Report by UNPO
West Balochistan is an occupied territory, annexed in 1928 to Iran in the Reza Shah Pahlavi era.
Since many parts of Balochistan land after occupation has been partitioned into neighbouring Persian Provinces of Kerman, Khorasaan and Hormozgaan, Baloch population inclusively is about 4.8 million.
Capital of Province: Zahidan
Total Baloch inhabited landscape is 690,000 km², of which 280,000 km² is occupied by Iran, 350,000 km² occupied by Pakistan and 60,000 km² by Afghanistan.
The majority of Baloch are Hanafi Sunnis. There is also a community of zikri Baloch and a small population of Shia.
The Baloch people in Western Balochistan are represented at the UNPO by Balochistan People’s Party (BPP).They became a member of the UNPO on 26 June 2005
Twenty percent of the Baloch population lives in southeastern Iran in the area known as ‘West Balochistan’ the majority live in East Balochistan (Pakistan) and a small number are located in Afghanistan. The Balochistan People’s Party represents only the Baloch’s in Iran and not the larger Baloch community that resides in Pakistan and Afghanistan also known as ‘Greater Balochistan. Parts of West Balochistan have been partitioned to three neighboring provinces in the south east of Iran: Khorasan, Kerman and Hormozgan. There has been some migration of Baloch throughout in Iran as they seek employment opportunities particularly in Tehran
The Baloch population in Iran consists of approximately 4 million people although there are no independent census figures. While the CIA Factbook estimates that they account for 2% of Iran’s population (total 66,429,284 July 2009 estimate) in reality this represents an underestimation. The majority of Iran’s Baloch are Sunni Muslims with small minorities of Shia and Zekri. The national language is Balochi and the second-most commonly spoken language is Brahui, a language of unknown origins with Iranic loanwords.
The British and Persian Empires divided Balochistan into spheres of influence when Balochistan was partitioned during the 19th century. In 1928 West Balochistan was annexed into Iran by Reza shah Pahlavi, who took over the power from Qajar dynasty through a British backed military coup soon after the famous historical “constitutional revolution” in the early 20th century. The Pahlavi dynasty in Iran marked the beginning of a centralized state based on Persian national features, where the Persian language and Shiite religion were given prominence leaving Baloch people struggling to defend their rights under Iranian Rule.
Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was forced into exile. The new regime outlawed political organizations and in 1981, began a major assault on political activists in the form of persecution, imprisonment, torture, execution and assassination.
Baloch people in Iran are deprived of their cultural, social and economic rights leaving them feeling like third class citizens. They face discrimination, particularly with regard to political participation and the job market. The punishment for dissemination of Baloch culture and language is a declared act of treason against the state and assimilation policies carried out by the Persian state mean that the Baloch are rapidly losing their identity. Baloch people face systematic intimidation, harassment arrests, and torture.
UNPO condemns the unwarranted military operation against Baloch people which has resulted in mass displacement, killings, disappearances and mass imprisonment in Balochistan.
UNPO deplores the discrimination against Balochs, particularly in economic and political sphere. In addition, UNPO condemns the denial of linguistic rights to speak and be educated in their mother tongue.
UNPO supports the Balochistan Peoples Party in their campaign to develop Baloch culture and promote the organization of people on the basis of a national Baloch identity.
UNPO MEMBER PERSPECTIVE
The Balochistan Peoples Party is a national democratic movement which is struggling to achieve sovereignty for the Baloch people within a secular, federal and democratic republic in Iran. BPP is one of the founding and most active members of “The Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran” (CNFI). The CNFI consists of parties and organizations representing Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Balochs, Kurds and Turkmen. CNFI seeks to establish a secular, democratic republic with a federal structure based on parity of its constituent parts.
Balochistan is the location of some of the earliest human civilizations and the Baloch were mentioned in Arabic chronicles from 10th century AD. Mehrgar the earliest civilization known to mankind is located in Eastern Balochistan and the Kech civilization in central Makuran dates back to 4000 BC.
The Arab invasion of Balochistan in the seventh century AD was amongst the most significant incursions in terms of the extensive social, religious, economic and political impacts. The Arab army controlled by Hakam, defeated the combined forces of Makuran and Sindh in 644 AD. During the anarchic and chaotic last phases of Arab rule, the Baloch tribes established their own semi-independent tribal confederacies, which were frequently threatened and overwhelmed by the stronger forces and dynasties of surrounding areas. This period brought Islam to the area which was gradually embraced by Baloch tribes.
The Selijuq suppression of the Baloch was epitomized with the invasion of Kerman in 11th century AD which stimulated the eastward migration of the Baloch. The Selijuq ruler, Qaward, also sent an expedition against the Kufichis. The Safavid rule ran from 1501-1736.
The British occupation of Kalat state was a turning point which had had severe consequences for the Baloch who suffered the partition of their land and perpetual occupation by foreign forces. By the 18th century, Kalat was the dominant power in Balochistan and the Khan of Kalat was the ruler of Balochistan. The British first came to Balochistan in 1839 when they sought safe passage and they signed a treaty with Kalat state in 1841. The British annexed Sindh in 1843 from the Talpur Mirs, a Baloch dynasty. Another treaty was imposed on the Baloch in 1876 when the British forced the Khan of Kalat to lease Quetta city to them. The Khan’s authority over Balochistan still applied but under the watchful eye of a British minister. In 1849, an Iranian army defeated Baloch forces in Kerman and captured Bumpur. The Baloch people became further marginalized during the Anglo-Afghan wars and subsequent events in Persia, particularly in light of “the great game” between Tsarist Russia and the British Empire.
West Balochistan was conquered by Iran in the 19th century and the partition of Balochistan by British and Persian Empires dramatically changed Balochistan’s political status as it was divided into spheres of influence. The border that splits Iranian and Pakistani Balochistan was fixed in 1872 by a British colonial official, ceding territory to Iran’s rulers in a bid to win Tehran’s support against Czarist Russia.
Baloch rebellions against dominations occurred throughout the 19th century, including the revolt of Jask in 1873, the revolt of Sarhad in 1888 and the general uprising in 1889. A major uprising under Baloch chieftain Sardar Hussein Narui in 1896 provoked a joint Anglo-Persian expeditionary force to crush the struggle of Baloch. Baloch resistance was defeated after two years.
The reign of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran was the beginning of a centralized state with Persian national identity based features which ruled Iran from the crowning of Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1925. Western Balochistan was annexed by Iran in 1928 after the defeat of Baloch forces by Reza Shah’s Army. Reza Shah Pahlavi was forced to abdicate by the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in September 1941 when his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, became the emperor of Iran.
During the 1970s the Iranian government began to assist settlement and economic development by building dams and power plants but these efforts ceased abruptly following political changes at the end of the decade. The Baloch Nationalist Movement in Iran was a relatively insignificant force compared to the movement in Eastern or Pakistani Balochistan until the overthrow of the Shah in the Iranian Revolution 1979 when there was resurgence of nationalist activities. Iraq attempted to destroy the Revolution in its infancy and invaded Iran marking the beginning of a bloody, indecisive war between 1980 and 88.
The death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 marked a shift in Iran foreign policy from the idealistic post-revolutionary hardline during the Iran-Iraq. Iran became more pragmatic and improved relations with its non-revolutionary Muslim neighbours, particularly Saudi Arabia.
After the destruction of a Sunni mosque, there were a series of riots in 1994 in Zahidan which were quelled when Revolutionary Guards fired live ammunition into the crowd. In response to popular dissatisfaction, political reform was initiated following the election of reformer Hojjat ol-Eslam Mohammad Khatami in 1997. In the 1990s Baloch political activists set about founding a new political party, facilitated by the post cold war climate which favored oppressed nations struggle for self-determination and sovereignty.
Conservatives were able to regain power during municipal elections in 2003 and Majles elections in 2004, which culminated in the August 2005 inauguration of hardliner Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president who returned Iranian policy to reflect Islamic revolutionary policies. The president was re-elected in the controversial elections in June 2009.
1. Human Rights Violations
There are serious allegations about Iran’s military operation including mass arrests, harassment of Baloch people and the execution of innocent Baloch civilians in Zahidan.
The recent escalation in the number military exercises conducted in Balochistan has resulted in an increasing death toll. In most cases however there is little or no investigation into the incidents, and consequently little in the way of justice for the victims. Despite being prohibited from entering Iran, Amnesty International has received reports of gross human rights violations at the hands of security forces (see their 2007 report) During 2006-7, numerous Baloch were shot dead in the street, including an 11 year old on 16 May 2007 killed by the Law Enforcement Force. There are examples of forced disappearances, such as Vahid Mir Baluchzahi, aged 23, who went missing in February 2007 and was found dead in June later that year. In June 2009, 17 young Baloch were killed in street clashes with security forces and over 500 arrested after a demostration in the streets of Zahidan.
There is a heavy military presence in the east of the country, the base for the branch of the military called Mersad is located in Zahidan. One of the leaders is reported to have said, “We have not been given orders to arrest and hand over those who carry weapons. On the basis of a directive we have received, we will execute any bandits, wherever we capture them.”
The use of the death penalty represents a major concern, particularly since there is sparse information available about the trials of some Balochs who are often arrested, tried and executed within days. It is unclear how many Baloch have been executed over the years, but in 2006 it is known the number rose dramatically when at least 32 and possibly 50 Balochs were executed. In 2007, the Ayyaran newspaper reported that 700 people were awaiting execution in Sistan Balochistan. In the aftermath of the presidential election in May 2009 19 Baloch prisoners were executed after short trials in closed-door court rooms without having access to defence lawyers.
The system of trying suspected criminals in Iran is inherently unfair. Defendants only have access to lawyer after investigations have been completed and they have been formally charged. Lawyers can be imprisoned if they protest unfair proceedings. Judges have powers to refuse a public trial if the case is incompatible with ‘morality or public order’ and they have discretionary powers to exclude lawyers in sensitive cases. The lack of separation of powers of investigator prosecutor and judge mean that their functions remain merged, making an impartial hearing impossible. Confessions to certain crimes may be used as sole means of proving defense under Islamic penal code. Amnesty International has expressed concern about torture and ill treatment in pre trial detention, particularly the allowing confessions extracted under duress to be used.
Members of civil society organisations face oppression and are prevented from carrying out their activities. A Baloch youth group were only granted permission after much difficulty to stage first cultural music conference in 2005 and permission to stage a similar concert by another group refused in 2006. Six members of Voice of Justice Youth Association were arrested for their activities in 2007. The following year, the head of the organisation, Mr. Mehrnehad was subjected torture and executed.
2. Political Representation and Discrimination
The Baloch are unrepresented at the central government in Tehran which has led to marginalization of Balochi people. There is a lack of meaningful dialogue on a domestic scale between interstate and state leaders about the desire for greater autonomy and self-determination.
In Iran, there is an ideological selection procedure called gozinesh which requires state officials and employees to demonstrate allegiance to Islam and the Islamic republic of Iran including velayat-e faqih (Rule of Jurisconsult). This is in conflict with Sunni beliefs meaning that equality of opportunity in employment both in the public, parastatal sector (e.g. Bonyads or Foundations) and sometimes in the private sector is severely impaired. Gozinesh excludes non-Shi’a from certain state positions such as the President and restricts access to higher education.
3. Governmental dismissal of Baloch Culture
Baloch people have been reduced to a minority in their own homeland by demographic manipulations at the hands of a succession of Iranian governments and systematic assimilation policy severely threatens the continuation of Baloch identity. For instance non-Baloch are able to purchase land at reduced prices enabling them to set up businesses. On June 30 2005, a community of Baloch were reportedly forcibly evicted from homes in Chabhar when their huts were demolished by security forces. Protesters were injured and no compensation or re-housing was offered.
Despite provisions in Iran’s constitution under article 15 that ‘the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media as well as for teaching of their literature in schools is allowed in addition to Farsi’ the Baloch’s language is subject to elimination and assimilation by Iranian rulers. Although Balochi publications were allowed for the first time after 1979, the following year the government closed down 3 Balochi publications (Mahtak, Graand and Roshanal) and today Balochi publications are banned. There is a state radio station with a few Balochi programmes, but no Balochi appears on television. Balochi is forbidden in formal and public places and Baloch children are deprived of using their mother tongue as the medium of instruction at schools.
4. Socio-economic Rights
According to UN 2003 indicators, Balochistan is the poorest region in Iran with the worst indicators for life expectancy, adult literacy, primary school enrolment and access to improve water and sanitation and infant and child mortality. This is despite the region’s natural wealth: Balochistan produces 40% of Iran’s energy, yet only 5-6% population have a gas connection. After the election of President Ahmadinejad in 2005, many Balochs were reportedly forced from their jobs.
Does Balochistan seek autonomy?
The Balochistan Peoples Party believes in non-violent and peaceful means of seeking national self-determination and popular sovereignty for Baloch people within Iran. It is campaigning to achieve this sovereignty within a federal Democratic Republic of Iran based on parity of its constituent parts. It seeks to create a liberal democratic system based on political pluralism, secularism and social welfare free from discrimination.
BPP seeks to work in co-operation with Iranian nations in a peaceful co-existence based on parity and mutual respect. It also seeks to develop peaceful relations with neighbouring countries. BPP aims to support and guide grassroots Baloch organisations which are emerging in civil society inside Balochistan in Iran.
Does West Balochistan want to unite with Balochistan in Pakistan and Afghanistan?
Iranian Baloch identify with their kin in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan where communities are also engaged in their own struggle for greater rights and self determination. Baloch regions are referred to in their entirety as “Greater Balochistan” and are united by historic persecution at the hands of imperial powers. The circumstance of a nation divided without a state of its own pervades the Baloch national consciousness. The truth of the Baloch National question is the existence of a unified Baloch nation with one homeland.
Why is a wall being built dividing Pakistani and Iranian Balochistan?
Iran has started constructing a 700km concrete wall along the border that has divided Baloch people into Pakistan and Iran from Taftan to Mand. The Iranian government claims that 3 feet thick and 10 feet high concrete wall is being constructed to stop illegal border crossings and stem the flow of drugs.
The BPP strongly believe that construction of the wall serves political goals of the Iranian regime which is to divide the Baloch people and to suppress opposition voices claiming a unified Baloch nation. Close relatives live on both sides on the border and the wall will divide community politically and socially and seriously impede trade and social activities of the Baloch.
CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT
Language and Culture
Iranian Baloch see themselves as the heirs of an ancient and proud tradition distinct from Iran’s ethnic Persian population. They have a distinct language one of the oldest living languages of the Indo-Iranian group of the Indo-European languages, which is among the oldest and constructive in the region. They prefer to use the Nastaliq script which is a variant of Arabic.
The Baloch have close ties with populations in Pakistan and Afghanistan because of family or tribal links. Baloch live in a stratified society and historically have administered themselves as a loose tribal confederacy. Each tribe (tuman) consists of several clans and acknowledge one Sardar or hakim (leader) who has traditional social ties with his retinue (who include pastoralists, farmers, lower level leaders and hizmatkar).
The Baloch are traditionally nomads but increasingly they are converting their farming practices to settled agriculture. In the coastal area, fishing represents a major income source. Although Balochistan is rich in gas, oil, gold and other minerals and marine resources occupation of their land and lack of trust from occupant regimes means that the people of Balochistan do not benefiting from their vast resources. Hence Baloch live in some of the poorest conditions in South East Asia.
The majority of Baloch are Sunni Muslims whereas approximately 90% of the Iranian population are Shi’a. There is also a community of zikri Baloch and a small population of Shia.
Nature & Environment
The dry season in Balochistan runs for 8 months of the year, Sistan Balochistan being the driest region in Iran. Seasonal winds visit the province including the 120-day wind of Sistan known as Levar. Erosion is a serious problem as precipitation is scarce but mostly falls in violent rainstorms which cause heavy flooding. In the centre of the region there is abundant groundwater and streams, such as the Māshkīd and the Konārī rivers. Storms in 2007 causing widespread flooding and damage to property killed 23 people and threatened the health of thousands. The iconic Mudy Mountain towers over Chahbahar, Balochistan, Iran and the unique Mudy volcano is located in northwestern Chabahar city. Each eruption involves a loud gunshot sound with an explosion of gas and mud. Sistan Baluchistan Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Department has proposed mud volcano be registered on UNESCO World Heritage List.
Amnesty International 2007 Report: ‘Iran: Human Rights Abuses Against The Baluchi Minority’
Amnesty International 2009 Report on Iran
Balochistan Peoples Party
Selig S. Harrison, ‘In Afghanistan’s Shadow: Baloch Nationalism and Soviet Temptations, Carnegie Endowment for Peace’ New York 1981.
Shahid Fiaz, ‘Peace Audit Report 3: The Peace Question in Balochistan’ South Asia Forum for Human Rights Katmandu 2003.
Inayatullah Baloch, ‘The Problem of Greater Balochistan’ Stener Verlag Wiesbaden GMBH Stuttgart 1987
Khan, Mir Ahmad Yar Khan ‘Inside Balochsitan’ Maaref Printers Karachi, 1975.
‘Farhang- e Iran Zamin’ compiled and edited by: Iraj Afshar, Tehran 1990.
Dr Naseer Dashti, ‘Baloch in Iran: What Option they have’ Balochunity.org.