order and consensus (Abazari, 2014). Abbas Abdi (2006) first raised the issue of social collapse in the Iranian society seriously. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his associates are among others who have recently addressed the issue.
As Dr. Mehdi Feizi (faculty member from Mashhad) stated,
There are a series of crises and issues, in fact hyper-issues, in the country that are ready to explode like time bombs.
Since the Pahlavi Era, the central government has hardly been concerned with measures to earn public trust in such areas, and has adopted the simplest solution, i.e. confrontation and coercion.
The following charts show Iran’s political conditions from the elite’s and the public’s perspectives.
Chart 7. Iran’s political conditions – Elite
It can be found based on the research data that ethnic issues have been the most complicated, at the same time the most influential, sociopolitical issues in Iran. Enhancement of ethnic identities and movements seems to be one of the most prominent manifestations of Iran’s sociopolitical dynamism in the near future. The involved factors include wider gaps between national and ethnic identity, more serious social-dignity, economic, political, and cultural claims, constantly more developed ethnic organizations, institutions, associations, and centers, severer extremist ethnocentric feelings among some of the elite and intellectual and some political parties, more intense political alienation and separation of ethnic groups from the political system, and more explicit identity claims upon opportunities for political expansion such as national and local elections (Karimi Maleh, 2009, p. 23).
Chart 8. Iran’s political conditions – Public
A peace-oriented approach to resolving the crisis
The results obtained from many of the previous parts of the research demonstrate that there are sociopolitical crises in Iran, which call for solutions. From the participants’ point of view, observance of the points made above will save the country from collapse and lead it to national reconciliation and perpetual peace.
The issue of national unity can be investigated from two points of view. Firstly, national unity is based on extreme nationalist views, where a society combines its nationality with sacredness and worship, considering other nations and nationalities as inferior and worthless rather than as equivalent to theirs. From this perspective, national unity requires an urge for pride and supremacy, based not on original, common values but on ethnic and national prejudice, leading to the view that it is legitimate to dominate over other nations and regard them as instruments.
From another point of view, national unity denotes self-confidence, reliance on the nation’s capitals and capabilities, and reduction of the distances and gaps arising from the religious, ethnic, territorial, and linguistic differences within the nation in order to enhance solidarity, empathy, and collaboration from different parts of the public for the nations’ growth and excellence. On that basis, ethnic and national belonging never assumes an intrinsic or absolute value, and does not result in prejudice, and belonging to a nation or land never arouses a negative or superiority-seeking attitude toward others. Based on the data obtained in this research, most Iranian ethnic groups want the latter view to become dominant.
Large political identities do not function like the original factions, to some extent representing the interests of the large departments and groups in the society, and small ethnic, regional, familial, and friendship identities have developed to replace them (Mohsen Gudarzi, sociologist and researcher from Tehran).
For achievement of the desired conditions of perpetual peace through the operational method of dispute, the first step is to revise Iranians’ beliefs at both levels of the government and the nation. For that purpose, it seems essential to make revisions in the following areas.
- to avoid ethnic ridicule at all social levels, from everyday social conversations to radio and television programs, to the statesmen’s and celebrities’ words.
- to avoid ethnic self-exaltation to enable dialog and establish perpetual peace
- to respect religions and to believe in equal social rights for Iranian residents with all religions
- to avoid discrimination in behavior toward other ethnic groups
- to change the methods of government in order to realize economic, political, religious, and social equality for all Iranians.
Another group argue that many of the claims made by ethnic and minority groups have been considered in the Constitution of Iran, and the only problem is that they are not implemented. According to them, the enforcement of these laws is suspended due mainly to the relevant officials’ subjective treatments based on their tastes.
If the citizen rights mentioned in the Constitution were practiced, a revolution would take place in Iran (Salaheddin Khadiv, civil activist and researcher from Mahabad).
From another aspect, citizenship is a notion through which today’s societies can have democratic social lives despite their ethnic multiplicity. As found from the research data, the failure to use ethnic and religious capacities in important, strategic positions, such as presidency, ministry, and governorship, is considered as a violation of ethnic groups’ rights as citizens, and the lack of religious places, such as mosques, in Tehran despite the large-sized Sunni population in the city is regarded as a cultural exclusion, where citizenship rights are ignored
The following two charts represent satisfaction with and discrimination felt in citizenship rights from the elite’s perspective.
Chart 9. Satisfaction with citizenship rights – Elite
Chart 10. Discrimination felt in citizenship rights – Elite
It has already been found that cultural requirements need to be met for regularization of modern order, where incorporation of values has obtained far better results than methods of social control. In other words, the researcher’s appearance on the field indicates the vague image that the target group of the public under investigation has of citizenship rights. In some cases, the elite under investigation even had no close-to-reality perception of the image. Social change requires information and the relevant institutionalization to facilitate lifestyle, habit, and custom change.
After all, it is clear that fog access to perpetual peace is a basic requirement for coexistence of ethnic groups. Undoubtedly, the most important issue concerning peace is interaction and dialog. Social and ethnic movements make up an area in which most countries in the world are involved. These movements and the participating groups’ claims are manifested by street protestant movements, which may be led in some cases to deviation and chaos by those abusing the excitements of the youth. What matters here is the way these protestant movements are treated.
Their inability to interact well with the Gonabadi dervish demonstrates that they would even fail to interact with the founders of Iranian Shia, the noblest people…. When there is no opportunity for you to talk with your spouse, to love, to caress your child, or to study, what will result?… Violence will come about, like it or not (Javad Tariri, lawyer, writer, political activist, and university lecturer from Khuzestan).
Unless they take a serious measure, Iran may fall apart as in the very early years. It depends on God’s will. If the conditions persist, that will result (Nazar Mohammad Didgah, Mawlawi (‘religious scholar’) from Sistan and Baluchistan).
It is very important for Iran in achievement of perpetual peace to return to operating discourse in the public sphere.
Conclusion and presentation of the conceptual model
The major social issue in regard to the topic under investigation here is the sociopolitical gap that has caused justice-based claim to take shape on the part of the ethnic and social groups in the Iranian society. The following paradigm presents the (basic, intervening, and grounded) factors, phenomenal basis, strategic action, and outcomes of the research within the GT framework.
Conceptual model of investigating ethnic identity in Iran with a focus on peace (2018-2019)
Basic factors (Economy, Ideology) -> Phenomenal orientation (Claim for justice, Sociopolitical gap) -> Strategic action (Peaceful action, Acceptance of the present conditions, State-nation interaction) -> Outcomes (Stability, Decline of social capital)
Grounded factors (Legal and cultural parameters, Resource mismanagement)
Intervening factors (Media, Lifestyle)
Given the above model, unequal economy has taken shape based on the ethnic, center-periphery, and religious variables in the Iranian society, and explains the development status, which has realized most of the claims made by the ethnic groups under investigation in regard to the phenomenal orientation of the research.
The Azeri (particularly those in East Azerbaijan Province) are the second most affluent group after the Persian in terms of gained economic revenue. In spite of these conditions, the Azeri are no more satisfied with the government than the other ethnic groups, and cultural and even separatist claims have recently been heard from places such as Tabriz. In Iran’s Kurd residences, from the cities in southern West Azerbaijan Province to Kurdistan, Kermanshah, and Ilam, there are few factories, workshops, and industrial towns in the industrial development sector.
Despite the young, educated manpower in the region, there is a considerable unemployment rate, and the people have to immigrate to seek employment and earn a living in Persian-speaking provinces, particularly in Tehran, or to move to different workshops in adjacent or more central provinces. Moreover, dangerous jobs such as occupation as kolbars have spread dramatically, in the absence of official employment, appealing even to unemployed youngsters with high academic degrees.
Although there is oil in provinces including Khuzestan, Bushehr, and Hormozgan, the Arab peoples in the region are dissatisfied with the government, as labor force from other regions is admitted besides the native workforce, causing a sense of inequality and dissatisfaction. Small separatist Arab groups have always properly originated from these regions, who have sometimes made armed attempts as well.
It can be concluded that the sense of inequality and dissatisfaction has taken shape in the past among the ethnic groups, along with an assumption of the government’s role in its development and persistence, and it has risen every day. The research data suggest that the worst sense of economic conditions and the most serious dissatisfaction can be observed among the Baloch, resulting mainly from the dual ethnic-religious difference from the government in possession of provincial and national administration and administrative positions. The outcomes include the increase in occupation as smugglers, social harms, religious and ethnic extremism, etc.
Two main scenarios have been presented in the present research for Iran: social stability and social capital decline. If the current conditions persist, in which social capital declines in various aspects, leading to social, economic, political, cultural, and even religious collapse. In the second scenario, however, social stability is achieved, and the scenario can therefore be referred to as desirable. It depends on fundamental reforms in the economic, political, social, cultural, educational, medical, and other infrastructures and superstructures in association with the governmental institutions and ethnic groups around the country.
If the current conditions are accepted, the inequality and dissatisfaction will persist, and the interethnic gaps will continue to expand. The wider social, ethnic, and religious gaps in this scenario will cause the social system to collapse and enmity and conflict to occur among social groups. As a result, the young generation will leave the country, particularly the elite, and the human resource crisis will persist.
In the second scenario, also referred to as the desirable, futurist scenario, Iran will be in stable, sustainable cultural, social, economic, and political conditions. According to the obtained results, Iran’s eventual future trend will be known in the few years to come, specifying which of the above scenarios will be realized. The overall prospect of the country in desirable conditions can be shown as follows.
Iran will be a country characterized by ethnic and religious diversity, from which national unity and consensus originate. Political and cultural decisions will be made so as to develop interethnic relations based on national reconciliation, and the political system will abandon the hierarchical social system and citizen ranking in domestic policy-making by accepting ethnic identity as parallel to national identity. Moreover, national determination will take shape to fill the gaps and resolve discrimination.
For realization of the above prospect, operating strategies in various social, cultural, political, religious, and legal fields have been formulated and proposed based on the results of the interviews with the research participants.
About the Author:
Kameel Ahmady is a Social Anthropologist and scholar who is the recipient of the 2017 Truth Honour Award by the London Law University and the IKWR Women’s Rights Organisation. He also is the recipient of 2018 first place winner award of Literary Category by Global P.E.A.C.E. Foundation at the George Washington University in D.C. Kameel has worked mainly on international and social development on gender and minority related issues. His previous pioneering research books have garnered International attention and are published in English, Farsi, Turkish and Kurdish languages.
“Another look at east and south east of Turkey” (Truism with the touch of Anthropology) published by Etkim, Istanbul-Turkey 2009 and research of “In the Name of Tradition” (A Country Size Comprehensive Study on Female Genital Mutilation FGM/C in Iran), published by Uncut Voices Press-Oxford- 2015 also “An Echo of Silence” (A Comprehensive Study on Early Child Marriage ECM in Iran) published by Nova Science Publisher, Inc., New York 2017.
“A House on Water” (A Comprehensive Study on temporary Marriage in Iran) and “Childhood plunder” ( A research study on child scavenging –Waste picking- in Tehran/Iran printed and lunched in 2019 in Iran/Tehran. His new books “Forbidden Tale” (A Comprehensive Study on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) in Iran (2018) and “A House under shadow” (A Comprehensive Study on temporary Marriage in Iran) and “From Border to Border” Comprehensive research study on identity and ethnicity in Iran, are printed in English and Farsi by Mehri publishing in 2020.
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