Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ethnicity in Iran

Natalie Cassedy
March 21, 2013

            An article from Time Magazine published in 2009 accurately describes the ethnic makeup in Iran, and the conflicts that occurred during the last election year. In late 2009, only a few months after the presidential elections, there was a suicide bomber who killed 42 people in the Southern province of Sistan-Baluchistan. The Iranian government attempted to blame outside forces, such as the U.S. or Pakistan, but an ethnic group called the Baluch took responsibility for the attack. The goal of the attack was to kill officers of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. The attack was successful in killing five members, and there were also thirty-seven civilian casualties.
            Iran is a country that has a majority Persian population. Fifty-one percent of its population is Persian therefore; they are able to hold the majority of political seats. However, there are many ethnic groups that represent a significant portion of Iran’s population, and the Baluch are one such group. They represent nine percent of the population. These ethnic groups at times have felt oppressed by the government. They feel as if they are not properly represented in the government, and this is where the conflict arose.
            It is important to look at these types of ethnic conflicts in Iran, because at times ethnic conflicts can lead to political violence. Erik Cederman argues that ethnicity can be a cause of civil war. When groups feel under represented they will either fight for better representation in their states government, or if they have enough resources they will fight to be separate from the state altogether. However, if there are many ethnic groups fighting then many civil wars could potentially break out, which would increase instability in the region.
            It is important for the Iranian government to remember this conflict, especially since they have elections this upcoming summer. If the various ethnic groups within the state feel as though the results of the elections do not portray their interests, more conflicts such as the suicide bombing are likely to occur. The international community should keep informed on the state of Iran because they are looking to become a nuclear power. If there is internal instability in the region then security on the nuclear materials could be lacking and there is a higher probability of them being stolen. It is dangerous for a any nuclear state to have political unrest.

Source: Robert Baer. Time Magazine. October 21,2009,8599,1931402,00.html


  1. You make a good point about these ethnic tensions creating instability within the country. You mention the Nuclear capabilities of Iran and it got me thinking about the possibility that this potential resource will have on the ethnic tensions. Is there one group that is in control of government projects like nuclear power? You said that the Persians hold the majority of seats in the government, but do they exclude other groups from sections of the government? If they hold a monopoly of some sort in government agencies dealing with nuclear power then could this increase tensions?

  2. The nuclear power of Iran doesn't really seem to be an issue that has raised domestic ethnic tensions. According to the IAEA, little information is actually know about nuclear power development. Ahmadinejad holds the majority of the power and he is in fact Persian. He claims that there is complete transparency with his nuclear program, but th IAEA's research has suggested there is witheld subject, so I don't think the general public knows much about Iran's nuclear program, and thus would probably not really result in any increase in ethnic tensions due to questions of who controls nuclear power.

  3. Although nuclear power may not be raising ethnic tensions as of now, I think that with external pressure and oversight rising in the future that it may be a possible pathway which in the long run can give way to even more ethnic tensions. When there is ethnic tension, it seems that groups tend to focus on major resources as a mechanism to perpetuate tensions. With this said, Iran has one of the top oil reserves, which ethnic groups tend to scrutinize as a possible cause to their voices not being heard within the government.

  4. I think that it is also important to consider Iranian ethnic tensions in the context of the greater Middle East. As we saw throughout the uprisings in Bahrain, sectarian identity was an important part of the Bahraini monarchy's narrative of the protests. In my opinion, many scholars, journalists, and analysts quickly point to sectarian identities as the most important defining characteristic of peoples in the Middle East, overlooking things like ethnicity (for example, overlooking Persian vs Arab tensions by focusing too much on Shia vs Sunni tensions). I think this is a tremendous over-simplification.

  5. Looking at developing ethnic tensions in countries like Iraq will be important for the future of the Middle East because of its regional power status. Stability in counties like Iran and Saudi Arabia are extremely important to the overall stability of the region and significant tensions between ethnic groups within such countries could lead to many other implications. Oil revenue power still maintains balance within Iran but as reserves grow smaller and time passes events like these between ethnic groups will become very important for MENA stability in the future.

  6. Ethnicity plays a huge role in state stability. "Large ethnic groups that are excluded from state power or underrepresented in government are much more likely to challenge the regime’s insiders through violent means"(cederman). in multi-ethnic societies it is much harder to coordinate actions, and leaders play off of the fear that exists between groups. Iran must figure out a way to promote a cohesive and unified national population in order to avoid potential uprising and violence.