Iran’s ethnic minorities are not at all happy with their Persian-dominated central government—not, at least, if you go by the number of riots incited, state buildings bombed, and Iranian soldiers slain over the past two years. Since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as president in 2005, Iranian Turks have rioted in the northwest, Baluchis have kidnapped and beheaded government officials in the southeast, Arabs have blown up oil pipelines in the southwest, and Kurdish guerrillas have sniped continually at Iranian soldiers in the mountains bordering Iraq and Turkey.
Persians make up only a slim majority of Iran’s population. The rest is composed of a handful of disparate minority groups, each of which has complained since the time of the shah about oppression by Tehran. Occasionally, individual groups have briefly taken up arms, only to calm down again for years or decades. But rarely have so many snapped back at the government so furiously over so short a time.
What’s behind this rash of outbursts? Members of Iran’s minority groups cite Ahmadinejad’s Shia Persian chauvinism as a primary provocation, along with the government’s abiding economic neglect. The leadership of the Islamic Republic, however, prefers to blame foreign powers, accusing the United States, Israel, Britain, and others of sowing discord to soften up Iran for a direct confrontation later. “They look at this as a first salvo in a war to end the regime and pressure Iran to give concessions in its nuclear negotiations with the West,” says Mohsen M. Milani, an Iran expert at the University of South Florida.