Many Iranians have taken to social media in the past few days to refute allegations of sectarianism levelled at some protesters by officials and hardline media.
Pro-government officials and media have increasingly been accusing protesters of “terrorism” and “fomenting sectarianism” following their harsh crackdown on demonstrators in the Baluch city of Zahedan in the southeastern province of Sistan and Baluchestan September 30, which left nearly a hundred dead, including children and bystanders, and the ongoing crackdown in Sanandaj in the western Kordestan (Kurdistan) province.
Protests will result in Iran's partition if the government does not crack down, they warn. They also blame “foreign enemies” and “terrorist groups” for the unrest that began 24 days ago when Mahsa Amini, a young woman was killed in police custody, and has spread since then.
Antigovernment activists say that the harsh crackdown on ethnic groups is the government’s tactic to foment more tensions and appear as the savior of Iran’s territorial integrity and public security.
The Revolutionary Guards (IRGC)-linked Tasnim news agency wrote Saturday that because “foreigners failed” to use the ethnic card in the protests they resorted to other disruptive tactics.
Tasnim was referring to a hactivist group’s disruption of a state TV’s news program which suddenly transitioned from a clip showing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to chants of “women, life, and freedom”, the signature slogan of the current protests, or revolution, as many describe it now.
The IRGC which had initially not used overwhelming military force against protesters on the streets, has been attacking the positions of Kurdish Iranian insurgent groups in Iraqi Kurdistan with artillery and drones in the past three weeks.
Sectarian groups have been active in both provinces for decades but there is no indication, judging from the slogans protesters chant in both places that they are fighting for any cause other than toppling the clerical regime.
“Down with the Dictator” and “Death to Khamenei” are at the top of the protesters’ list of slogans in Zahedan, capital of Sistan and Baluchestan, and Sanandaj, capital of Kordestan, as in all other areas of the country.
“The people of Kordestan donated blood for the people of Zahedan and chant ‘Kordestan supports Zahedan’. Accuse them of separatism if you dare!”, a supporter of protesters tweeted.
“You had ‘separated’ us for 43 years: men from women, the younger from the older generation, the Kurds from the Turks, The Luris from the Baluchis, the Persian speakers from the Gilaki speakers, … We have just united to separate the Islamic Republic and its clerics from our Iran,” another tweet which has become very popular said.
Others have pointed out in their social media posts that officials consistently refer to peacefully protesting university students as “rioters’, celebrities who have supported protesters as “lackeys of the West”, ethnic groups as “separatist” and claim that the youth who have turned into the driving force of the protests as kids who are only acting up.
“You are resorting to everything you can to instigate sectarianism in some part of the country [but you keep failing]. You tried Baluchestan but you failed, now you are targeting Sanandaj. No part of the Iranian territory has been or will be separated from it. Whenever it happened [in the past] it was because of the incompetence of the rulers at the time. You’ve lost your power of tricking people,” US-based Iranian journalist Ehsan Karami tweeted.