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Debate | A Democratic and Unified Opposition Is a Strategic Imperative

by LOGHMAN H. AHMEDI

07 Dec 2012 00:43Comments
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"A frank dialogue to address contentious issues and break longstanding taboos is a fundamental step to that end."

Loghman H. Ahmedi is the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan's head of foreign relations. All opinions are his own.

[ opinion ] On November 17 and 18, a delegation from our party, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, participated in an Iranian opposition meeting in the capital of the Czech Republic. Our party believes it is imperative to contribute to the formation of a democratic and united opposition to the Islamic Republic. The importance of the Iranian opposition to our party is twofold.

First, the various opposition groups need to engage each other in order to create a unified front in pursuit of ending dictatorship in Iran. A frank dialogue to address contentious issues and break longstanding taboos is a fundamental step to that end.

We believe the following issues need to be addressed in a climate unencumbered by emotions and in a rational manner: Is Iran a mononational or multinational country? Should there be only one official language or several official languages in the country? Should power be concentrated in Tehran or devolved to other regions of the country? Should the political and administrative structure of the state be preserved in its centralist form or reorganized on the basis of federalist principles?

Needless to say, these issues, which are the concerns of the non-Persian nations in Iran, cannot be raised publicly under the authoritarian rule of the sectarian theocracy in Tehran. The current regime, which has created an oversized and brutal surveillance and repressive structure, responds to any public or even private manifestation of such legitimate questions with violent means.

Unfortunately, some Persian-dominated opposition groups outside of the country are also reluctant to address these issues. There are groups who deny the multinational character of Iran, but they find it difficult to explain the fact that Arabs and Azeris in Iran, for example, are part of recognized nations in neighboring countries such as the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Since 1958, the Iraqi constitution recognizes the binational character of that country and that it consists of Arabs and Kurds as two constituent nations. Denying the existence of these nations inside the borders of Iran while recognizing their status as nations in neighboring countries is a deliberate distortion of reality. We in the Kurdish opposition are appalled by the fact that some Persian-dominated opposition groups, who describe themselves as being committed to democracy, are adopting a policy of denial.

Insofar as other Persian-dominated groups are willing to address and respond to the demands of the Kurdish, Arab, Azeri, and Baluchi nations, their response is accompanied by charges of separatism. Very often, whenever the opposition groups find an opportunity to convene, some groups create an emotionally charged atmosphere, which a priori entails a political closure that inhibits an open, frank, and rational debate. This, in turn, inhibits cooperation between the Persian and non-Persian opposition groups. As long as the Iranian opposition groups do not overcome such obstacles, there will be no progress toward recognition of the most fundamental problems, confidence building, reaching political consensus and, ultimately, achieving unity.

Nevertheless, we believe that the very fact that the opposition groups are willing to take part in such meetings with each other is a sign of progress. In spite of the obstacles toward rational dialogue, there is growing awareness on the part of all groups that contentious issues need to be addressed.

Second, working with the opposition to facilitate a democratic transition and, more important, consolidate such a system of government once it is in place is a strategic objective for our party and other significant organizations within the Kurdish opposition. The regime in Iran might implode. As the Arab Spring demonstrated, regimes that seem solid and unshakable can suddenly be overthrown. Iran's historical experience with the 1979 Revolution and social movements demanding change is instructive as well. To avoid the repetition of past mistakes, we need to reach a consensus on democracy, devolution of powers, and the constitutional recognition and protection of the national and religious diversity of the country.

We believe that more than three decades of sectarian theocracy has discredited theocracy as a system of government among the overpowering majority of the Iranian populace. In this regard, we always remind our friends and political opponents alike that the Kurdish people rejected the Islamic Republic in 1979. We believe that if the different nations in Iran were to be given the opportunity to freely choose the form and nature of government in this country, a majority of them would vote for democracy, federalism, and secularism.

The non-Persian nations have been subject to systematic and institutionalized oppression by the previous regime as well as the current one. Naturally, they yearn for freedom and demand their national rights. A federal and secular democracy would accommodate their demands. The political, moral, and economic failures of the sectarian theocracy in Tehran for the past three decades have also strengthened the universal quest for liberty and human dignity in Iran at large.

Unlike other countries in the region, where democratic elections have favored Islamic parties with illiberal agendas, we believe that the age of Islamic revival has come to an end in Iran. Therefore, we believe that the current regime contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. However, dictatorship in a different guise and shape is likely to reemerge once this regime collapses.

Therefore, we believe in undertaking proactive efforts to promote a consensus on democracy, devolution of powers, and federalism as the best way to avoid the emergence of new forms of authoritarianism, dictatorship, and continued oppression of the country's diverse national, ethnic and religious communities once the current sectarian theocracy is gone.

In fact, we believe that recognizing the multinational character of the country and accommodating the national rights of the non-Persian nations in the form of a federal system will be critical to democratize Iran. In such a scenario, there would be no trade-off between preserving the status quo and embracing democracy.

A federal democracy would create more, not less, solidarity between the various nations and religious communities in Iran. Millions of Iranians, who are constantly offended by being treated as second-class citizens and whose languages are under the threat of extinction and whose cultures are stigmatized as backward, would have a stake in the country and contribute to its development and success. A federal democracy would not only create equality and mutual respect between the different nations of Iran; it would also transform the Iranian state from a security threat to the non-Persian nations to an entity that protects their interests.

Similarly, these nations and the political organizations representing their interests would no longer be perceived as threats by future democratic governments in Tehran. In this vision, all nations in Iran would be stakeholders in the state's internal and external affairs on equal terms.

Iran would be able to realize its potential as a stable and prosperous country only if it is at peace with itself and plays a constructive role within the international community. Indeed, a future Iran thus envisaged may serve as a model to be emulated in a region tormented by dictatorship, aggressive and pathological forms of nationalism, linguistic and cultural discrimination, constant instability, and wars.

This is the message we are trying to convey to other opposition groups whenever we take part in meetings with them, including the most recent one in Prague. We will continue to do so because we believe such a message is based on a careful reading of historical and contemporary realities in Iran and it is the expression of a strategic outlook that serves the interests of all nations in Iran.

At the same time, we are realistic and acknowledge that recent meetings between the various opposition groups have encountered problems and that we have a long way to go. For example, in spite of devoting one panel to the legitimate concerns of the non-Persian nations in Iran, later some of the organizers of the meeting in Prague issued a statement describing Iran as a mononational country. The delegation from our party, for their part, issued a statement in which they rejected this notion and emphasized the strategic importance of acknowledging the multinational character of Iran in order to make progress toward achieving genuine liberty and democracy.

Ultimately, we see only two scenarios for the future of Iran. Either we come together and coordinate our efforts to bring about a democratic system of government that reflects and protects the rights and interests of all nations in Iran. Or some opposition groups continue to justify the status quo and strive to preserve current relations of domination and subordination between the Persian and non-Persian nations once the current sectarian theocracy is gone and is replaced by another regime. Such relations of domination and subordination, history teaches us, can only be maintained at the expense of liberty and democracy -- which, by necessity, will involve violations of the rights of the majority of the Persian nation -- since it will require the systematic use of coercive and violent means. We hope that an opposition that claims to be committed to genuine democracy chooses a different path.

All opinions are the author's own. Photo via Flickr.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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