Wooden Leg of US Interventions in Middle East Region

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Salar Seifoddini
Azeri Researcher and Political Activist

The US State Department recently announced that a member of the US Congress had written a letter to the Department asking for the secession of Iran’s Azarbaijan region and its subsequent annexation to Iran’s northwestern neighbor, the Republic of Azerbaijan. News outlets have reported that the Californian Congressman Dana Rohrabacher had sent the letter to the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about a month ago, asking for Washington to support the drive for the secession of Iran’s Azerbaijan province followed by its annexation to the Republic of Azerbaijan. The US lawmaker had also brought as example the recent remarks made by Azerbaijani parliament member, Siavash Norouzov, who noted about eight months ago that almost 16 million Azeri people live in northwest Iran and they should become part of the Azerbaijani Republic. The congressman has urged in his letter to Clinton that a referendum should be held on the secession of Iran’s eastern and western Azarbaijan provinces. After the US State Department confirmed the receipt of the letter, Rohrabacher stated that his letter did not mean that the United States should necessarily support secession of a region from one country and its integration into another country, but he believed that a referendum should be held in order to make sure whether secession is what the people of Azarbaijan provinces are looking for. The American politician has said in the last paragraph of his letter that he believes by supporting secessionist tendencies in Iran’s Azarbaijan region, the United States would be able to deal a heavier blow to Iran than through a possible military attack on the country’s nuclear energy facilities. In his letter, he described Iran as the “common enemy” of the United States and the Zionist regime of Israel while hailing military cooperation between Israel and Republic of Azerbaijan and asking Washington to throw its weight behind such cooperation. Salar Seifoddini, an Azerbaijani researcher and political activist, who is working on issues related to national identity of countries, has reflected on this issue in the following article.

“All States shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the present Declaration on the basis of equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of all States, and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity.”

Paragraph 7 of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples approved by the United Nations General Assembly on 14 December 1960.

There is a classic and regular formula in the world for launching ethnic campaigns. First of all, a “linguist or historian” discovers or creates a linguistic group in a special region of the world. Then a “journalist” applies that linguistic concept in a way which would suit that ethnic group. Finally, a “politician” talks about a single nationality based on a single language which should attain independence.

Many years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the genie of the ethnic movements and campaigns is once more out of the bottle. The entire Caucasus, the Central Asia and the Eastern Europe have already experienced bloody demarcations along ethnic borders following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Such mobilization of ethnic forces and political groupings took place for the last time in the late 20th century. What is currently known as the issue of nationalities, is the product of that period and the result of the exploitation of that capacity by Marxist - Leninist groups. In this sense, nationalities were considered nothing but small nations or potential nations which were ready to turn into a full-fledged nation if they could have formed their special national state. This is one of the most common meanings of nationality in the world of politics, though not in strictly legal terms.

Following the World War I, Iran was not excluded from such divisive efforts. Bolsheviks discovered a lot of nationalities in Iran. As if, they supposed that due to inadequate development of their national understanding, those ethnic groups had not been previously aware of their own existence and were wrong to believe that they belonged to the Iranian nation! From the viewpoint of Bolsheviks, the enlightenment of such people should have been done by communists and socialist forces. In this way, Iran was divided into different nationalities. Today, ethnic activists in entire Iran have forgotten about this backdrop and are not aware of how the term “nationalities” came into being. (Of course, such a naïve and populist understanding of the concepts of sociology and politics could have no other outcome.) As a result, by taking nationality as synonymous to nation, they usually use the phrase “Iranian nations.” Throughout the contemporary history of Iran, Iranian nationalities and masses have been among special terms frequently used by the leftist political activists, both in their articles, and in their theoretical education papers which were in common use in that time.

It was for this reason that the first generation of ethnic activists in Iran (following the collapse of the Soviet Union) came from the former communist elements. The communists, who had been well taught in theoretical areas, were capable of attracting certain parts of the political forces by taking advantage of a mixture of marginal socialist and nationalistic discourses. Pan-Azerism is different from pan-Turkism in that it is a mixture of marginal (ethnic) nationalistic and socialist tendencies. In real sense, however, pan-Turkism is closely related to capitalism and at loggerheads with both communism and socialism. During the 1960s and 1970s, almost all ethnic activists were concentrated in southwestern parts of the country and were former communists who considered themselves, one way or another, as followers of Ja'far Pishevari (leader of the secessionist Azarbaijan Democrat Party). During later years, globalization and development of communications left their mark on ethnic campaigns and also caused them to gradually distance from the leftist discourse. However, the theoretical legacy which was carried by the former generation had been transferred to new ethnic activists again.

A large part of the components of the ethnic discourse is common throughout the world. All of its proponents believe that they represent an oppressed nation whose land has been occupied and is thus made subject to a new form of colonialism. The same keywords are repeated everywhere from Spain to Turkish Kurdistan, and from Iran’s Khuzestan to Azarbaijan and Chechnya; they include: national oppression, the right to self-determination, colonized nation, chauvinism and so forth.

At present, there are tens of ethnic movements in the world; in Britain, in France, in Spain, in Canada, in Russia and in tens of other Asian and African countries. The governments, at least apparently, have never openly supported such movements unless in case of a fundamental violation of human rights. Behind closed doors and among strategists and policymakers, however, the situation is quite different. Here, there is no room for rights and democracy. What is important in reality is the national interests of their countries.

Although such issues as identity, human rights and respect for the rights of minorities, are per se important, in the minds of the Western strategists they can be only a cover for efforts aimed at dividing ethnic groups or creating crises in other regions.

A close look at the geographical coordinates which characterize secessionist ethnic movements will prove that only those movements are supported which may have special benefits for influential and powerful countries. For example, the ethnic movement of the people of Chechnya has not attracted the attention of the West neither in the media sphere, nor in political terms. The West and Russia have apparently reached an agreement to exclude Moscow from this general rule, of course, for the time being. As a result, despite a civil and bloody war, the support accorded to the secessionist movement of Chechnya has not been remarkable.

A small ethnic group called “Adjar” lives in West Caucasus which from time to time raises Cain about the situation of Adjara (aka Adjaristan), and national rights of its people. The Adjar minority lives in the vicinity of Batumi in Georgia. Although the coastal area of Batumi is a famous tourist resort and a destination for many Iranians, almost no passenger or onlooker has ever sensed the presence of an ethnic problem in Batumi.

Almost no country supports the “issue of Adjara.” Nobody is willing to pose a threat to the interests of big investors who have brought a lot of money to this tourist resort which is a major moneymaker region of Georgia. Nobody cares about ethnic crises and gaps between the Chinese and Malayans in Malaysia unless they pose a threat to security of foreign investment in that country. Therefore, Western media basically don’t pay any attention to such issues. The ethnic issue pertaining to the French Corsica Island has been likewise ignored by international community even if the islanders had seen frequent upswings in violence and terrorism in the past years, which have at times culminated in the assassination of a minister and a governor. Expediencies and reasons are different in every region. Some regions lack strategic importance while others are satellites of another powerful and influential state.

Which Ethnic Movements Are Actually Supported?

Undoubtedly, every remarkable ethnic movement in the Middle East should be of import to strategists. For example, the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq enjoys both geopolitical and hydro-political significance. The crisis of water will be among the most serious crises of the future world and in addition to its rich oil reserves this region abounds with water resources as well. The littoral rim of the seas, both the Caspian Sea in north and the Persian Gulf in south Iran, are also of great import. New and small countries come into existence in oil-rich regions or on the rim of seas and along maritime passages. A careful glance at geographical regions which are coveted by secessionist groups and organizations, or designed by strategists will reveal that new ethnic demarcations among these regions, every one of which can be potentially a country, are worked out in such a way as to deprive them of major sources of political power, including population, mineral and energy resources, access to free waters and similar instances. Every one of these regions is designed in such a way as to have only one of these resources. For example, the imaginary country of the Iraqi Kurdistan has rich oil resources, but suffers from a vulnerable geographical position. Imaginary Baluchistan country (in Pakistan) has access to free waters but is devoid of energy resources.

In the meantime, the northwestern parts of Iran have gained increased importance. The northwestern part of Iran (Azarbaijan region) neighbors five important countries and regions: Turkey, Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Nakhichevan, and Karabakh autonomous region. The Republic of Azerbaijan lacks land border with Nakhichevan. If Iran blocks the passage of Azeri trucks to the enclave, the situation in both regions will become quite unstable. A region neighboring three important countries and two critical and sensitive regions is usually of high importance in strategic equations. The government running such a region will have the initiative. However, if that government is nascent, newly established and devoid of adequate managerial experience, it would certainly need assistance and consultation from other powers and even their direct intervention.

Oil, Energy, Proximity to and Control of Sea and other Strategic Areas

No movement can instigate human societies better than ethnic movements due to their irrational, spontaneous, and instinctual characteristics. If a nation-state is located in the Middle East, it has to sleep the nights with one eye open because while the racism which is embedded in the European societies and the United States is not considered a violation of human rights, apprehension of a few armed terrorists affiliated to ethnic groups while carrying bombs to kill people will provide suitable fodder for the Western media. If a few al-Qaeda or Taliban terrorists cross the border into Iran, a phenomenon which cannot be controlled due to the country’s long borders, it is construed as Iran’s support for terrorism, but if such terrorist parties as Mojahedeen Khalq Organization, Khalq al-Ahwaz (Ahwaz People’s Party), and the so-called Democratic Movement of Ahwaz open offices in Britain and Canada and operate armed groups in those countries, it will not be considered support for terrorism by those countries!

Many news websites affiliated with or supporting the so-called al-Ahwaz movement have proudly uploaded video clips depicting terrorist bomb attacks in Iran’s Khuzestan province. Most people behind such incidents live in Britain and Canada and take part in official meetings with lawmakers and other politicians in those countries. The question is “aren’t these groups covered by anti-terrorism laws of Britain, Canada, and the United States?”

Aren’t measures taken by the Persian BBC and the Voice of America, like inviting talk show guests who openly promote ethnic and racial hatred, and more interestingly, not inviting experts representing opposite viewpoints, clear violations of media and anti-terrorism laws of the United States and Britain?

Interestingly enough, when a project like the Greater Middle East or similar projects, which aim to change political and geographical specifications of a region by creating small countries, are drawn up, the human rights and international laws are easily forgotten.

The principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs and unchangeable nature of political borders is among seven main principles of international law. However, the question is to what extent a US congressperson is familiar with international rules and regulations? I think whatever the answer, it is of no consequence. What Dana Rohrabacher has said last month, we have been seeing in practice for many years now. If once in the past, the former Soviet Union embarked on creating ethnic movements in many parts of the world including Iran under the apparent pretext of “the issue of nationality,” today, certain sections of the US government, including the US Defense Department, Pentagon, the Republican lobby, and sometimes the Democrat lobby, are following on the same path.

However, due to political and historical reasons, the United States is the last government which can make such inroads into the issue of Iranian minorities and ethnicities, in particular. The political reason can be found in developments which have taken place in recent years.

In 2007, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly during its 62nd session in which a set of rights had been specified for the indigenous people, including the right to “autonomy.” Only three countries voted negative to this universal declaration which was one of the last legal steps taken in line with decolonization throughout the world. The United States and Canada topped the short list of opposing countries. Now, when a country avoids to recognize special rights of indigenous people who have been the original settlers of the United States (and whose population is quite limited and harmless), how it can talk such blatantly about secession in another country and in a different continent?

The historical evidence should be also sought as far back as the end of the World War II. When the Soviet Red Army occupied northern parts of Iran under the apparent cover of such nationalistic groups as Azarbaijan Democrat Party and Azarbaijan branch of Tudeh (Masses) Party, Moscow decided to separate Azarbaijan region from Iran. At that time, the US government took sides with Iran and this is considered an important historical experience for both countries.

The United Nations Security Council adopted its first resolution on the occupation of Iran. Meanwhile, the US government issued an ultimatum to the Soviet Union to withdraw its Red Army forces from Iran.

Dana Rohrabacher should know better about the approach taken by the United States’ government to the crisis in Iran’s Azarbaijan region (in 1945-46). The representatives of the US government at that time, especially the US consulates in Tabriz and Tehran, were actively trying to create a gap between Qazi Mohammad and Pishevari and they finally achieved that goal. Reports prepared by the British and US governments following withdrawal of the Red Army and liberation of Azarbaijan on December 11, prove that people of Azarbaijan have been happy with that development.

I propose to Mr. Rohrabacher and his advisors to have a look at the archives dating back to 1946, which include reports prepared by the assistant to the US consul in Tabriz, Gerald F. B. Doher, which he had sent to the US embassy in Iran. They can also refer to a report drawn up by the British military attaché in Iran which had traveled to Iran’s Azarbaijan region immediately after December 11, and had written a report on the situation in that region. This confidential report is dated January 15, 1947, No. 264, and had been sent by the then US ambassador to Tehran, to the US secretary of state. One of the most important paragraphs in that report is about the liberation of Azarbaijan and the situation after Pishevari fled that region.

He has written that between the collapse of Azarbaijan Democrat Party and the arrival of government forces on December 13, about 300 former supporters of Azarbaijan Democrat Party were killed by angry mobs. About 30 percent of them were Caucasians, that is, citizens of the former Soviet Union who lacked an Iranian birth certificate, he added. The report noted that no person had been killed after the arrival of the Iranian army to the region.

I do not expect a person like Rohrabacher to say anything more logical and of more legal substance about the situation in Azarbaijan than what he has already said about the referendum. However, he must be reminded of a few points. Firstly, to know about the opinion of Azarbaijan people there is no need to a referendum. If people of Azarbaijan aspired to get separated from Iran and be annexed to Caucasus, they would have shown that aspiration when their land was occupied by the Soviet Red Army. Undoubtedly, the fact that the people of Azarbaijan fought and killed the members of Pishevari’s Azarbaijan Democrat Party - affiliated to Moscow - which has been clearly reflected in the report prepared by the US State Department, can convey a very clear message to the US government and some of its supporters in Iran.

Secondly, as for the referendum, he should refer to the rules of international law in this regard. According to the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States: “Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States conducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples as described above and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or color.”

Badinter Arbitration Committee has also announced in its opinion in response to a question posed by various countries about enforcing of the right to self-determination by ethnic minorities that under any circumstances the principle of self-determination does not include the right of a minority ethnic or national group to secede from a sovereign country and change its borders unless an agreement is reached between governments in question.

Apart from the fact that the US congressman’s proposal is both unconventional and non-legal, it would have been better for Dana Rohrabacher to answer one more question: What is his opinion and that of the US government about holding a referendum in southern states of the United States about their willingness to be annexed to Mexico? Aren’t US Latin American citizens who have been living in the United States for generations entitled to become one with their roots in the south according to his own logic? Dana Rohrabacher is expected to answer this question on the basis of the principle of equality of states.

There is no doubt that the US government and Congress will admit irrationality of such initiatives. However, apart from nationalistic sentiments and the love of Iran which is a common denominator among Azari people of Iran's Azarbaijan region, childish proposals about holding referendum on the territorial integrity of another country can be only put forth by people who lack adequate political information and awareness. However, when an American politician puts such a proposal forth, it only helps to uphold certain views about limited political vision of the American politicians. Even if such a referendum is held merely for a single region of a country, its result cannot be binding in view of a past decision by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1993 on the independence of Quebec. Meanwhile, since the Iranian Constitution does not allow for any harm to be done to the country’s territorial integrity and independence and because no referendum can be held in contravention to the Constitution, changing the Iranian Constitution in order to alter some of its articles (related to national issues) through a plebiscite is a necessary precondition for holding a referendum on the secession of Azarbaijan.

As a researcher and political activist from Azarbaijan who is active in identity-related issues, I must say that our people do not take Dana Rohrabacher’s remarks seriously. If ethnic activists, who have been taking advantage of the US financial and other material supports for years, were smart enough, they could read between the lines in Rohrabacher’s letter to see how he is trying to abuse ethnic issues as a trump card. Anyway, the Azarbaijani people are quite different from secessionist activists. Such activists work like special sects whose instinctual and irrational mentality is miles away from ordinary people on the streets. The American politicians and government can choose to be true enemies of the Iranian nation, but the overall expenses of that animosity for their government will be quite high. It seems that some people in the United States have heard something about Iranian people’s discontent with certain issues as well as some political problems, and believe that the Iranian people will welcome the US soldiers as the Iraqi people did. This has caused them to make drastic mistakes in their calculations. Iran is not a 50-year-old country and the people of Iran will not just sit there and watch the American tanks cross their borders and move along their streets. Washington’s support for terrorist and secessionist groups in Kordestan, Khuzestan, Baluchestan, and Azarbaijan becomes more evident every day. Such measures are at loggerheads with the values embedded in human rights, the rules of international law, as well as domestic laws of the United States. Attention to these historical and political details will help the US politicians to have a better understanding of Iran's issues. The geopolitical change project, either in the way that it was offered and theorized by Bernard Lewis, or in accordance with the Greater Middle East plan, will be met with increasing hatred of the Iranian nation toward the United States and escalation of distrust on the Iranian side. History has proven that ethnic tendencies in Iran cannot gain too much weight on a large scale as they lack enough credit among the ordinary people and elites alike. Based on many historical experiences, the people of Azarbaijan are the first to show a negative reaction to such initiatives. Now that the United States is treading the path of the former Soviet Union in fanning the flames of ethnic differences, it would be better for politicians in the White House to first look at the historical experience of Iranian Kordestan and Azarbaijan provinces in the period between 1945 and 1946. Out of so many Kurdish cities, tribes and clans, which live in Iran, none of them supported the secessionist ideas of Qazi Mohammad seriously. Qazi Mohammad proclaimed a Kurdish republic in the town of Mahabad, which is one of the smallest towns in Iran's Kordestan region, while failing to attract support from such major Kurdish cities as Kermanshah, Sanandaj, and Yasouj. His self-proclaimed republic of only 42 square kilometers ended even before the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Azarbaijan and Qazi was forced to surrender to the national army. After the Russian forces left Tabriz and Iran's national army sent its forces to Azarbaijan, Pishevari did not hesitate even a  moment before he decided to flee to the Soviet Union. The treatment of the remnants of Azarbaijan Democrat Party by local people was so harsh and violent that it was not forgotten for many years to come. It was after that incident that Tudeh Party of Iran lost all its bases across Iran's Azarbaijan province, and even during the period of oil nationalization in Iran it could not gain the past strength.

The American politicians – who as put by an author and journalist, are standing in front of the world map, shifting its colors by taking language as the main standard – can learn great lessons from the short one-year history of Azarbaijan Democrat Party and the legacy of Stalin.

Key Words: US Interventions, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Secession of Iran’s Azerbaijan, Ethnic Campaigns, Greater Middle East, Soviet Union, Seifoddini

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