What arguably is the most important story in the world right now isn't getting much attention
from our news media.
On May 19, a government-owned newspaper in Tehran published a cartoon which likened Azeris, who
comprise more than a quarter of Iran's population, to a cockroach.
This did not sit well with the Azeris, ethnic Turks who live, mostly, in northwestern Iran.
Massive protests (Amnesty International estimated the crowds at more than 300,000) in Tabriz
and other northern cities have turned into riots, with government forces firing into the
crowds. Dissidents say more than 20 people have been killed; dozens more injured, and hundreds
On May 23, the disorder spread to the capital, where the (mostly Persian) students at Tehran
University are protesting in solidarity with the Azeris.
Relations between the government and the Azeris already were strained. Many would like to join
their fellow Azeris directly across the border in Azerbaijan.
The Azeris are hardly alone in their dissatisfaction with Persian dominance in general and the
Islamic revolutionary regime in particular. News media which have obsessed about ethnic and
religious differences in Iraq have paid little attention to more serious such divisions in
Ethnic Persians are just barely a majority of the peoples living within the borders of Iran.
There are more Kurds in Iran (7-10 percent of the Iranian population) than in Iraqi Kurdistan,
and many would like to unite with their brethren across the border.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was nearly assassinated when he went to Baluchistan in
Iran's southeast last December. Baluchis are a warlike people who are ethnically,
linguistically, and religiously (most are Sunnis) distinct from Persians. Many would like to
join with their fellow Baluchis who live across the border in Pakistan.
Arabs comprise only about 3 percent of the population of Iran, but they are clustered in the
southwestern province of Khuzestan, bordering on Iraq, which also happens to be the province
where most of Iran's oil is located. Many would like to join Iraq, where Shia Arabs are now
When these ethnic tensions are combined with the anger and contempt most Iranians under age 30
feel for a regime that has blighted their economic opportunities and represses their social
activities, it is clear that Ahmadinejad and the mullahs are riding an ever angrier tiger.
"Tehran's method of dealing with the ethnic issue will ultimately backfire," predicted Abbas
William Samii in the Christian Science Monitor Tuesday. "It can successfully employ
overwhelming force against geographically isolated groups, but it would be much more difficult
to handle angry Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, Kurds and other minorities if they act against the
Ironically, the 1979 Khomeini revolution which brought the Islamists to power began with
rioting in Tabriz. Could history be repeating itself?
Sheema Kalbasi thinks so. "Wake up and smell the gunpowder," she wrote on her blog, "Iranian
Woman." Iran is ready to explode, she said.
"It is time for students, workers and minorities to rise up in coordinated fashion," she said.
"The mullahs will find it increasingly difficult to continue their rule. The mullahs know it
and that is one of the reasons why they are literally begging to talk to the Americans."
As indeed they are. In a remarkable turnabout for a government which only a month or so ago
seemed to be goading the United States into making a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear
facilities, Iranian diplomats have been burning up the back channels trying to arrange for
bilateral negotiations between their government and ours.
In a speech on state run television Sunday, Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
blamed the rioting on the United States.
Ms. Kalbasi is unimpressed: "The idiots think that the Americans are planting the seeds of
revolt or that talking to the Americans will demoralize the people."
"They are wrong," she said. "The mullahs' rule has expired because the mullahs ...belong to an
age when stoning, mutilation and blinding were considered the norm."
Revolution in Iran would end the dilemma we face in dealing with the mullahs' pursuit of
nuclear weapons. The UN is most unlikely to impose meaningful sanctions, and air strikes
against suspected nuclear sites are fraught with peril.
So now that this vicious regime apparently is tottering, why do so many in the news media and
in the Democratic party want to toss the mullahs a lifeline by urging the president to engage
in direct negotiations? We should be helping the people, not their oppressors.