Ethnic and Religious Minority Politics in Contemporary Iran

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Institutional Affiliation : 
California State University, Northridge
Academic Bio: 
Nayereh Tohidi is Professor of the Gender and Women's Studies Department at California State University, Northridge and a Research Associate at the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA, where she has been coordinating the Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran since 2003. A native of Iran, Tohidi earned her BS (with Honors) from the University of Tehran in Psychology and Sociology and MA and Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her teaching and research areas include sociology of gender, development, religion (Islam), ethnicity and democracy in the Middle East and post-Soviet Central Eurasia, especially Iran and the Azerbaijan Republic. She is the recipient of several 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;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. Prof. Tohidi has integrated her human/women's rights activism and community organizing with excellence in academic work and scholarship. Her 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. Tohidi has been a consultant for the United Nations (UNDP, UNICEF, ILO, and WIDER) on projects concerning gender and development.
This paper deals with a general overview on the status and rights of ethnic and religious minorities by emphasizing the perils of both secular ultra-nationalist homogenization under the Pahlavi regime, and religious (Shi’i Islamist) segmentation under the present Islamic Republic in Iran.
I argue that an uneven and over-centralized strategy of development has resulted in a wide socio-economic gap between the center and peripheries. A great part of the grievances of ethnic minorities who mostly inhabit provincial peripheries of Iran, therefore, seems to be due to an uneven distribution of power and socioeconomic resources,  rather than inter-ethnic tension. As a case study, I focus on the significance of the recent rise in politicization of ethnic issues, manifested during the presidential elections of 2005 and 2009. With references to the bloody clashes in Khuzestan, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, and Sistan-Baluchestan, I further discuss the ethnic and minority issues from national, regional, and international perspectives. The paper ends with specific policy recommendations.  
Academic Discipline : 
Political Science
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