There are few places in Iran further from Saqqez, in Iranian Kurdistan, where Zhina (aka Mahsa) Amini was born in 1999 and buried on Sept. 17, than Zahedan, 1,200 miles away in Sistan and Balochistan province. Yet, despite living at opposite ends of the country, Iran’s Kurdish and Baloch communities face similar challenges as non-Persian Sunni Muslims in the Shiite-centric Islamic Republic. Even so, they have never before made common cause in combating their shared marginalization.
This is a point of critical importance for the Iranian state, which has spent the past century controlling Iran’s mosaic of ethnic groups by keeping the Kurdish, Baloch and other non-Persian peoples of Iran economically weak, politically disenfranchised and socially isolated. After the advent of the Islamic Republic in 1979, non-Shiite groups were added to the list. With the exception of the revolution that year, this approach has largely proven robust in limiting the scope of any opposition from these groups.
Or, at least, it had, until the news of Zhina Amini’s death at the hands of Tehran’s morality police and the rape of a young Baloch teenager by a police colonel in Chabahar broke almost simultaneously in September. Since then, Kurdistan and Balochistan have emerged as twin pillars of a protest movement that has swept across all 31 of Iran’s provinces, forcing the Islamic Republic to contend with a grassroots uprising now operating on mutually-reinforcing levels in pursuit of one overarching objective: overthrowing it.
In conjunction with acts of civil disobedience carried out by women across Iran, daily demonstrations on university and high school campuses and a growing wave of industrial action, majority-minority cities like Zahedan and Saqqez are staging sustained protests in the face of violent crackdowns by state security forces. In doing so, they are both sustaining the movement’s momentum and preventing the state from focusing its repressive apparatus on any one region, helping explain why the breadth and longevity of this uprising have surpassed any other round of protests seen in Iran since 1979. [Continue reading…]