The recent violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Kazerun in the southwestern province of Fars caught Iranian officials and politicians off guard — and yet research published three years ago predicted the likelihood of such unrest.
A study carried out by a Revolutionary Guards-affiliated university think tank in 2015 concluded that cultural, political, economic and demographic characteristics specific to Fars threatened province’s stability.
The study, entitled “Geographic Analysis of the Roots of Insecurity and Tensions in Fars Province,” appeared in the quarterly publication the Journal of Military and Security Geography [Persian link], produced by Imam Hossein University, an affiliate of the Revolutionary Guards.
It points out that the cultural geography of Fars province is a mosaic of tribes, clans and diverse cultures, adding that a considerable portion of the population is tribal, including:
- The Qashqai people, consisting of six large tribes — Darreh-Shuri, Sheshboluki, Amaleh, Farsimadan and Kashkuli — and at least three smaller tribes. They speak in a Turkic dialect and their population is estimated to be close to a million.
— The Khamseh tribal confederation, consisting of Basseri, Inalu, Baharlu, Nafar and Arab tribes. The total population of this tribal confederation is estimated to be around two million but not all live in Fars province. They speak different native languages. The Basseri speak Persian, the Arab tribes speak Arabic and the other three speak a Turkic dialect.
— The Mamasani tribe, which consists of a number of sub-tribes. They are of Lor origin and speak a dialect of Lori, an Iranian language. (Most Lors live in the western province of Lorestan.)
— Independent tribes including Kuh Mareh Sorkhi, Kuh Mareh Jarugh and Kuh Mareh Nowdan tribes. They speak in an Iranian dialect.
The Persistent Tribal Mindset
With more than 4,300 villages of different micro-cultures and various ethnicities — Turk, Lor, Persian and Arab — Fars is a fertile ground for cultural strife. Iran’s interior ministry describes Fars as an ethnically “heterogeneous” province. The Imam Hossein University study points out that although a considerable portion of the tribal population is now settled and no longer live a nomadic life, the tribal mindset persists.
According to the report, this reality makes tribal loyalties stronger than loyalty to the state and its representatives, and that these local and tribal rivalries tend to fuel clashes over administrative divisions. Furthermore, tribal loyalties and rivalries mean Fars province has one of the highest numbers of armed clashes and clan warfare — along with the provinces of Tehran, Khuzestan, Lorestan and Kermanshah.
The study states that migration is another contributing factor to tension and unrest in Fars province. It points to another study, “Ethnic Migration and Social Changes in Iranian Cities,” which shows that in almost all cities in Fars, more than 50 percent of the population is made up of either ethnic migrants or migrants from other cities. These migrants primarily live in crime-ridden ghettos in the margins of the city, where government laws do not hold much sway and where the government's authority is often challenged. These “black holes” of government authority also encompass a number of villages and rural areas in the south and the southeast of the province.
Smuggling Safe Haven
The study cites the transit of illegal drugs and smuggled goods as another factor fuelling the province’s tensions and security issues. Drug use in Fars is high and its proximity to the southeastern provinces of Iran, bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan, makes an attractive and suitable transit route for drug trafficking. Hundreds of kilometers of land bordering the province of Kerman are either sparsely populated or empty. Qatruyeh Desert and the dried-up Bakhtegan Lake, with a surface area of 3,500 square kilometers, both in the east of the province, help facilitate drug trafficking.
In addition to the illegal drugs trade, Fars also borders the Persian Gulf littoral provinces of Bushehr and Hormozgan. This has meant that Fars, and in particular its capital Shiraz, have turned into terminals for goods smuggled through southern Iran. Once the smuggled goods reach Shiraz they are in a relatively safe haven and it becomes much easier to distribute and sell them.
The research also suggests that “unbalanced regional development” contributes to instability in Fars. The further one travels away from Shiraz, the more underdeveloped and underprivileged the province becomes. The most developed counties are located in the center of the province, with the least developed ones located in the south and southeast of the province.
Yet another factor, the study states, is the province’s “weak communications network.” The inadequacy of the communications network, and especially roads, makes access from outlying areas to the center limited, difficult and slow. Plus, because of the poor quality of roads, Fars has the highest road mortality rate in Iran.
The study adds that natural disasters including earthquakes, drought, floods and destruction of the environment also play a role in destabilizing the province.
The question now remains whether the government and provincial authorities will use this report and other more recent analysis to help ease the current tensions. But even if they do, the unrest is at such levels that it will be difficult. If they had heeded the warnings when they were first made evident, authorities might have prevented the current crisis.
More on troubles in Kazerun and Fars province:
Kazerun: The Most Underdeveloped City in Fars Province, May 18, 2018
Kazerun’s Bloody Protests, May 17, 2018
Kazerun Protests: More than a Local Dispute, April 24, 2018