While you were busy wondering if Obama could manage the hurricane, the Azeris erupted against the regime. When they riot in Azerbaijan, it’s a big deal.
The Azeris are — by far — Iran’s biggest tribe. About half of the population is ethnic Persian, and half that number, a quarter of Iranians, are Azeri. We’re talking 15-20 million people, many of whom speak their own language in addition to Farsi. In the videos linked below, most of the chants are in Azeri. The Azeris matter a lot: to take the two most famous examples, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is one, as is Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Moussavi. So when they get upset, it’s worth noticing. Azerbaijan is over in the northwestern part of the country, a hot spot for other reasons as well. (Remember the Kurds?)
The proximate cause of the demonstrations (videos here, here, here, here and here) is the failure of the regime to do anything to save Lake Orumiyeh, the largest lake in the Middle East, and the third largest salt water lake in the world. It is drying up. Sixty per cent of the lake is gone, and the salt flats are expanding, just as they did in the great ecological disaster back in Soviet days, the Aral Sea. The failure of the regime to do anything to stop this looming catastrophe has convinced many of the locals that the regime actually wants the lake to die, as reflected in their chant of “The lake is taking its final breaths and the Parliament issues its death sentence.”
In all likelihood, the explanation is a combination of the usual extraordinary incompetence of the Iranian regime and the usual corrupt profits derived from public works projects like the several dams that block rivers feeding the lake, and a bridge across it. Local deputies to the Parliament have repeatedly asked the government to do something to save the lake — and with it, the future of the area — but nothing has been done. Hence, the demonstrations.
The Iranian regime is so insecure that any protest, indeed any gathering, is treated as a political threat, and security forces were quick to move in. Demonstrators were beaten up, and 40 or 50 imprisoned. This only further inflamed the demonstrators, who now had an additional reason to denounce their leaders, and the Ansar Bank was burned down in the city of Orumiyeh.
Day by day, the evidence of the ruin the regime has visited upon the Iranian people becomes clearer, as does the simmering rage of the people themselves. Water prices are about to go up 20%, and — in an amazing development — it turns out that nearly half of the dairies in Tehran have closed down, allegedly because of the quantity of imported powdered milk. Lots of Iranians view such developments as confirmation of Ahmadinejad’s recent accusation that the Revolutionary Guards have been using ports under their own control to smuggle foreign goods into the country. That helps explain the ongoing strikes in major bazaars in Tehran and Isfahan. The textile section of the Tehran bazaar has been shut down by strike action for several weeks, and on Sunday the strikers went to other parts of the bazaar to rally support. This, of course, quickly led to the usual thugs, using the usual methods, to reestablish order. But the strike continues.
Meanwhile, the supreme leader has exploited the end of Ramadan to pose as a man of mercy. The regime announced that 100 “political prisoners” would be released, apparently forgetting that every major leader in the country has proclaimed that there are no political prisoners in Iran. In any event, no significant opposition leader is to be released, and many of those coming out were at or near the end of their sentence. This sort of trick doesn’t fool anybody in Iran, and I doubt it will greatly impress the American government, especially after the Iranian regime sentenced the two American hikers to eight years in prison.
In like manner, the regime is posing as a would-be peacemaker in Syria, saying that the Assad tyranny should respect the desires of the Syrian people. That, too, is a trick, because no sooner have the words left the mouth of the Iranian foreign minister than he immediately proclaims: ” … but there will be dire consequences if there are any changes in the Syrian government.” He adds:
Syria has highly-sensitive neighbors and therefore (any) change in Syria will not bring good influence to anyone and can create serious regional crisis which could spread beyond the region.
For those who aren’t used to reading such subtleties, it’s intended as a warning to anyone contemplating a replay of the Libyan scenario in Syria. Never mind all the diplomatic chit-chat, the regime knows that the fall of Syria would be a disaster. The supreme leader and his band of morose men can do their best to gull the gullible, but the whole world sees that the regime is going all out to save Assad. Even Turkey, which sometimes acts in tandem with Iran, has seized Iranian weapons shipments headed for Damascus, and in the last few days the Turks have permitted the creation — on their own territory — of a Syrian opposition organization clearly modeled on the Libyan National Transition Council.