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By Ali Mousavi Khalkhali
Minorities seek Iran’s protection

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28 January 2014

Iyad Jamal Al-Din says: "Due to upheavals in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, Iran has gained an opportunity to show its power and leave others behind; a fact which cannot be denied."

Iranian diplomacy: These days the debates over whether to invite Iran to International conferences on Syria or not have been intensified.

Recently, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had withdrawn his invitation for Iran to participate in Syria peace talks called “Geneva II”, after the invite spurred objections from the United States and the Syrian opposition so that opposition coalition threatened to boycott the talks in the case of the possible presence of the Iranians.

First question: Why is calling on Iran to attend such conferences so important?

Maybe the simplest answer is that because Iran is the main supporter of Bashar Assad; therefore, as Russia and China are invited to the conferences such as Geneva II, Iran should also be invited. However, this is a trivial answer. Iran is now the largest supporter of minorities in the region; it is the main supporter, patron and refugee for minorities and this is a fact which cannot be denied in any way.

After evolutions in Syria and the start of Sunni extremist movements against dominant minority, the region was divided into two parts: Sunni and Shia. The gap which had been created over Iraq formally divided Syria into two parts and created a deep distance between them. When we speak about Shi’ite, we mean all Shi’ite branches including Ismaili, Druze, Zaydi, Alawite, and six-Imam Shia and so on. Sunni movements also mean all branches related to the Sunni including secular and liberal left, Pan-Arab, Wahhabi, Salafi, and so on.

In the absence of Egypt which was experiencing a revolution, being busy with its own affairs and not able to have a role in regional transitions, Saudi Arabia and Qatar used the opportunity and tried to introduce themselves as patrons and refugees for the Sunni in Syria. Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood which was going to gain power in the Arab world from early 2011. Saudi Arabia tried to support other Sunni movements including Salafi and non-Salafi so that Salafists preceded and other Sunni movements including moderate and secular were considered as their opponents. When by mid-2013, Saudi Arabia successfully planned to overthrow Muslim Brotherhood by military force and money, Qatar was formally out of competition and Saudi Arabia became the only refugee of the Sunni. As a result, Saudi Arabia was the only strong supporter of the Sunni in the region, even if Arabs weren’t willing to accept it.

The main reason for inviting Iran to Syria-related conferences is its role as the largest supporter of minorities in the region. At present, Iran is the largest supporter, patron, and refugee for minorities; a fact which cannot be denied.
In contrast, Iran stood firmly on the side of Bashar Assad since the beginning of the crisis. Other countries such as Russia and China supported Assad in order to win political competitions in global arena while it was the issue of life and death for Iran. Iran associated its political life in the region with a well-defined equation in Syria and therefore, continued to support Bashar Assad firmly. Meanwhile, Iran tried to change threats into opportunities while at the same time averted the risk of Syria.

When extremist opponents of Assad chanted, "Allawite in coffins, Christians in Beirut" in Damascus, Aleppo, and Daraa, murdered many people in Shi’ite, Christian, and Allawite neighborhoods of Syria and Iraq, and ordered to implement Salafi Islamic sharia, all minorities including Christians, Shi’ites and their branches were alarmed. Iran is the only Shi’ite country in the world which is also known as the only powerful country of minority Muslims across the globe. After Syrian upheavals, minorities felt threatened and resorted to Iran. Iran had the opportunity to be representative of Middle East minorities.

In the meantime, why didn’t minorities seek another country?

It should be noted that no country in the region has been as active as Iran in the protection of minorities. Iran’s support of Nouri Al-Maliki helped him to be Prime Minister for two consecutive times. Iran’s support of Bashar Assad caused him to stay in power. Iran’s support of Hezbollah in Lebanon has raised it as the top party and winner of 34-day war with Israel. The same happened in the case of Al-Houthi who could gain a considerable place in Yemen and claim to restore their rights.

Why should Christians seek to be supported by Iran?

Christians have selected Iran for two main reasons. For one thing, they have a common enemy in the region. This has led them to be in the same position as other minorities, especially Shi’ite and its branches. Another reason is that Westerners, particularly Europeans try to distance themselves from the challenges of the region. Experiences of Afghanistan and Iraq have cost them a lot and they are not willing to get involved with Middle East issues. On the other hand, internal crisis, especially economic crisis is another obstacle to distance them from Middle East.

Why don’t minorities and Christians take refuge in Russia?

First of all, Russia is far from the area and it is linked to the region through other countries one of which is Iran. Second, Iran and Russia are in the same stance regarding regional transitions.

Finally, regardless feelings and mottoes, it should be noticed that Iran is both threatened and provided an opportunity to show its power. Iran has changed into the biggest refugee of minorities in the region; an issue that is even acknowledged by enemies. Seyed Iyad Jamal Al-Din, Iraqi Shi’ite Cleric who was a member of Al-Iraqi list in previous elections, said in his latest talk to Al-Arabia Channel: "Whether we like it or not, minorities including Shi’ite, Allawite, Druze, Zaydi, Ismaili and even Christians have taken refuge in Iran under the ideology and perception of supreme leadership. When Shi’ites see Sunni and Salafi extremists threaten their beliefs, destroy sacred shrines, exhume the tombs of the prophet’s companions such as Hojr-bin-Adi and Amar Yasser, and want to blow up Hazrat Zeinab shrine and other sacred places, they obviously take refuge behind Iran and request it to stand against enemies."
He emphasized that: "Due to upheavals in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, Iran has gained an opportunity to show its power and leave others behind; a fact which cannot be denied."

Consequently, the international community should invite the largest representative of minorities to upcoming international conferences; otherwise, it means the omission of the most influential power in the region. In such circumstances, regional problems are not supposed to be resolved or it could be concluded that the aim is to neglect current crisis in Middle East.

By Ali Mousavi Khalkhali
28 January, 2014