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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Baluchis in Iran

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Iran Facts
Area:    1,648,000 sq. km.
Capital:    Tehran
Total Population:    68,960,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Baluchis in Iran are disadvantaged in their isolation from mainstream Iranian politics. This seclusion has made Baluchistan one of the poorest regions in Iran, and while in the past their remoteness has shielded them from many repressive policies facing other groups, recent repression suggests that this may be changing. However, the Baluchis have a great deal of local control over their day-to-day lives and relations. Whether recent reports of sporadic violence in Baluchistan is politically motivated or a simple reflection of the drug trade remains unclear, as do the full ramifications of the removal of the Taliban from nearby Afghanistan.

It is difficult to assess the risk of future protest and rebellion for the Baluchis as information on their current status is difficult to find. They do, however, exhibit some factors placing them at risk for rebellion: territorial concentration, political and economic discrimination, recent government repression, and instability in neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of which are transitioning democracies. Furthermore, the arrival of the militant Baluchi Jundallah organization and rising levels of recent past rebellion make future rebellion more likely. Because of fears of repression and no recent history of protest risk for future nonviolent political organization remains low.


Analytic Summary

The Baluchis are a tribal people that inhabit the isolated Makran highlands on the southeastern tip of Iran and form the majority of the province of Sistan-Baluchistan (with smaller numbers in Kerman and Khorastan), which sits along Iran's border with Pakistan (GROUPCON = 3). Religiously, the Baluchi are Sunni Muslims (BELIEF = 1; RELIGS1 = 5), and speak an Indo-Iranian language that is distantly related to Persian, but more closely related to Pashtu (LANG = 1). Religious differences have been a source of tension in the past, especially in the ethnically mixed provincial capital of Zahedan, and have been exacerbated since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. However, because of Sistan-Baluchistan's relative isolation, the central government has had difficulty controlling the local population, and has not invested any significant funds in local development projects. As a result, the Baluchis are one of the poorest and least educated peoples in Iran. Political and economic neglect stem not only from the geographic and social isolation of Baluchistan, but also from societal prejudice against the tribal, largely Sunni Baluchi (POLDIS04-06 = 3; ECDIS04-06 = 3).

Attempts by the Iranian government (both under the Pahlavis and the current government) to integrate the Baluchis into the Iranian economy were intended to bring the region under the government's control and not necessarily improve the lot of the Baluchis. Perhaps due to this poverty and the remoteness of the region, the production and smuggling of opium has become a major industry in the region. This has, not surprisingly, resulted in clashes between Baluchi smugglers and the government, but this seems to be more due to the "business" of the smugglers rather than their ethnicity.

The Baluchis, mostly due to the remoteness of their living in a mountainous and desert region, were effectively autonomous for most of their history. Even today, their isolation limits the amount of government control of their region. Their isolation was first disturbed by the British in the second half of the 19th century. However, until Reza Shah came to power in 1921, they remained mostly autonomous. As part of his campaign to centralize Iran's government and economy, Reza Shah launched a series of pacification campaigns against the Baluchi and by 1935, none of the Baluchi tribal chiefs were able to oppose him. However, during World War II and shortly thereafter, the government established a "patron-client" relationship with the Baluchis which afforded them some level of autonomy until the Iranian Revolution in 1979 when centralized power was reasserted over their territory (AUTLOST = 2.5).

The primary Baluchi grievance relates to the group's poverty with demands for greater economic opportunities and public funds (ECGR06 = 2). While organizations representing group interests were previously unknown, in 2003, two Baluchi organizations were established. The Balochistan Peoples Party was created in exile in Stockholm and incorporates Baluchis from a number of backgrounds. The organization is political and nonviolent and has a federal Iran as one of its main platform issues (POLGR04-06 = 3). The militant Jundallah organization is also thought to have formed in the same year and has been blamed for violent clashes in Sistan-Balochistan in recent years including a 2005 attack on the Presidential convoy (REB05 = 4).

Baluchis' isolation in a high traffic zone for international opium production has led to occasional banditry and sporadic violence in the region, but none of this appeared related to ethnopolitical mobilization in the past. However, with the arrival of Jundallah, rebellion has increased in Sistan-Balochistan. Jundallah is suspected to be behind a number of attacks on security forces and is thought to have kidnapped some Revolutionary Iranian Guards and later executed them in 2005 (REB04 = -99; REB05-06 = 4). There have been no reported instances of political protest in the recent past (PROT01-06 = 0). There were no reports of overt governmental repression between 1999 and 2003. However, there were reports of a heavy military presence in the region beginning in 2001, ostensibly to protect the borders against illegal smuggling, but the timing of the deployment suggested it was to prevent increased unrest in the province stemming from U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. Unlike in previous years, there were some reports of repression in 2005 and 2006 including the forcible eviction of Baluchis and the demolition of their houses in 2005 (REPGENCIV05 = 4) . In 2006, Iranian security officials are thought to be responsible for the death of at least 10 civilians after an aerial counter-insurgency operation in Baluchi territory (REPGENCIV06 = 5). Furthermore, in 2006, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was considering planting landmines along its borders. There were other unconfirmed allegations of repression and extrajudicial killings submitted to Amnesty International in 2006.



Amnesty Interanational. 9/17/2007. "Iran: Human Rights Abuses Against The Baluchi Minority.", accessed 01/16/09.

Fabietti, Ugo. 1992. "Power relations in Southern Baluchistan: A comparison of Three Ethnographic Cases." Ethnology. 31:1. 89-102.

Helfgott, Leonard M. 1980. "The Structural Foundations of the National Minority Problem in Revolutionary Iran." Middle East Studies. 13:1-4.195-213.

Library of Congress-Federal Research Division. 5/2008. "Country Profiles: Iran.", accessed 01/16/09.

Meron, Theodor. 1989. "Iran's Challenge to the International Law of Human Rights." Human Rights Internet Reporter. 13:1. 8-13.

Metz, Helen Chapin. 1987. Iran: a Country Study. 4th ed. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress.

Richard, Yann. 1989. "The Relevance of 'Nationalism' in Contemporary Iran." Middle East Review. 21:4. 27-36.

Wirsing, Robert G. 1987. "The Baluchis and Pathans." Minority Rights Group Report no. 46. London: Minority Rights Group International.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Iran. 2000-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006