To start a dialogue about the long-term oppression and reminding forgotten heritage of the Baluch community (an ethnic group living mainly in southeastern Iran and Pakistan), I tweeted a thread (in Persian) about a man called Mullah Mohammad Patty Rigi, who we interviewed in 2017. The thread was seen on Twitter 300344 times, was interacted with 104350 times, liked 6991 times (also liked 40740 times on Instagram and seen on Telegram), and was shared by many independent Persian media. Baluch people have been the subject of oppression and discrimination for more than six decades. Years of discrimination have resulted in complicated economic and social issues.
The unrest erupted on 22 February in Saravan city, southeast Iran, after police forces shot local fuel traders who transfer fuel to Pakistan for a very small amount of money. Internet and phone lines are partly cut off, and the news people can spread from the region is strictly limited. Regarding the unrest in Saravan, it is of note that the ethnicity (Baluch) and religion (Sunni) of the protesters have been regarded as a threat by the government for years. In this regard, groups of people, as well as some politicians, media agents, and even opposition figures, started to reproduce labels such as ‘threats to the nation’ and ‘smugglers’ against Baluch protesters on social media.
The difference between the unrest in remote places with the unrest in the big cities is that the authorities have propagated for years against the various ethnicities and communities living in those areas and have labeled them the threats to national security. The long-term propaganda against diversity has deprived the Iranian people of their historical national feeling. According to the notion developed by some thinkers such as Isaiah Berlin, ancient people living in Iran and also in the Arab world cherished an ancient type of integration which can be elucidated under the name of ‘national feeling’. Seemingly, the modern governments, alongside colonialism, ruined the ancient integration by endorsing the nationalistic agenda, which ignores diversity.
Omran Garazhian and I had a project to examine diversity in the Museum of Zahedan(center of Sistan and Baluchestan province)and have met and interviewed local tribal chiefs, intellectuals, and ordinary people while working at the museum. The project was finally stopped by the authorities. Nevertheless, our investigations gave us an opportunity to encounter and study an unknown culture.
I believe that historical, non-nationalist thinking can be invoked in current political debate with the purpose of the liberation of the oppressed. So, I tried to open up a discussion about the forgotten heritage of the Baluch people by reminding Mullah Mohammad Patty Rigi and his services. He was one of the decision-makers on behalf of the Rigi tribe in the mission for reviewing the India-Iran border after the independence of Pakistan. Mullah was ignored by authorities after the 1979 revolution due to his religion (Sunni), ethnicity, and close relations with some agents of the Pahlavi regime (1925-1979). When we met him, he was 96 and lived in a very small room in a marginalized district in Mirjaveh city. His careful work in the mission reminds me of another forgotten heritage, the historical warriors of the same ethnicity who stood against British colonialism.
According to the comments, many people were particularly enthusiastic to know about the process of oblivion and ignorance of the Baluch anti-colonial warriors and tribes. it seems that speaking about the forgotten heritage of oppressed communities might prepare the ground for the rise of more discussions about the governmental nationalist approach and the long-term oppression of cultural diversity in Iran. Besides, there are still many questions: Has the tweet been seen because it mentions the borders of the nation or because it mentions a person who has the potential to be recognized as a national hero? Or, in contrast, was the tweet seen so many times because it revealed a long-term historical ignorance?
Without further dialogues with ordinary people, these questions will be left unanswered.
Photo: Mullah Mohammad Patty Rigi, 2017 (photo by Leila Papoli-Yazdi)
Leila Papoli-Yazdi is a visiting researcher in the UNESCO Chair on Heritage Futures, Linnaeus University.