ٍFederalism is the Lesson of 21-Azar
For over half a century, on the anniversary of 21-Azar (Dec 12), two opposing political factions of Iranians, remember the events of 1945-6 in Azerbaijan and Kurdistan of Iran, centralists calling the autonomists as separatist, and the autonomists calling the centralists as murderer and dictator.
Centralists think of themselves as the real patriots of Iran, when talking of 21-Azar's onslaught of the autonomists by the Shah's army, whereas the autonomists see the centralists as lacking any humanity when speaking of the lives lost in those events.
The autonomists think of centralists as callous about the needs and rights of non-Fars ethnic and national groups and regions of Iran, whereas the centralists see the autonomists as separatists who want to surrender different regions of Iran to foreign power.
Half a century has passed and we still witness this infamous ritual every year. This meaningless division of Iranians at the dawn of 21st Century is simply regretful, when its continuation is solely based on ignorance.
On one side, some try to think the dividing line is based on nationalists versus communists, and they make sure to repeat the name of Pishevari, to make their point, whereas the issue of state rights in Modern Iran dates back to the time of anjomanhaayeh iaalati va velaayati in mashrootiat's 1906 Constitution.
On the other hand, others try to think the dividing line to be based on Persian despotism and oppressed nations, whereas the centralist model is what has been chosen in mashrootiat era based on the French centralist model of Modern state rather than using other models of modern state such as the American federal model.
It is a fact that the ones who have supported the centralist government in Iran are not limited to monarchists, and actually the leftists and jebhe nationalists of Iran have overwhelmingly been on the side of centralist system as well, which is a heritage of mashrootiat's choosing of this French model of modern state, and they have all negated federalism for over a century, with blind form of nationalism ( http://www.ghandchi.com/342-KurdFedEng.htm ), although non-monarchist forces wanted their own centralist state, and not that of the Shah.
Also those who have supported autonomy are not limited to leftists or ethnic nationalists. In fact, many pro-monarchy forces in Kurdistan in the last 26 years were autonomists and in places like Kamyaran in Kurdistan, in 1980 when fighting Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), the people's slogan in opposition to IRI of that area was "yA Shah yA Sadigh Kamangar." Sadigh Kamangar was a leader of Komala at that time who was later killed in a battle with IRI.
With all this background, let's ask what is at issue here?
The reality of Iran is that even under the Persian Empire, the Satraps resembled more of a federalist system than a centralist monarchy and Persian Empire was not a centralist system like the pre-revolutionary France. Then why can't Iranian monarchists and republicans, nationalists and leftists, and even religious thinkers, accept this reality of Iran, and give up on their centralist state programs for Iran? I believe the reason is ignorance and fear.
Neither centralism nor separation is the answer to the national question in Iran and even at the time of mashrootiat, we should have adopted a model like the American federal system, rather than taking the French model and modifying it with anjomanhAyeh iaalati va velaayati that never really worked. And as far as the influences of foreign powers is concerned, both models could and can be misused.
Our politicians have been afraid that if we have a federal government, the different states may go their way and may separate from the rest of Iran. The truth is that in this day and age, if a central government does not recognize the needs for any individual state, in a country like Iran, the end result can be actually what the proponents of centralist government fear the most, namely the national minorities will choose to separate, as they did in former Yugoslavia, and the intimidation to call them separatists, is not going to slow them down, and in fact, it will encourage them to seek separation faster.
Imagine if the Kurdestan of Iraq creates a government of its own, with its vast oil resources, and imagine Iran to still have a dictatorial government like the current theocracy, would it be hard to understand the desire of an Iranian Kurd to join that state in such a situation? Of course, as I have written before, Iranian Kurdistan has had a separate history from the other four parts of Kurdistan, that were part of the Ottoman Empire, and Iranian Kurdistan developed with the rest of Iran, and not with the Kurdistan of Ottoman Empire. But nowadays, people immigrate as far as the Americas, where they do not even share culture and language, just to escape from dictatorship and to live in freedom to pursue happiness, so one should not be surprised to see a desire for a neighboring country, if it offers more freedom and progress than home.
I remember one ordinary person who seeing the status of Russian planes and the use of cow dump for heating in the last years of Soviet Union, asked me how the toodeii (Iranian Communists) were so stupid not to see what they were trying to bring about for Iran. In other words, ordinary people move much faster than intellectuals, who follow a specific ideology based on a series of thought system development. Now whether that ideology to be monarchy, nationalism, or communism. Ordinary people will look at the real life conditions of the neighbors of Iran. Well, let's return to our topic of discussion.
Why I mentioned the example of Iraq, is to show that lack of federalism, does not mean that nationalities of Iran will not think of separation. On the contrary , lack of a federalist system will make the choice to be either to stay and suffer, or separate and be "free". It is to the disadvantage of both sides. I have argued from historical and theoretical angle on this issue in a few papers of mine before. In a historical study of development of Central Government in Iran, with a focus on Kurdistan ( http://www.ghandchi.com/700-KurdsIranEng.htm ), I have shown why Federalism makes the most sense, not just to address the issue of Kurdistan, but that of freedom and democracy for the whole of Iran.
Also I have discussed the issue of priorities of rights in a federal system as discussed by Madison (http://www.ghandchi.com/117-Madison.htm) . For example I showed that a particular state, cannot decide to put its region, in a state of being under a foreign domination, or strengthening the retrogressive forces in its territory, because the human rights of the people takes precedence over state rights, the same way that confederate states in the U.S., could not argue to keep slavery in their state, on the basis of state rights, because it was a retrogression and was contrary to the priority of human rights to state rights ( http://www.ghandchi.com/362-FederalismRightsEng.htm ).
I think one reason that Iranian intellectuals have had such an opposition to federalism was because, regardless of being monarchist or nationalist or communist, they were all very monist in their respective ideologies, and in contrast, fortunately one characteristic of Iranian opposition today, is that they all think more as pluralists than as monists, and pluralism ( http://www.ghandchi.com/301-PluralismEng.htm ) can also be a positive factor to help us to come to terms with a federalist program for Iran.
Moreover, as I have explained in Globalization and Federalism ( http://www.ghandchi.com/310-GlobalFed.htm ), the current world developments are a lot more conducive to a federalist model than to a centralist model, and those like the Serbs and Russians, who tried to push centralism, caused a backfire and total breakup of their former states, and they are still suffering from the consequences of their dictatorial approach.
It is about time that we Iranians to learn the real lesson of 21-Azar, and see that neither centralist state nor separatism is the answer for Iran, and that Iran needs to have a real federal government, to respond to the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people. Some people ask whether there is a risk of separation of some parts of Iran, if we have a federal government? My response is that not having federalism is a bigger risk and this is again like all other aspects of democracy, that rulers are in fact accepting the risk of losing power when going for democracy, but at the same time, freedom means that people stay with them out of choice and not out of fear, and that has proven to be a more lasting relationship.
In this day and age, nobody can be kept with any government by force for too long. If that could be done, the regimes like the Soviets, Eastern Block States, Latin American dictatorships, Taliban and Saddam, and today IRI and Syria would not be collapsing one after the other. Our times calls for a federal future in Iran, and it is a great regret that the majority of our intellectuals; monarchists, leftists, and Jebhe nationalists, are still shying away from supporting a federalist program for Iran, and waste their time on the usual divisive rituals of the 21-Azar, rather than seeking a federalist unity for our future.
Hoping for a Futurist, Federal, Democratic, and Secular Second Republic in Iran,
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
March 11, 2005