The anniversary of Zahedan’s “Bloody Friday” and it saw Tehran accelerate its efforts to put a halt to the protests in Balochistan. For a year now, people of this region have continued to protest the oppression of the Khamenei regime. The protests in Balochistan are inspiring rights activists and oppressed peoples across Iran. Every Friday, the cities of Balochistan echo with anti-regime slogans, demanding freedom, justice and equality. The use of force and deceptive overtures by the regime have so far failed to pacify the Baloch-Sunni ethno-religious minority.

To suppress the voice of these protestors, Iran disrupts the internet connectivity in Zahedan every Friday. This regular pattern of internet restrictions gained Iran the title of the country with most internet disruptions during the first half of 2023.

The gulf between Tehran and the Baloch has widened to an unprecedented level, but the regime continues its repressive policies in Balochistan. Subduing this remote and restive region has become a critical challenge for the regime. Yet, ironically, authorities thought they could camouflage the situation by taking some people to Tehran for a meeting with the supreme leader of Iran.

Days before the anniversary of the Bloody Friday massacre, the desperate authorities in Iran’s province of Sistan-Balochistan announced a meeting of the notables of this region with Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. The meeting aimed at giving a message of unity and allegiance to conceal the prevailing discontent. However, despite all the hype, propaganda and intimidation, even this symbolic expression of unity and strength failed to give favourable results.

The absence of Baloch leadership further highlighted the deep divide and distrust between Balochistan and the regime in Tehran. Similarly, in Khamenei’s talk there was no mention of the internal problems and incidents that led to the ongoing protests and crisis; instead, he blamed the United States for attempting to create crises in Iran.

In 2022, on a day that would become known as Bloody Friday, Iranian security forces killed 103 unarmed protesters and worshippers, including 13 children, for holding a protest in Balochistan’s capital Zahedan against the rape of a teenage girl by an Iranian police commander in Chabahar. A month later, on 4 November, regime forces once again attacked the protestors on a Friday in Khash city of Balochistan killing at least 18 people. The protests continue despite the brutal crackdown.

Despite a year of protests, the Iranian regime still refuses to hold the perpetrators of the Bloody Friday incidents to account. As, on one hand, the directions to crush the protesters had come from the top; while, on the other hand, any semblance of accountability might compromise the systemic impunity of the regime authorities. Therefore, most of the officials who are held responsible by the people for their alleged role in the massacre continue to occupy important positions.

The Khamenei regime is facing a dilemma in Balochistan. It wants to continue with repressive policies and use of force to firmly control the region, but also remains apprehensive of the spread of resistance. It wants to reduce the rising unrest in Balochistan but without giving any concessions to the Baloch. Such contradictions and mistrust mark Iran’s century-long problematic relationship with the Baloch.

The erstwhile Pahlavi monarchy and the ruling Shia-Persian theocracy, both persecuted the Baloch and deprived them of their national rights. Iran’s Persian-centric system structurally discriminates against minorities. Its policy towards the Baloch can be described by the desire to ‘assimilate or annihilate’ them. Over a century, successive Persian regimes have followed a comprehensive Persianisation policy in Balochistan to deprive the Baloch of their separate national identity, culture, language and religion. The division of Balochistan into multiple provinces (including, eastern Hormozgan, southern Kerman and southern Khorasan) besides Sistan–Balochistan and curbs on Balochi language and culture are depictive of such policies. Being Sunnis and non-Persians there has been no space for the Baloch in power structures — even at the local level. Such policies have created an apartheid-like environment for non-Persian nationalities in Iran.

Balochistan is the most poor and deprived region in Iran. The state has systematically closed the doors of employment and human development on the Baloch masses. Any expression of dissent is strictly suppressed. Now, Iran is seeking more permanent solutions to subdue them. Thousands of families remain deprived of identity documents and Baloch villages are being forcefully seized by the government. However, eyeing Chinese investment, Iran has plans to ‘develop’ the coast of Balochistan by settling five million Iranians there. This will lead to a demographic change — converting the Baloch into a minority in their own homeland. However, it may also backfire. Similar plans, aimed at changing the demography of Gwadar by Pakistan in its Balochistan province fuelled the Baloch insurgency to a level that five successive Pakistani governments have failed to normalise the situation.

Balochistan, the homeland of the Baloch people, is currently divided between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The division of Balochistan took place during the late 19th century (1871-96) when the British Empire drew the present boundaries splitting the country into multiple spheres of influence. The western part of Balochistan was incorporated by Persia after a military invasion in 1928, while the remnant Khanate of Balochistan was annexed by Pakistan in 1948.

Besides unprecedented mass protests, there has also been a gradual increase in insurgent activity in the region. This year, more than 20 security personnel have been killed in a spate of attacks in different parts of the province. Although the protest movement in Balochistan is peaceful, suppression of political activity and the crackdown on unarmed protesters may end up strengthening the insurgents’ stance of dealing with the regime’s oppression through armed struggle.

Source » middleeastmonitor