Setting the Record Straight on Voice of America

"How does alienating millions of ethnic minorities in Iran serve U.S. foreign policy?"

Mr. Joseph O'Connell, the spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), in his response to our recent critique in Pajamas Media claims to set the record straight by stating that VOA has been in business for 66 years and insinuates that we somehow wish to inappropriately influence VOA Persian service broadcasts.

We, too, will attempt to set the record straight. We do not question the integrity of VOA in any way. Further, we fully and enthusiastically support the new leadership appointments, including that of Mr. James Glassman, Chairman of BBG, Mr. Danforth Austin, Director of VOA, and Mr. Jeffrey Gedmin, President of RFE/RL (parent of Radio Farda). These are men of integrity and we trust that they would welcome and look into the expressed opinions in regard to ethnic manipulation of VOA's Persian programs.

However, we do question the bias of VOA Persian News Network (Persian-TV) headed by Ms. Sheila Gandji, Executive Director and Mr. Kambiz Mahmoudi, Managing Director, against non-Persian ethnic minority groups in Iran. As we mentioned in our critique, top management of VOA/PNN is solidly monarchist and staunch supporters of the late Shah's son. VOA/PNN's Sheila Gandji and Kambiz Mahmoudi were both in the service of, and used to run, the Shah's government-run Radio/TV network in Tehran.

After the fall of the Shah in 1979, Mr. Mahmoudi followed the Shah and his son to Cairo to run their radio there, called Radio Nejat. Gandji and Mahmoudi's contacts with the Shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, and his advisors in the Washington, DC area are no secret to Iranians.

Since our article appeared in PJM, Mr. Mahmoudi appeared several times on VOA/PNN and generously used one-hour of the "The News Analysis" of his 6-hour daily Farsi/Persian program to blast us and misrepresent our points of view without allowing us a few minutes to defend ourselves. In his live appearances and misrepresentation of our critique, he kept calling us "secessionist," a charge used by the Iranian government against us, which we have denied repeatedly.

We stated before, as we do now, that VOA/PNN is enormously influenced by the Iranian monarchists and Persian ultra-nationalists. VOA would benefit from a neutral survey of Iranian opinions to find out whether the overwhelming Iranians perceive VOA/PNN as a nest of the monarchists with an ideological and practical anti-minority chauvinist agenda. That agenda is becoming evident as oppression and suppression of ethnic minorities in Iran continue to make news everywhere but certainly not on VOA broadcasts (an interview of a Kurdish leader on Sunday 9/16/07) was indeed a very rare exception. It would also be of interest to the BBG Inspector General Office to have the Government Accounting Office investigate the matter. Most importantly, the investigation should scrutinize to which group, if not the monarchists and ultra nationalists, the VOA/PNN's funds are diverted as consultant fees, and who actually makes these payment decisions?

The message in our letter was very clear: the policy of deliberately marginalizing non-Persian ethnic minorities in Iran, which comprise at least half of the population, has resulted in increasing distrust by these groups of the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. We still believe that VOA/PNN policy is in contradiction with VOA's charter. And hence, we question whether this is an effective and/or unprejudiced way of using the taxpayer's money.

We don't disagree with the prescreening policy as laid out by Mr. Joseph O'Conner. But we are against vicious questioning and political inquisition of human rights activists representing non-Persian minority groups. Ms. Fakhteh Zamani, an ethnic Azeri Human Rights activist, was subjected to this inquisition on mid-August 2007 by VOA/PNN. Prior to the interview, Ms. Gandji made it clear to Ms. Zamani that she cannot talk about ethnic Azeris speaking and studying in their native Turkish-Azeri language in Iran. Ms. Gandji believes that this is not a human rights issue and told Ms. Zamani that she wasn't allowed to mention this subject in her interview; that the lingua franca of Iran was Persian, and that non-Persians are not entitled to speak or study in their own native languages in Iran along with the state official language. We wonder if Mr. O'Conner can tell us whether that is the U.S policy or just an existing bias that has been allowed to exist unchecked by those in charge.

Ms. Roya Nahid, a Kurdish Iranian woman and resident of San Diego whose two brothers were executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, was also subjected to a brutal inquiry by the opinionated host of VOA/PNN's "Roundtable" program, Mr. Ahmad Baharloo . This occurred prior to the interview in June of this year. Mr. Baharloo asked Ms. Roya Nahid to make clear to him whether she was a federalist or a secessionist and whether she was a "Kurd in the first place or an Iranian" before she was allowed to be interviewed live on VOA-Persian TV. This is not only a hated expression of his ethnocentrism but also a vile invasion of her privacy. Consequently, Ms. Zamani submitted her complaints of this inquisition to one of the Directors of VOA, to be conveyed to Mr. Austin.

There are other similar cases of political inquisition of ethnic minority rights activists whenever occasionally they were approached to appear, upon the suggestion of VOA non-Iranian advisors, in these Persian/Farsi programs. The fact is that VOA/PNN does not hire non-Persian Iranians who advocate human rights for all Iranians and the EEO rules are being almost totally ignored.

Mr. O'Connell cannot mention even once that a single one of the invited guests advocated the rights of Iranian Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Lures, Baloch etc.

Mr. Shahriar Ahy, who along with other advisors to the Shah's son is a frequent guest on VOA is an ultra-nationalist monarchist who despises the ethnic minorities and shares this antipathy with the apartheid regime of the Mullahs in Tehran. This "MIT-educated" person, which Mr. O'Connell so eloquently and impressively promoted, advocated and justified as a frequent guest of VOA program and called "an elected member of the coordinating council of Solidarity Iran...", is the chief advisor to the Shah's son. We refer you to the following article by Connie Brock in the New Yorker article dated 6 June 2007 "Shahriar Ahy, political strategists, mentor, speech writer....". The article partially read, "Shahriar Ahy, the man behind Iran Solidarity, a group of Iranian exiles created as a back-up for Reza Pahlavi's regime change, is said to be the Pahlavi's mentor.". Even "Iran Press Service", the Pahlavi's web site, refers to Mr. Ahy as "Advisor to Reza Pahlavi."

Also, the New York Sun in an article on August 24, 2007 by Claudia Rosett entitled "Iranian Dissidents Gather to Discuss Regime Change" made mention of Shahriar Ahy as the "Spokesman for Reza Pahlavi. It was Mr. Ahy who accompanied Reza Pahlavi during his recent address to "Democracy and Security International Conference" that was held in Prague on June 5-6, 2007 which President Bush attended also. So, clearly Mr. Ahy and his "Solidarity Iran" is a political organization of the Shah's son. Mr. Ahy and his colleagues in "Solidarity Iran," do not even acknowledge the existence of non-Persian ethnic groups that account for well over half of the population.

We also suggest that Mr. O'Connell shouldn't try to impress ethnic groups with Mr. Ahy's credential as he is a member of the Iranian wealthy elite who could afford to go to MIT at the expense of millions left poor and destitute and were not allowed to study in their own native language. Such strong defense of Mr. Ahy by Mr. O'Connell, the spokesman of VOA, damages the credibility of the US foreign policy in the eyes of millions of Iranian Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Baloch, Turkmen, Lurs and others.

Mr. Dariush Homayoon, another ultra-nationalist Persian Iranian, who is frequently featured as a guest on VOA-Persian, is also an advisor to the exiled monarch and the chairman of a monarchist political party "Hezb-e- Mashruteh," He is the most outspoken opponent against ethnic minorities. Mr. Homayoon is on the record and frequently mentions in his speeches that he will be a frontline soldier in defense of the Islamic Republic of Iran against a possible U.S. attack and/or against an uprising by non-Persian minorities and their struggle for autonomy and federalism. He is a former minister of Information under the Shah, a very close acquaintance of the former Queen Farah Pahlavi and a former member of the "Soomka Party", a pro German-Nazi youth association in Iran. He also participated, like their Gestapo counterparts in Germany, in a bomb attack against "Soomka" liberal opponents where he almost lost a leg in this terrorist attack. (Since then, he limps as a result of the prematurely exploded bomb in that attack).

Despite VOA charter, the VOA/PNN deliberately marginalizes minorities and does not keep a balance by inviting guests from non-Persian minorities that are subjected to the Islamic Republic's harsh treatment and the policy of ethnic cleansing. Last year we hand-delivered to VOA-PNN Research Director, Dr. Avi Davidi (he since has left VOA) a copy of a secret directive which was leaked from inside Iran signed by Iran's highest clerical leaders indicating the wholesale government' ethnic cleansing of millions of Arab-Iranians from Khuzistan province, where most Arabs reside historically. Similarly, we forwarded to the VOA/PNN numerous statements and reports by the UN General Assembly, UN Special Rapporteurs, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the EU Parliaments, condemning Iran's gross violations of human rights against ethnic minorities in Iran. There is daily news of regime brutality against ethnic minorities in Iran but VOA-PNN chooses to ignore them. On September 12, 2007, days after United Nations human rights commissioner, Louise Arbour, visited Iran, three ethnic-Ahwazi Arab opponents of the Iranian regime were executed according to Reuters. We forwarded this news to VOA-PNN. None of this news was broadcast by VOA-Persian Service.

Similarly, there were no news broadcasts of the recent Iranian military attacks against Arab, Baloch, Azeri and Kurdish areas and the imprisonment and execution of minority activists. On many occasions we e-mailed this news to VOA-PNN but they were simply ignored. Name one Ahwazi activist interviewed on VOA about land confiscation and ethnic cleansing or a Baloch farmer whose village was bombed and leveled by the regime. You don't hear about the suffering of these people on VOA Persian TV, despite the fact that due to national self-awakening of oppressed ethnic minorities, these groups are the most dynamic mobilizing democratic forces against the regime.

Again, while we are neither separatists nor do we advocate secessionism, it is unfortunate that Mr. O'Conner, uses the label "advocate secessionism" and "separatist" when describing minority rights activists arrested by the regime, but says nothing about the forced confessions, the torture they endure, the closed trials, and the arrest of defense lawyers.

This is simply a reiteration of the insulting propaganda from the Iranian regime - propaganda that the monarchists are keen to push, because they do not want any future challenge to their racial elitism. It proves that VOA-Persian TV is infected with Persian ethnic chauvinism. If VOA is to remain relevant and unbiased, it must broadcast a broad range of Iranian voices, including the minority rights activists, monarchists, federalists, republicans, and even separatists (as RFE/RL and VOA did during the reign of the Soviet oppressive regime).

How does this blatant discrimination by VOA/PNN against the non-Farsi speaking Iranians serve the US interests in the region? At least one of the lessons learned in Iraq is that security and stability will not be possible without the participation of all constituents' ethnic groups in a diverse and a multi-ethnic country like Iran.

Ali Ghaderi is U.S. Representative of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan. Karim Abdian, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, is U.S. Representative of the Ahwazi-Arab Ethnic Minority in Iran.

* In fact, VOA/PNN programming is dominated by a monarchist-ultra nationalist agenda, who were part of the Shah's old guard. Just in the last few months a partial list of "Guests" was comprised of such persons as, Hoshang Nehavandi, Parviz Radji, Rob Sobhani, Shahriar Ahy, Darioush Homayoon , Feredon Khavand, Jamshid Asadi, Bahman Aghaii Diba, Syrus Amozegar, Mehrdad Hhonsari, Hussein Mohri, Mehrdad Khonsari, Hamid Akbari, Nasser Mohamadi, Shaheen Fatemi, Bijan Kian' Mannusheh Gandji, Hassan Mansour, Hossein Abghari, Shahrir Ahi, Siameck Shojai,Mehrdad Payandeh, Kianosh Sanjari, Sassan Zarezadeh Ardeshir, Hormoz Hakmat, Mashalah Ajoudani, Shayan Samaii, Firoozeh Dumas, Shahbal Shabpereh, Sepher Zangeneh, , and the list goes on.