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In Iran's upcoming election on June 12th it seems as though incumbent Ahmadinejad may be facing a host of forces that could spell his electoral undoing. In a previous diary I outlined the field he faces which includes a serious challenge on the right--you can see it HERE. In another diary I outlined candidate Mousavi's specific targeting of the women's vote--you can read that here: Mousavi's Gamble. This diary will focus on the rather large minority groups that live in Iran and the potential impact they could have come June 12th.

Let's start with the numbers from the CIA World Factbook:

  1. Persian 51%
  1. Azeri 24%  
  1. Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%
  1. Kurd 7%
  1. Arab 3%
  1. Lur 2%
  1. Baloch 2%
  1. Turkmen 2%
  1. other 1%

Now. let's look at the map:


From the percentage breakdowns one can surmise pretty quickly that the Azeris, a Turkish minority that speak their own dialect and Farsi, compose a significant voting block. Guess which candidate is an Azeri? Answer: Mousavi. He recently declared at a campaign event in Azerbaijan "I am the son of Azerbaijan," and delivered the speech in the local dialect. (Here is the source of this information and quote.) The Reform candidate Mehdi Karroubi is a Lur, and he is likely to carry a bulk of that voting block.

The most significant issue with ethnic minority voting pertains to the Islamic Revolutionary government dominated by Persians. There is no question that Iran is overwhelmingly Islamic, 98% of Iranians are Muslim (89% Shia, 9% Sunni). However, the emphasis on hard right Revolutionary Government tends to de-emphasize difference and enforce conformity. There is a direct comparison to Republican flag-waving nativism here in the US and Ahmadinejad and his hard-line supporters lack of tolerance. Reform candidates have typically drawn well among ethnic minorities, and Mehdi Karroubi, who ran in the 2005 election showed well among them. However, it is entirely possible that ethnic minorities were disillusioned with Khatami's lack of progress as much as urban center moderates, and did not feel they had any realistic options in the '05 contest. This time around, Khatami himself is reported to be campaigning heavily for Mousavi in the provinces among ethnic minorities. (It should be noted that Khatami could not run in 2005--under Iran's constitution someone can only serve two consecutive terms.) Despite his perceived lack of progress, he and the Reform Party established a strong connection with the minority ethnic groups of Iran. In addition, Khamenei can continue to make statements about candidates not caving to the West like this:

"Those who submit to the enemies and bring shame on the nation should not come to power by the people's vote," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a speech in the western town of Bijar.

Reported in the LA Times, and cited in the Huffington Post

but he can't make any statements that question the loyalty of ethnic minoritites, and Mousavi's efforts to aggressively court this vote is a move difficult to counter directly. The Kurds, in particular, have been very loyal to Iran, despite the positioning of their counterparts in Iraq and Turkey.

Similar to the women's vote, the question is whether ethnic minorities will go significantly for one candidate over another. It is possible that they will recognize that Mousavi has a better chance than Karroubi and vote accordingly. In general, like Democrats here in the US, the Reform Party benefits from large voter turnouts, and the economy in Iran, or lack there of, certainly has everyone's attention at the moment. If the ethnic minorities practically see Mousavi as the candidate with their interests in mind, and the most likely to win, they, together with women, could deliver a first round upset to Mousavi if the Conservative vote splits between Ahmadinejad and Rezai.

Originally posted to FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:05 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  TJ (9+ / 0-)

    Less than three weeks to June 12th.

    You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

    by FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:05:45 AM PDT

    •  late to the topic (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      sorry this is too late to rec.  Terrific information; thanks.

      Which ethnic minority has the US been trying to stir up to break away -- Baluchis is all I recall (besides the Kurds, and those who dwell in oil-rich regions on Iraq's borders and on the Persian Gulf).

      But how will those ethnics vote?

      Bibi's huffing & puffing seems calculated to re-elect Ahmadinejad -- perhaps because Bibi really, really needs a boogie man from whom to protect Israel??

      Methinks -- me hopes -- the people of Iran are smarter than Bibi.

      •  Primarily Kurds, Baluchis and Arabs... (0+ / 0-)

        there are many dumb people out there that seem to think there is a great deal of ethnic tension in Iran to "exploit". There really isn't a whole lot, but local practices must be respected.

        For the purposes of this diary I was trying to get at the more Persian/Shia dominated revolutionary core, and that at its worst it has a tendency to be a little exclusive. Mousavi seems to really be courting the minorities hard, and Khatami seems to be throwing his support fully behind him. Iran, through Farsi, and a great deal of investment in recent years in some pretty far-flung provinces seems to be creating some pretty good identification with the central government among people who might lean in a another direction or at least become more separatist or independent.

        I definitely agree that Bibi and others want Ahmadinejad--they have spent so much time making a absolute devil out of him that it will be difficult for them to turn around and suddenly say that the President of Iran really does not matter. That won't stop them from trying, though, just watch what happens if Ahmadinejad loses--the very next day they will switch their tune to Khamanei's greatest hits. As much as I dislike Ahmadinejad--we have a foreign policy view of him only and that's a bit warped--he really is an egalitarian leader who has brought benefits to the rural poor. You can say much about him, but he has not suddenly made himself or his family wealthy--like some others (Rafsanjani).

        You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

        by FrankCornish on Tue May 26, 2009 at 02:14:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  thanks (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          completely agree re Ahmadinejad-- American liberals should see much to agree with in Ahmadinejad, were they to study his record rather than his ginned-up propaganda persona.  Wouldn't it be a grand irony if the demonization campaign against Ahmadinejad results in a greater coalescence of all Iran's wonderfully diverse ethnics, including the Basijis and others whom Ahmadinejad empowered, around a distinctly Iranian form of government?

  •  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would be pretty stupid (8+ / 0-)

    to question the loyalties of Iranian Azeris...

    Since he is one.

  •  Thanks, Frank, for another illuminating diary. (5+ / 0-)

    Do you have any statistics/insights on how the Persian majority votes? Are they generally the conservative base, for example?

    I know from what little I've read that the Khuzestani Arabs have had a lot of tensions with the Persian majority over language rights and culture. Do you have info on how they vote?

    Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. -Mark Twain

    by unspeakable on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:33:54 AM PDT

    •  Unfortunately (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      capelza, corvo, borkitekt, JesseCW, unspeakable

      I am not a Farsi speaker, but I'm married to one. Trying to get information that has been translated is hard.

      The questions surrounding any groups rights to language and culture are somewhat nebulous. On the one hand, there are the Islamic Law recognitions of religious freedom extending to Jews and Christians since they do not have a prophet after Mohammed--that's one of the areas where the Bahais run into trouble. On the culture side of things, Iran has always been rather de-centralized and diverse. When it came to Arabs--problems were at their peak during the Iran/Iraq war and ironically two things happened, the Arabs in Iran stayed loyal to Iran, and the Shias in Iraq stayed loyal to Iraq.

      Instead of statistics, I have the less reliable reflections of the many Iranians, here and in Iran, that I talk to. Unfortunately, their political system is still in such flux it is difficult to project from one election to the next--the other complicating factor, is that elections can be significantly lees free as the '04 Majlis elections showed. Reform candidates have been kept off ballots in recent years.

      You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

      by FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:49:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, I expected that. (5+ / 0-)

        As much as there are elections in Iran, I doubt any of the people who are really in charge care enough about public opinion to commission surveys or exit polls.

        I would expect even if you were a Farsi speaker, you wouldn't necessarily be able to answer me with anything approaching absolute certainty.

        Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. -Mark Twain

        by unspeakable on Sun May 24, 2009 at 10:00:16 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  So the Bahais get into trouble (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        by adding an extra prophet? That's odd. While Christians may not be adding prophets to their canon, There are some writings in Paul and other theologians suggesting some Christians believe that prophesy continues today. I guess no Iranian Christian would dare suggest that.

        •  I should be more specific (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          corvo, JesseCW

          since Mohammed is the last prophet, then any religion claiming a prophet after Mohammed would run into trouble being recognized by the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Church of the Latter Day Saints would have similar problems.

          Now, to add another ripple to the Baihai issue--there are many in Iran who believe that the Bahais came about at the encouragement of the British to try to break the lock Islam had on Iran. Many Bahais are wealthy and were from the upper classes initially. So, there is a bit of a little political backstory to it. If the Bahias were a small tribal religion on the fringe areas of some province, then I doubt there would be any notice. Bahais were also friendly with the Shah.

          An explanation is not an excuse--I still think they should leave them alone.

          You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

          by FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 11:37:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  nice to bring in the map with ethnicities, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, corvo, FrankCornish

    So, on the Iraqi side of Zagros, in the Kuze region with most of Iran's oil, this is comprised primarily of Arabs, Lur and Kurds?

    And you mention the Kurds being loyal- but hasn't Iran been shelling Iraqi Kurds on several occaisions as of late?

    Found a short but interesting article on Zahra Rahnavard in the Financial Times yesterday- Iran candidate’s wife challenges convention, it's a nice read.

    ... His wife, a writer and sculptor, however, is a potential role model for young and female voters.

    Should she become Iran’s first lady, Ms Rahnavard says she would be more able to help eliminate discrimination against women, solve family legal problems and protect housewives, especially those who are the main breadwinners in a family. It sounds remarkably like a political wish-list from someone who is not standing herself.

    Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s wife runs a high school in Tehran but is rarely, if ever, seen with her husband in public. But Ms Rahnavard believes that her own involvement in the campaign has had a significant impact on attitudes with other candidates, including Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, who are now beginning to involve their wives.

    Wearing a black top-to-toe chador, which she keeps open in front letting out her floral scarf and light blue jeans jacket, Ms Rahnavard is frank about her past before the revolution, when she did not wear hijab or Islamic covering but dressed in a more western style.
    Ms Rahnavard insists that, as with her art where she has blended modernism with more traditional elements to produce hundreds of expressionist and abstract paintings and sculptures made of stone, glass, wood, iron and bronze, she should not be pigeon-holed.

    “I am not a cliché type of person and would not fit categories,” she says.

    Listen to Noam Chomsky's Necessary Illusions. (mp3!)

    by borkitekt on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:35:59 AM PDT

  •  So who do we, the US, want to win (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    capelza, FrankCornish

    here? Which candidate is the one that we want to win?

    •  Personally I like Mousavi, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      capelza, corvo, JesseCW

      but frankly anyone but Ahmadinejad is an improvement.

      Any statement on the part of a US government official would be a death sentence to the political fortunes of the candidate. Think of Hamas endorsing Barack Obama--it would be about 10 times worse than that.

      Hopefully, no one will say a word in the next few weeks and let it run its course. Someone better watch Joe Biden.

      You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

      by FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 09:57:35 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Ok (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Which candidate is the best for US interests? Can you answer that question?

        •  Mousavi or Karroubi (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          corvo, JesseCW

          as Reform candidates would be better. Another thing to realize is that "death to America" is still all over the place, and its not going to go away real quickly. Iranian politics are very convoluted, and on the surface they will still make a great deal of noise, but behind the scenes they will make some pretty interesting deals.

          Don't forget Iran/Contra occurred during a period of pretty sharp US/Iran tension. With Iran, there is always much more than meets the eye, and they have been playing balance of power games for centuries before us, due to the age of their nation and their position on the globe. They are cagey to say the least.

          You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

          by FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 10:10:31 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Of course (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I would hope to see Obama try to make some progress with Iran. Doesn't Iran hate the Taliban?

            •  Absolutely, they are the Taliban's (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              corvo, JesseCW

              mortal enemy. In the 90s there were numerous flashpoints between them. On one occasion a delegation of Iranian diplomats were slaughtered as they slept--it almost resulted in war then.

              The other ethnic minority not listed from the CIA factbook is Afghans. There is a huge number of Afghans in Iran and many of them are illegal--accurate numbers as to how many are hard to come by. Before the Taliban, the majority language of Afghanistan was Farsi, now, I don't know because so many have left.

              Iran also has a border with Pakistan, and their interests in stability are probably greater than ours. Iran could be a critical partner in stabilizing the region, and no departure form Iraq is possible without their tacit approval of the situation.

              You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

              by FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 10:21:01 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  If I know the US, that would be either (4+ / 0-)

      Zalmey Khalilzad or Reza Cyrus Pahlavi.

  •  Over 300,000 Armenians lived in... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Iran before the Shah fell. Very old and established community. Now lots of them are in Glendale California.

    •  George Deukmejian was an Armenian (0+ / 0-)

      who became governor of CA--his family emigrated from Turkey, however. Many Armenians left witht he fall of the Shah--generally the closer a group was to the Shah, the more they had to get out in '79. There are however, many Armenians still in Iran, in the CIA stats the may have been lumped in with Azeris. Armenians generally tend to be Christians.

      You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife and you may ask yourself, "How did I get here?"

      by FrankCornish on Sun May 24, 2009 at 10:33:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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