Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, California State University, Northridge
The Ethnic Dimension of Constitutionalism and Democracy in Iran
This paper offers a general overview of the status and rights of ethnic minorities in contemporary Iran by briefly reviewing the perils of both secular nationalist homogenization under the Pahlavi regime, and religious (Shi’i Islamist) segmentation under the present Islamic Republic. It will argue that the “ethnic question” in Iran is shaped by certain flaws at two levels: a) the state- or elite-constructed discursive level that pertains to modern nationalism and “Aryan-based” articulation of Iran’s national identity, and b) the state policies that pursued an uneven and over-centralized strategy of socio-economic development, resulting in a wide socio-economic gap between the center and the peripheries. Therefore, a great part of the grievances of ethnic minorities who inhabit mostly the provincial peripheries of Iran seems to be due to an uneven distribution of power and socioeconomic resources rather than inter-ethnic animosity. The significance of the recent rise in politicization of ethnic issues was manifested during the presidential elections of 2005 and 2009. Current ethnic and minority concerns will be discussed from national, regional, and international perspectives through brief references to the bloody clashes in Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, and Sistan-Baluchistan. The paper ends with specific policy recommendations.
Dr. Nayereh Tohidi is Professor and former Chair at the Department of Gender & Women Studies, California State University, Northridge. She is also the Research Associate at the Center for Near Eastern Studies of UCLA where she has been coordinating the Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran since 2003. Thanks to a grant from NEH, she is now Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies initiative at CSUN toward the establishment of a new minor in MEIS.
Her teaching and research areas include sociology of gender, religion (Islam), ethnicity and democracy in the Middle East and post-Soviet Central Eurasia, especially Iran and Azerbaijan Republic. She is the recipient of several grants, fellowships and research awards, including a year of Fulbright lectureship and research at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan; post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard University; the Hoover Institute of Stanford University; the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; and the Keddie-Balzan Fellowship at the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA. She has held visiting positions at Universities of Iowa, Minnesota, Harvard, UCLA, and USC.
Tohidi’s publications include editorship or authorship of: Globalization, Gender and Religion: The Politics of Women’s Rights in Catholic and Muslim Contexts; Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity within Unity; and Feminism, Democracy and Islamism in Iran.