Iranian Ethnic Minorities Clash on Capitol Hill


Washington DC — A March 13 event on Capitol Hill intended to expose Iran’s human rights violations was overcome with political rivalry and infighting.  The event, a one-hour briefing on Iran’s human rights record, was eventually broken up by Capitol Hill police officers.

The briefing piggybacked on a recent rise in concern over Iran’s human rights abuses, and attempted to unite several Iranian ethnic and religious minority groups.  The event, hosted by the Iran Working Group and the Leadership Council for Human Rights (LCHR), was aimed at uniting some of the many factions inside Iran, but fell apart due to internal rivalries.

The event, Iran Working Group Hearing: Assessing the Human Rights Situation of Iran’s Ethnic and Religious Groups, featured representatives from several of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities, including Iranian Arabs, Azeris, Baha’is, Baluchis, and Kurds.  It also featured comments by Representatives Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX).

Kirk, a Republican congressman from Illinois, is a harsh critic of the Iranian government; while Lee has been an outspoken supporter of the Iranian Mujahedin (MEK).  Kirk has urged the US to weaken Iran’s economic power by finding other energy sources for Iran’s trading partners.  He has also pushed to block an $870 million loan from the World Bank to Iran (

Lee’s, a representative from Texas, took part in a 2006 rally by the Council for Democratic Change in Iran and has called for the MEK to be removed from the State Department’s terror list.  She has lauded the efforts of “sister Maryam,” a reference to present leader of the MEK, Maryam Rajavi.  “Truth is not constrained by small quarters,” said Lee at the briefing, a reference to the event being moved to a smaller conference room after a scheduling conflict.

During the question and answer period, an Iranian-American retired FBI employee (and former colonel in the Iranian army under the Shah) accused several of the speakers of exaggeration.  By this time, people had left their seats and several confrontations threatened to turn violent until a police officer arrived.

The temporary calm was disrupted again when another audience member questioned the motives of what he considered the “breaking up” of a unified Iranian people.  He argued that, “Iranians are one nation and we have been for thousands of years.”

The disruption that followed required two police officers to dissipate.  Despite the shared goal of regime change in Iran, the event reflected the inability of these groups to coalesce.

In an attempt to mollify the various flaring tempers, LCHR president Kathryn Porter spoke to the nature of the problem: “If you want to have revolution in Iran, if you want to change the quality of life for the people, you will find ways to work together with everyone in this room.”

Event speakers included: Dr. Ali Al-Taie, Professor at Shaw University; Sharif Behruz, U.S. Representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan; Kit Bigelow, Director of External Affairs for the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the U.S.; Dr. M. Hosseinbor, Iranian Baluchi; and Fakhteh Zamani, Director of the Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners.  Opening statements and additional testimony were provided by Nina Shea, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.


This article was published by the National Iranian American Council on 26 March 2008.  It is reproduced here for educational purposes.

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