(Reuters) – Protests in Iran have swept all parts of the nation since Mahsa Amini’s death in police custody, including areas home to ethnic minorities with long-standing grievances against the state.
The authorities have accused armed dissidents from some of these minorities of fomenting trouble. Critics say these accusations aim to present the protests as ethnic unrest rather than a country-wide uprising, and to justify a crackdown.
Protesters have stressed national unity with chants such as “Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Lors, are together”.
Iran, with a population of 87 million, is home to seven ethnic minorities alongside majority Persians. Rights groups say minorities have long faced discrimination. Iran denies this.
Here is some background on some of the ethnic groups:
Some of the deadliest unrest so far was on Sept. 30 in the Sistan-Baluchistan province of southeastern Iran at the Pakistani border, home to the Baluch minority.
Amnesty International has said security forces killed at least 66 people in a violent crackdown after Friday prayers in Zahedan, the provincial capital.
The authorities said militants attacked a police station, triggering a shootout. The Revolutionary Guards said five members of its forces and the volunteer Basij militia were killed during the Sept. 30 violence.
Iran has blamed the shooting on Jaish al-Adl, or Army of Justice, a Baluchi militant group. Neither Jaish al-Adl nor any other group has claimed a role.
The Baluchi minority, estimated to number up to 2 million, follow Sunni Islam rather than the Shi’ite Islam of Iran’s clerical rulers.
Amnesty said in a report earlier this year that 26% of people executed by the authorities since 2022 were members of the Baluch minority, saying this epitomized “entrenched discrimination and repression they have faced for decades”.
Jaish al-Adl has said previous attacks it carried out on Iranian forces were in retaliation for oppression of Sunnis in Sistan-Baluchistan. Iranian authorities say the group operates from safe havens in Pakistan and have repeatedly called on the neighbouring country to crack down on them.
The unrest has been particularly intense in Kurdish regions where the latest wave of protests first began on Sept. 17 during the funeral of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman who died in morality police custody.
Rights group Hengaw says it has recorded the deaths of at least 32 civilians killed by government forces during protests.
Estimated to number some 10 million, Iranian Kurds are also Sunnis and mostly live in northwestern regions bordering Turkey and Iraq – which also have large Kurdish minorities.
Amnesty says Kurds have suffered deep-rooted discrimination in Iran, with their social, political and cultural rights repressed and the region facing economic neglect.
Kurdish human rights organisation Hengaw has identified 23 Kurdish people killed in the latest protests.
The Revolutionary Guards, which have put down unrest in the Kurdish region for decades, have accused armed Iranian Kurdish dissidents of involvement in the protests.
The Guards have mounted drone and missile attacks against what they have described as terrorist targets in Iraq, killing 14 people on Sept. 28 including at least one child – according to Iraqi Kurdish authorities.
Iran’s Arabs, estimated to number 1.6 million, reside mainly along the border with Iraq in the southwestern, oil-rich province of Khuzestan. They have long complained of inequity in employment and political rights.
Protesters have taken to the streets of the provincial capital Ahvaz during the latest demonstrations.
In 2021, protests over water shortages were particularly intense in the Khuzestan region – where drought has been a major problem – and were met by a crackdown by the security forces.
Iran has previously accused Sunni Arab states of a role in fomenting trouble in the region. In 2018, Iran accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of paying for an attack that killed 25 people in Ahvaz, half of them members of the Guards.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE denied any role.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by William Maclean)