Iranian regime officials consistently warn the public against alleged foreign plots for “Syrianization” of Iran, a reference to the devastating civil war in Syria. However, the regime’s opponents inside and outside of Iran emphasize unity across sect and ethnicity in what they describe as a national uprising against the Islamic Republic. Both have motives of their own to present their respective narratives: The regime talks up the risk of civil war and separatism in an attempt to persuade the nationalist middle class to stay home, rather than join in the protests, bring down the regime, and perhaps with it Iran as a unified political entity. The opposition, on the other hand, cleverly chants slogans in defense of victims of regime brutality among Iran’s ethnic and sectarian minorities, in an attempt to create a unified cross-sectarian and multiethnic front against the regime.
Regardless of the opposing narratives, the Iran Human Rights Society’s accounts of fatalities during the ongoing protests in Iran reflect the country’s ethnic and sectarian fault lines: Iran’s Kurdish and Baluch minorities, a majority of whom also belong to Iran’s sizeable Sunni minority, bear the brunt of the protester fatalities.
According to Iran Human Rights Society’s reports, excluding a handful protesters whose month of death was not recorded and a few non-Iranian nationals killed in street fights, 475 individuals were killed between September 19 and November 22. Among these, 127 were killed in Sistan and Baluchistan province, 50 in Kurdistan province, 54 in Kurdish-populated areas of West Azerbaijan province and 23 in Kurdish-populated areas in Kermanshah province. Therefore, 254, or more than half of the protesters killed in clashes with government personnel, were either Kurds or Baluchi. In a variation on this trend, protests in Iran’s Khuzestan province, in which there is a significant Sunni Arab presence, claimed 21 lives. There is also no report of fatalities in Sunni-majority Golestan province, which is mainly populated by Iran’s Turkmen minority.