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Assessment for Baluchis in Iran

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Baluchis in Iran, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a9a3a.html [accessed 22 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Iran Facts
Area:    1,648,000 sq. km.
Capital:    Tehran
Total Population:    68,960,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Baluchis in Iran are both disadvantaged and quite fortuitous in their isolation from mainstream Iranian politics. On the one hand, this seclusion has made Baluchistan one of the poorest regions in Iran, but on the other, their remoteness has shielded the Baluchis from many repressive policies facing other groups. As a result, the Baluchis have a great deal of local control over their day-to-day lives and relations. Whether recent reports of sporadic violence in Baluchistan is politically motivated or a simple reflection of the drug trade remains unclear, as do the full ramifications of the removal of the Taliban from nearby Afghanistan. What is certain is that as long as Baluchi society remains peripheral to centralized Iranian power, the Baluchi will not become a priority for the government's power base. Likewise, the probability of Baluchi protest or rebellion seems low.

Analytic Summary

The Baluchis are a tribal people that inhabit the isolated Makran highlands on the southeastern tip of Iran and form the majority of the province of Sistan-Baluchistan (also Kerman and Khorastan), which sits along Iran's border with Pakistan (GROUPCON3; REGIONAL = 1). Religiously, the Baluchi are Sunni Muslims (CULDIFX4 = 2), and speak an Indo-Iranian language that is distantly related to Persian, but more closely related to Pashtu (CULDIFX2 = 2). Religious differences have been a source of tension in the past, especially in the ethnically mixed provincial capital of Zahedan, and have been exacerbated since the establishment of the Republic in 1979. However, because of Sistan-Baluchistan's relative isolation, the central government has had difficulty controlling the local population, and has not invested any significant funds in local development projects. As a result, the Baluchis are one of the poorest and least educated peoples in Iran (ECDIFXX = 2).

Attempts by the Iranian government (both under the Pahlavis and the current government) to integrate the Baluchis into the Iranian economy were intended to bring the region under the government's control and not necessarily improve the lot of the Baluchis. Perhaps due to this poverty and the remoteness of the region, the production and smuggling of opium has become a major industry in the region. This has, not surprisingly, resulted in clashes between Baluchi smugglers and the government, but this seems to be more due to the "business" of the smugglers rather than their ethnicity.

The Baluchis, mostly due to the remoteness of their living in a mountainous and desert region, were effectively autonomous for most of their history. Even today, their isolation limits the amount of government control of their region. Their isolation was first disturbed by the British in the second half of the 19th century. However, until Reza Shah came to power in 1921, they remained mostly autonomous. As part of his campaign to centralize Iran's government and economy, Reza Shah launched a series of pacification campaigns against the Baluchi and by 1935, none of the Baluchi tribal chiefs were able to oppose him.

The primary Baluchi grievance relates to the group's poverty with demands for greater economic opportunities and public funds (ECOGR103, ECOGR203 = 2).

Baluchis' isolation in a high traffic zone for international opium production has led to occasional banditry and sporadic violence in the region, but none of this appears related to ethnopolitical mobilization (REB01-03 = 0), and there have been no reported instances of political protest in the recent past (PROT01-03 = 0). There were no reports of overt governmental repression between 1999 and 2003. However, there were reports of a heavy military presence in the region beginning in 2001 (REP1701-03 = 3), ostensibly to protect the borders against illegal smuggling, but the timing of the deployment suggested it was to prevent increased unrest in the province stemming from U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.

It is safe to assume that while the central government no doubt has its eyes on Baluchistan's Sunni Muslim majority, their relative political and economic disadvantage and isolation is due more to neglect than explicit exclusionary policies (POLDIS03 = 3, ECDIS03 = 3).

References

Fabietti, Ugo "Power relations in Southern Baluchistan: A comparison of Three Ethnographic Cases" Ethnology, Jan 1992, 31(1), pp. 89-102.

Helfgott, Leonard M. "The Structural Foundations of the National Minority Problem in Revolutionary Iran" Middle East Studies, XIII (1-4), pp.195-213.

Meron, Theodor "Iran's Challenge to the International Law of Human Rights" Human Rights Internet Reporter, 13 (1), Spring 1989, pp. 8-13.

Metz, Helen Chapin Iran: a Country Study (4th ed.), Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 1987.

Richard, Yann "The Relevance of 'Nationalism' in Contemporary Iran" Middle East Review, Summer 1989, pp. 27-36.

Wirsing, Robert G. "The Baluchis and Pathans" Minority Rights Group Report no. 46, 1987.

The Christian Science Monitor, 1990-1994.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990-1994.

Lexis/Nexis, All news files, 1990-2003.

UN Commission on Human Rights Report on the Islamic Republic of Iran, 12 February 1990.

US Department of State Human Rights Reports on Iran for 1991 & 1993, 2001-2003.

The Washington Post, 1990-1994.

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