Center-Periphery Dynamics in the Woman Life Freedom Uprising

Somayeh Rostampour

Summary: This article explores the complexities of the Women, Life, Freedom movement in Iran, particularly in marginalized communities during the 2022 Jina uprising and highlights the importance of periphery-based feminism in challenging dominant colonial feminist narratives in the country. — Editors

Available in Persian here:


The prevailing narratives of the women’s movement in Iran have often been characterized by nationalism, homogenization, reductionism, elitism, and class-oriented position, overlooking the intersectionality of ethnicity, nationality, gender, and class. Rather, this article aims to examine the struggle of marginalized communities, particularly women, in the 2022 Jina uprising and its aftermath in comparison to the central population. Instead of claiming to provide definitive answers, the article seeks to raise questions surrounding several key issues. Firstly, it addresses the dynamics of center-periphery relations within the Jina uprising and the role of marginalized communities in highlighting class contradictions and anti-colonial resistance. Secondly, it explores the marginalization of women from peripheral regions in the production of feminist knowledge, activism, and various strands of minority feminism. At a time when reactionary forces propagate slogans like “Man, homeland, prosperity,” promoting the progressive slogan of Jin. Jiyan. Azadi (women. life. freedom) and fostering solidarity based on political comradeship becomes imperative. To achieve this, there must be a collective awareness of the interconnectedness of gender, sexuality, nationality, and class oppression in Iran. Failure to adequately address these intersections poses a threat to feminist solidarity against patriarchal domination in its various forms.

Furthermore, this article aims to demonstrate that the demands of peripheral regions cannot be understood solely through the lens of “identity politics.” Instead, these marginalized groups’ political and cultural aspirations are rooted in materialistic and class-based foundations. While refraining from proposing a specific theoretical framework at this stage, it underscores the significance of anti-colonial theories and materialist methodologies in comprehending center-periphery dynamics. Here, the term “periphery”, “surroundings” or “marginalized communities” broadly encompasses social groups situated at a lower position in the hierarchy of class, gender, geography, economics, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, and race compared to the dominant group. Specifically, in this text, the concept of the periphery predominantly refers to women from non-Persian, minoritized nations residing in peripheral geographical areas, often belonging to non-Shiite and the most exploited segments of society. While examples in the text primarily focus on Kurdistan province, not as an exception but as an illustration of the peripheral people’s conditions, it is not intended to portray Kurdistan as a historically monolithic society devoid of diversity and internal conflicts, ranging from progressive to reactionary currents.


Center-Periphery and the Matter of Solidarity

Critiques from certain Marxist feminist perspectives toward culturalism, and anti-postcolonial perspectives toward Eurocentrism, particularly in regions like Africa, Latin America, or India, offer valuable conceptual and theoretical insights into gender analysis. These insights help us grasp the hierarchical power dynamics between dominant and minority feminisms within the confines of national borders. It is essential, however, to acknowledge the significant limitations of applying these theories in the Iranian context. Unlike many other countries in the Global South, not only women from peripheral regions but also feminists from the center in Iran have faced criminalization due to their activities, albeit to a lesser extent. Additionally, the manipulative anti-imperialist rhetoric of the Islamic Republic and its political exploitation of critiquing Western modernism are factors that must be considered. Indeed, the rich and critical discourse between Marxist feminists and postcolonial leftists regarding the dynamics of power relations offers valuable insights. Through these debates, we can more effectively trace the interconnectedness of domination and exploitation, as well as national-class-gender-sexual oppression, from both the center and periphery perspectives in Iran.

In recent years, researchers and activists from peripheral regions of Iran have increasingly embraced these theories. Their collective effort has focused on examining the historical trends of capitalist nation-building, often shaped by colonial interventions, which have taken oppressive forms. This examination highlights the class policies and hidden dominant developments in Iran, spanning both the Pahlavi era and the governance of the Islamic Republic.

The Woman. Life. Freedom movement has provided an opportunity to critically reassess the history of centralized nation-building and the historiography of the women’s movement in Iran. It’s important to note that while discussions about “class oppression” in the country have gained momentum over the past century, the issue of “oppression of nations” as plural entities equal to Persians remains taboo[1]. Additionally, “gender oppression” from the perspective of peripheral people is rarely addressed[2].

Consequently, within a historical and spatial context where women’s struggles at the societal level receive more social solidarity and acceptance than the struggles of minoritized nations facing oppression, there exists an anomaly in analyzing power relations. This oversight has weakened the possibilities for national solidarity[3].

The inconsistency in addressing power dynamics analytically has, in practice, deepened the divide between the people of Iran, both in the central regions and the peripheries populations, undermining prospects for national unity.

On one hand, intellectuals from the center often focus primarily on class or gender-related issues, overlooking the significant problem of ethnic-national oppression. The Jina uprising vividly demonstrated that the central division between populations from the center and periphery revolves around the question of “national-ethnic” identity, fracturing Iranian society. However, discussions around “gender” and its intersection with ethnicity-national identity have historically been sidelined in central regions, leaving gaps in existing political theories in these contexts[4].

On the other hand, conversely, marginalized non-Persian communities tend to prioritize the issue of ethnic and national identity discrimination, such as the criminalization of Kurdishness, viewing it as the most extreme form of oppression, which sometimes overshadows other forms, like gender discrimination. Addressing “gender oppression” in these communities may therefore risk diluting internal unity against the nationalist Persian agenda imposed by the state and dominant intellectual tendencies.

These two perspectives, shaped by a decade of pervasive nationalism in Iranian politics, underscore the urgent need for intellectuals, including feminists, to seriously engage with post-decolonial materialist feminist theories that provide insights into the matrix of oppression. This is essential to prevent them from homogenizing unity and to embrace inclusivity by recognizing the specific discriminations faced by marginalized racialized communities compared to the center.

Moreover, it is evident that adopting a historical materialist methodology, one that is critical rather than dogmatic can be empowering for feminists in oppressed nations issues of periphery. This approach becomes particularly valuable when considering the prevailing definitions of national oppression in peripheral areas, often entangled with a “culturalist” lens that sidelines class struggle.

Strengthening these complementary elements in both central and peripheral contexts can bolster the core of the progressive and radical Jina uprising, amplifying the political demands of oppressed communities beyond mere “identity-based” perceptions, by highlighting the interconnected nature of class and gender struggles through a materialist methodological approach.

This radical strengthening also serves as a form of resistance against the dominant discourse that homogenizes and racially discriminates against non-Persian nations, rooted in cultural essentialism. For instance, regime prejudices and propaganda often portray Baloch people as rugged, untamed Bedouins and Kurdish individuals as culturally and politically backward. Contrary to these representations, recent revolutionary uprisings have seen the emergence of progressive slogans and radical actions from peripheral regions, challenging traditional perceptions of them being “backward.” Indeed, marginalized communities have organized significant revolutionary struggles despite facing various forms of oppression, in stark contrast to the failure of a significant portion of opposition abroad, particularly right-wing opposition, despite its material and theoretical resources[5].

The achievements of the periphery are so evident that the center, particularly its activists and elites who have yet to free themselves from racist nationalism, have no choice but to yield to the prominence of the periphery, which has turned its history of oppression into a tool of resistance. In the current political climate, the issue of “national oppression” can easily create divisions and rifts within a population in revolt, particularly within the class-based movement, as has already happened. What threatens the success of this revolt will, in part, be the crises of solidarity and national unity. Therefore, reducing tensions between the center and the periphery is crucial for maintaining or undermining the solidarity experienced during the recent nationwide uprising, especially given that such levels of disagreement do not exist regarding other issues like gender oppression.

Forms of solidarity, prominently expressed during the Jina uprising through empathetic slogans in various languages, may also be threatened by the existing class divide in society, which further mirrors the gap between the center and the periphery. Consider this example: women involved in the Jina uprising in central areas, often from the middle class, face more severe encounters (as captured in numerous photos and videos), and their oppressive treatment receives more media coverage. These women, who have greater access to virtual spaces, more comfortably perceive themselves as heroines of the uprising due to their shared gender and class experiences, which are similar to those who promote them.

The presence of women from the lower classes who also have different racial experiences, however, has been more noticeable in the peripheral areas of the country. As a result, their images are published less frequently and rarely gain widespread attention. For some protesting women detained in peripheral areas, heavy sentences have been issued in absentia, without media coverage[6]. The difference in judicial treatment of protesters is related to the disruptive class position of these women and their limited resources for legal follow-up and intervention, or media representation. If the movement cannot adequately address these contradictions and inequalities, in the long run, marginalized citizens will feel disillusioned, and opportunities for solidarity will gradually weaken.

This solidarity becomes materially more fragile when marginalized people perceive that they bear the highest cost of the revolutionary movement but receive the least representation and occupy the lowest position in the outlined hierarchy. In clearer terms, attention to the periphery should transcend the symbolic level, and material reciprocity should be found in the daily lives of people. Otherwise, sustainable mutual interdependence cannot be created. For example, militants in the periphery must feel that in solidarity with prisoners and those sentenced to execution, as well as in the face of regime suppression, they are not forgotten amidst the prominent and vocal figures of the center, and real actions are taken to support them.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the distrust in this area, stemming from decades of confrontations with activists in marginal areas that have failed to elicit sufficient sympathy and support from activists and people in the center, providing a sort of immunity to security forces. The oppressive methods and tactics intensively employed by the central government in recent years have long been systematically used in the peripheric areas of the country without incurring any specific cost to the regime. This normalization of criminalization and oppression of non-Persian nations and ethnicities has sometimes even been perpetuated by intellectuals and nationalist activists in the center.

However, it appears that the center’s newfound experience of state violence has expanded the possibilities of solidarity between the two. Nonetheless, as a prerequisite for unity around a common destiny, solidarity materializes only when the antagonistic class interests of the center and periphery, along with their interconnected political suppressions, receive serious attention and egalitarian solutions are envisaged for them. This implies a fundamental change in overarching economic policies, alternative political structure perspectives, and in the form of the centralized monolithic governing oppressive system, as an initial step towards bridging the gap between symbolic (in terms of recognition and inclination politics) and material solidarity (in terms of distribution and the form of organizing social life). Evidence shows that feminist activists in Iran are the main pioneers of this change. They have played a crucial role in radicalizing the existing nationwide anti-authoritarian movement by incorporating the center-periphery issue into political analysis and organization and strengthening class struggles at the intersections of gender and nationality-ethnicity. Therefore, the effective initial step for solidarity is the feminist transformation of the nationwide movement and the formal recognition of the reinforced class-based and decolonial demands within it.


The decolonial characteristic of struggles in peripheral territories

In the woman. life. freedom movements, the political struggles of peripheral peoples against the historical processes of “othering”, which have persisted throughout the twentieth century and have resulted in their “minoritization,” have reached a climax. While the Jina uprising in the center predominantly represents a rebellion against the Islamic Republic, on the periphery, in addition to resistance against the regime, there is a revolt against all prejudices, biases, humiliations, and semi-colonial deprivations and expropriations. Moreover, it encompasses all discriminatory economic and social structures in education, employment, ecology, culture, and language that have marginalized them over the years.

In governmental offices and important state-owned companies in peripheral regions, it is difficult for Arabs, Kurds, or Balochis to be employed. In some cases, non-Persian employees have been asked to change their non-Persian names. Deliberate unemployment and non-employment of indigenous non-Persian and non-Shiite people in government institutions and organizations, along with entrenched corruption, have led to poverty in the peripheral areas of the country. Children are the primary victims of these circumstances. To expedite the assimilation process and suppress nationalist sentiments, marginalized communities are denied the right to receive education in their mother tongue. Consequently, their educational attainment is often significantly lower than the national standard. Old school buildings remain unrepaired, and there is a shortage of teachers, leading to substandard classrooms. A significant number of students in peripheral areas, due to systemic poverty, do not continue their education, resulting in a lack of upward mobility throughout their lives. University graduates face difficulties entering the job market and, if employed, often experience discrimination, limiting them to lower positions. Prisons in peripheral regions are filled with innocent prisoners to instill fear and spread intimidation, as their security status has led to increased criminalization. These prisoners face systematic torture, long-term imprisonment, and, in many cases, extrajudicial executions without due process. In peripheral regions, even mass extrajudicial killings by military and security forces, often with machine guns, fail to elicit significant public reactions. The perpetrators are not held accountable; instead, they are encouraged and often promoted to higher military ranks. In border areas, they take up security positions, facilitating further oppression of the local population. The press in these regions has less freedom, with restricted and controlled use of the native language, primarily limited to non-political topics. Slower internet speeds and more frequent disruptions contribute to the easier suppression of the peripheral population in silence. Many of these areas face serious problems such as water supply issues, industrial pollution, drought, distribution of pollutants, and deliberate or unintentional destruction of the people’s ecosystem, creating conditions for the migration and transformation of landowners and inhabitants into a “reserve army of labor” or a “relative surplus population,” as Marx noted, which is essential for capitalist development and growth.

Given this vast series of discriminations, the question arises: can all the differences and discriminations experienced by oppressed nations be disregarded? Can the political subjects of the Jina revolution in the center and the periphery be defined solely by their similarities, especially their common rejection of the Islamic Republic, to the extent that it seems there is no difference in their demands and vision for future society? Has the “discovery” of the periphery by the center, through the revolutionary uprising of Jina in 2022, effectively contributed to materializing the recognition of cumulative oppression that has led to their marginalization? Is this awareness sufficient to embrace the diversity of political forms in the center and the periphery (acknowledging forms such as council autonomy, federalism, democratic confederalism, self-determination, and the centralizing governance of Jacobinism, which have been tested for a century …)?

This diversity of political alternatives itself arises from the different experiences of the modern process of nation-building in Iran. Marginalized nations, like the Kurds, identify themselves as victims of such a violent colonial process of modern nation-state building based on mono-ethnic representation that has extremely marginalized them.

Various terms have been used to describe the specific socio-political relationship between oppressed nations on the periphery and the centralized Shia Persian state: “internal colonization,” “inter-subaltern colonialism,” “fourth world peoples,” and others. While there is no theoretical consensus on the meaning and implications of these terms or the characterization of this particular situation, among analysts investigating the asymmetric center-periphery relations, there is a relative consensus on the existence of ethnic-national discrimination and its significant role in shaping a historically rooted nationalist oppressive capitalism.

In this text, we have chosen to use the concept of “semi-colonial relations” over other terms. Although there is considerable overlap in the semantic implications of these concepts, a more comprehensive and precise examination is required to articulate the intricacies of this relationship. The connection between oppressed nations and the central government is deemed semi-colonial because, although these nations are not colonies of “foreign states” and do not experience “direct colonization” (within the framework of post-World War II definitions of national borders as the only legitimate boundaries), the treatment by the centralized state, including their portrayal as expelled (non)citizens and the exploitation and degradation of their lands, closely resembles the situation of colonized populations.

Generally, citizens in Egypt, Iran, Africa, and other regions of the global south have been marginalized by post-colonial governments, effectively becoming “non-citizens” and “colonies” under the rule of oppressive regimes. They inherit legacies of colonial interventions and endure ongoing imperialistic relations with upper-tier governments through their intermediation in global markets. However, within the same group of non-citizens in the post-colonial era, significant distinctions exist, with some experiencing greater deprivation of fundamental rights than others; Governments often treat these marginalized ethnic groups and nations as akin to peoples whose lands have been occupied or colonized, imposing a mandate of “civilization” upon them. This distinction is crucial in differentiating the “oppressed people racialized in the periphery” in Iran from the “relatively privileged citizens in the center,” underscoring the prevailing “semi-colonial nature” of power dynamics towards the periphery. Consequently, it is not surprising that Baloch women, facing multiple layers of oppression as women, a national minority, and a marginalized class, bear the brunt of limited access to education and healthcare in Iran[7].

In relative contrast to non-citizens residing in the central regions of the country, non-citizens in non-Persian, non-Shiite regions often perceive the government as an “occupier” and “colonizer”[8]. Simultaneously, they define their struggles as internal and external anti-colonial resistance. The feminist collective of Baluch (DASGOHARAN) explicitly declares in their interview that “the struggles of the Baloch people are broad, historical, and inseparable from the struggles against colonization. One cannot speak of Sistan and Baluchestan province without acknowledging such a historical context”[9].

This mode of thinking can be heard, especially in the statements of Yusuf Mouloudi, the son of the Kurdish martyr Ghafour Mouloudi, who said over his father’s grave in Bukan in Kurdistan: “The Islamic Republic is fascist in Tehran, but an occupier in Kurdistan.” It should not be forgotten that since the rise of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Kurdish activists have often used titles such as “Dağîrkerî Regîm” (Occupying Regime) and “Komarî Sedarê” (Republic of Executions) to describe it, indicating the widespread nature of this mindset in Kurdistan. For this very reason, Kurds have repeatedly compared their situation to that of Palestinians and referred to their uprising as an “intifada”; the similarities between the circulated images and the intensity of suppressions in these two geographies have made this comparison more meaningful, with the difference that, in the former case, the occupiers are an “internal” state and in the latter, they are an “external” one[10].

The varying conduct and tactics employed by the regime, particularly instances of state violence and multiple suppressions in peripheral regions, have fostered the perception that “the state is viewed as a colonial and occupying force in these areas.” Examples such as the bloody Friday of Zahedan in the Baloutch region (October 8, 2022) and the bloody Saturday of Sanandaj in the Kurdish region (October 12, 2022) during the Jina uprising underscore these disparities. Additionally, on November 19, 2022, the Revolutionary Guards attacked people’s homes in Bukan (Kurdistan), demolishing houses, uprooting flowers, and looting gold and valuable items. Similarly, throughout the uprising of 2022, cities like Sanandaj and Mahabad in Kurdistan endured prolonged sieges. Scenes of long breadlines, electricity, and internet disruptions, citizen movement restrictions, nighttime patrols, martial law declarations, and the destruction and burning of forests and pastures under the pretext of combating Kurdish parties, all mirror actions typically associated with occupiers in occupied territories. The removal of slogans promoting clandestine Kurdish political parties from walls, replaced instead with slogans supporting Khamenei, Hezbollah, and Khomeini, further solidifies this perception[11].

Historical oppression fosters deep-seated resentment against colonizers among the colonized, which inevitably resurfaces at certain points in historical processes, disrupting the complacency of the colonizers. The Algerians’ enduring anger towards the French, vividly depicted in Gillo Pontecorvo’s iconic film “The Battle of Algiers,” exemplifies this sentiment. History reproduces itself in other geographies; Reports emerging from Kurdistan and Baluchistan, coupled with the severe military crackdowns on peripheral populations, evoke images reminiscent of the French colonial presence in Algeria documented in historical archives. The Bloody Friday of Baluchistan recalls the bloody massacre of 200 unarmed Algerian demonstrators supporting Algeria’s national independence on October 17, 1961, in Paris, where they were brutally beaten by French police forces and thrown into the Seine River[12]. Without forgetting that this is not the first time that peripheral provinces such as Kurdistan or Baluchistan have been targeted for racially motivated suppression by the Islamic regime; in the uprisings that occurred in the years 2017 or 2019, the apparatus of repression has consistently intensified in peripheral areas of the country[13]. The city of Javanroud in Kurdistan is just one example of the peripheral regions in the country that have experienced severe and bloody suppression in each of the mentioned uprisings[14].

Drawing from these historical realities, it can be asserted that multifaceted resistance against diverse forms of discrimination constitutes the fundamental distinction between the origins of struggles in the center and the periphery. This has also influenced the women’s movement: for the oppressed nations in Iran as this uprising against tyranny simultaneously takes the form of an “anti-colonial” movement, where citizens who have been reduced to semi-colonized subjects by their national government emphasize the necessity of decolonial and anti-racist struggles to achieve decentralization in the country. This inclination is so pronounced in some areas that certain activists from the periphery perceive Jin. Jiyan. Azadi uprising not just as a feminist movement but as a struggle to abolish national-ethnical-racial oppressions.

From the perspective of oppressed communities, this quasi-colonial relationship is characterized by the cultural superiority of the Persian-Shiite group on one side and the economic privileges of the center relative to the periphery on the other. Marginalized peoples, whose culture has been consistently disparaged as “uncivilized” and “backward” compared to the linear progress of capitalist development, have been relegated to a role of cheap labor and an additional population through assimilation and inappropriate economic development policies, often spearheaded by individuals from the central regions of the country. In essence, oppressive relations have affected everyone in the country, but their intensity has varied across geographical regions. In peripheral areas, oppression has intensified alongside quasi-colonial relationships, resulting in the cultural degradation of minority groups and their further marginalization in Iran.

Historically, the centralized government in Iran has enforced a policy of “cultural assimilation” through coercion, aiming to integrate into the global political economy on one hand and to facilitate the (neo)liberal economic agenda, which necessitates destabilizing a segment of the population (specifically, non-Persian non-Shiites), on the other[15]. In this context, “assimilation into the central culture” in Iran often leads to the pursuit of a “culture of poverty” for the marginalized, making it difficult to interpret without considering its economic and political dimensions. However, the struggle against “quasi-colonial state relations” from the perspective of peripheral populations is also a fight against the culture of poverty in these regions. This struggle is reproduced intergenerationally and, therefore, cannot be understood solely through identity[16]. Thus, neither quasi-colonial policies nor anti-colonial resistance have ever been purely about identity; instead, they have always been accompanied by significant class-based consequences that should not be omitted from analyses.

Cultural suppression should be viewed as integral to the dictatorial nationalist machinery in a similar vein; the “dominant culture” endeavors to shape new subjects among marginalized communities by imposing itself, subjugating their self-defined identities, and resistance efforts. In this regard, cultural struggle, as articulated by Frantz Fanon, can be regarded as a means to forge a new narrative for a nation, intertwined with tangible and pragmatic resistance—a pathway to decolonize all facets of societal existence, rather than merely a quest for “identity,” as some intellectuals may perceive it.

Therefore, when discussing the motivations behind the recent protesters’ active participation in the uprising, we cannot overlook factors such as condemning exploitation, quasi-colonial encounters, and expropriations, as well as social, political, and economic discrimination that perpetuate instability, poverty, degradation, racism, and so forth. In the participation of women in peripheral areas, there is an excess compared to their counterparts in the center: for them, this is not only a rebellion against the male-dominated dictatorship but also an uprising against an occupying state and, according to some, against colonization. They are perceived not solely as ‘women’ but primarily as ‘Baluchi women’ or ‘Kurdish women,’ and many are seen as ‘non-Persian women from the outskirts.’ Baluchi women, who symbolically hung themselves with bloody hands and a noose around their necks in Zahedan (December 15, 2022), shouted, ‘How long will this oppression last? Baluch genocide, how long?‘ evokes the memory of a century of suppressing non-Persian, non-Shiite nations, accompanied by deep economic inequalities, into the political history of the country.

However, a portion of this multifaceted and intersecting puzzle often goes unnoticed: some intellectuals from the center tend to forget that these women attach as much importance to national oppression as they do to gender-class oppression. Similarly, some male-patriarchal currents in the margins also prefer to read the importance of fighting against gender oppression for marginalized women active in the Jina uprising solely in the shadow of national-class oppression.

In reality, national minorities are perceived as potential threats to the nationalist-Shiite facade of the government, while women are viewed as potential threats to its Islamic aspect. They are considered the primary adversaries of the authoritarian class-military regime of the Islamic Republic. However, women who simultaneously challenge both, often from peripheral regions, confront the assumed primary danger and, consequently, bear the brunt of the most severe suppressions. Zoleykha Tarzi, an 88-year-old impoverished Baluchi migrant woman killed by the regime’s military forces during the ‘Bloody Friday,’ epitomizes this form of multiple oppression[17]. This aligns precisely with what Patricia Hill Collins, an African American scholar, termed the ‘matrix of domination,’ which differs significantly from the suppressive gender relations imposed in the center. Human rights frameworks fall short for this reason, as reducing marginalized women to passive victims or statistics without substance fails to elucidate the intersecting oppressions they endure and disregards this profound matrix of oppression. Therefore, advocating solely for the slogan of ‘woman*, life, freedom’—as a minimal rather than maximal slogan—is insufficient to demonstrate the commitment of human rights groups or the opposition to the Islamic regime’s emancipatory ideals. Depending on the forces that wield it and their own ideological agendas, this slogan can acquire either progressive or regressive connotations.

Hence, the 2022 Jina uprising for women of oppressed nations-ethnicities signifies not only a revolt to reclaim history but also an endeavor not just for today but to summon a ‘colonial suppressive past’ and ‘construct a decolonial and more inclusive future.’ In clearer terms, the primary battle revolves around ‘history’: while the present moment holds significance for those in the center, for those who have experienced semi-colonial relations, the past and the future are as pivotal as the present. By the way, the discourse regarding the nature of the alternative envisioned to replace the Islamic dictatorship is an indispensable and vital necessity for people in the periphery, whereas, for central actors, it assumes secondary importance. This discrepancy underscores the difference between the intersectional perspective of the periphery and the linear perspective of the center more starkly than ever.

Center-Periphery as a Class Issue

The relationship between the center and the periphery emerged as a prominent pillar of the political and social landscape of the Islamic Republic in the Jina uprising. The role of exploited classes in the revolutionary upheaval of Jin. Jiyan.Azadi for all is evident. The question then is how to inclusively define the class composition of the protesters and delineate the practical and material possibilities and limitations of class dynamics. Specifically, how does the importance of class in the periphery get articulated and entangled with the structural mediators of national oppression?

The center-periphery relationship is often discussed in terms of “identity” and “culture,” as a “partial” and “self-contained” issue detached from broader social relations within the Islamic Republic. In this section however, we intend to challenge this perception by bringing forth the mediations of class relations specific to the periphery and highlighting the excesses of class struggles in the periphery to some extent.

Upon closer examination of the sociological characteristics of the protesters and casualties in Kurdistan and Baluchistan, two active hubs of the movement, it becomes apparent that the majority hail from the exploited lower-class segments of society. Urban outskirts like Mahabad and Sanandaj have emerged as key protest epicenters in Kurdistan, with significant contributions from low-income villagers from Sardasht, Piranshahr, Orromieh, and surrounding areas, who have made substantial sacrifices in the uprising. In Baluchistan, the images and narratives surrounding the martyrs of bloody Friday paint a grim picture of political impoverishment. Videos released by the families of those slain in Kurdistan openly depict their modest working-class livelihoods. Furthermore, among the martyrs of this uprising are kolebars (cross-border porters) like Masoud Timouri, a 23-year-old father, and Tahsin Miri, a 46-year-old father of five. Additionally, there are child laborers, often without identity cards, who have lost their lives in Baluchistan, along with laborers who were killed in Izeh, Lorestan[18]. Even after the initial fervor of the movement subsided, the Islamic regime continued to target proletarians and the marginalized, pushing them to the brink of death, as evidenced by the execution of three protesters from the Jina uprising in Tehran, all hailing from non-Persian working-class backgrounds. The Balouch feminist clandestine collective of Dasgoharani sheds light on the class composition of the protesters in Baluchistan in their writings:

“The statistics obtained so far from the casualties of that bloody Friday indicate that many of the victims did not even have identity cards, had a history of drug offenses, and suffered humiliation in the province’s prisons; they came from peripheral neighborhoods like Shahrabad. If we say it is one of the poorest and most deprived neighborhoods in the surrounding areas of Iran, we are not exaggerating.”[19]

We hear echoes of this sentiment in an interview conducted by the Kurdish Feminist Collective of Tavar with one of the active female protesters in the Jina uprising. When asked about the predominant demographic on the streets, 62-year-old Ra’na responded:

“…Without a doubt, the poors. At every gathering I’ve witnessed, whether in person or on television, all the people were poor—those who approached me with eyes burning from tear gas, all of them wearing tattered clothes. They were either welders, construction workers, or kolebars (cross-border porters). Believe me, I didn’t see a single wealthy person among them; they were all poor, destitute, and they were screaming in the street because of theire pain…”.[20]

The website “Bidaarzani” also highlights the active presence of lower-class individuals in specific neighborhoods in Tehran, such as Javadiyeh and Naziabad, as well as areas in Karaj, Islamshahr, Shahriar, and Niroogah Qom, in a text titled “The Roots and Demands of the Protesters in the Nationwide Movement of Jina.”[21] These areas are cited as locations where a significant number of non-Persian migrants (the surplus population in Marxist terms) have settled, grappling with issues like low-income employment, precarious work, and unemployment.

In both the center and the periphery, it is on these outskirts that people take to the streets, yet the intensity and severity of poverty and class disparity in the periphery are harsher and deeper. However, to comprehend the specific dynamics of class in the periphery, a step back is necessary, directing attention to the backdrop from which the protesters emerge.

Typically, the active peripheral cities in the uprising, such as Kurdistan, Baluchistan, Ilam, Izeh, and others, rank among the regions with the highest rates of unemployment and illiteracy nationwide. Economic crisis, insecurity, expropriation, domestication, securitization, destruction of subsistent and autonomous economies, supremacy of entirely male-dominated occupations, and even forms of modern slavery, along with the emergence of hazardous occupations like fuel smuggling, cross-border portering, and hunting, characterize labor and the working class in peripheral areas, perpetually threatened with state-sponsored violence.

The predominant composition of the working class in contemporary capitalism, contrary to classical assumptions, is not industrial but rather consists predominantly of informal labor forces and precarious workers. In Baluchistan, most executions occur under the pretext of drug offenses, even though the arrested individuals are often not the actual owners of the smuggled goods. They resort to these activities due to poverty, water scarcity, dwindling employment in agriculture and animal husbandry, and reduced household income. Lack of legal representation, illiteracy, and lack of proficiency in the Persian language result in harsh sentences[22]. In Kurdistan and Lorestan, the absence of material infrastructure undermines trade, industry, and agriculture, leading to a rapid increase in marginalized classes. Therefore, high unemployment rates, proliferation of underground economies, and precarious employment in peripheral regions are directly linked to the lack of job opportunities, the security policies of the Islamic Republic towards the periphery, and discrimination in the limited available job opportunities. In the central regions of the country, the suburbs of major cities share the most economic similarities with peripheral areas, with the distinction that they experience less security pressure and racialized discrimination.

The profound class disparities and pervasive poverty in both central and peripheral regions have contributed to the divergence in demands and slogans among the participants in the Jina uprising. The radicalism observed in peripheral regions, which has also influenced the broader nationwide protest movement in Iran, is closely tied to the class status of these areas and the heightened violence perpetrated by the government against activists and citizens, both Persian and non-Persian alike. The socio-economic conditions in marginalized and peripheral areas have emboldened them to take to the streets with greater courage and radicalism, driven by having less to lose. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the inscription at the entrance to hell reads, “Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” Marx likened this to the message capitalists convey to workers at the gates of factories. However, Marx himself illustrated how these threatened workers, facing existential challenges from capital, could potentially play a revolutionary role in effecting liberating change. Similarly, the exploited people in the marginal regions of Iran find themselves in a position where they could play a pivotal role in instigating social change.

Amidst conditions where Kurdish and Baluchi governments have transformed these regions into social purgatories, their inhabitants, as the primary victims of the military-Islamic-class dictatorship, have emerged as the foremost revolutionary forces in the Jina uprising, bolstering the movement’s class-based and equality-oriented dimensions. Participants in Baluchistan and Kurdistan have not only emphasized “freedom” but also championed the slogan of “equality”. This underscores how the involvement of peripheral regions, predominantly inhabited by non-Persian people, offers an opportunity to highlight the egalitarian aspects of the movement and continually underscores the necessity of adopting a materialist-historical and class-based perspective in its analysis.

It’s crucial to acknowledge that the military-neoliberal regime in Iran utilizes class exploitation through the border regime with Afghanistan, gender differentiation, and ethnic-national discrimination. This mirrors how capitalism in Western nations perpetuates economic exploitation through the differentiation and marginalization of non-white immigrants. Essentially, the relationship between the center and the periphery shapes class dynamics and imbues them with distinct characteristics. In other words, the relationship between the center and the periphery mediates class relations and imparts unique characteristics to it. It seems that there is more social potentiality in the periphery (and the feminism emerging from it) compared to the center, primarily for confronting the naked politics of the dominant class or right-wing alternatives that deny the issue of social justice altogether. Additionally, periphery-based feminism, by highlighting both class struggle and the fight against Pan-Iranian racism, plays a pivotal role in challenging dominant colonial feminist narratives in the country.

Feminists from the periphery in Iran advocate for greater attention to the everyday experiences of marginalized communities through a political-economic lens in understanding gender dynamics and social reproduction crises. They stress the interconnectedness of political, economic, and social realms more prominently than others, with a particular emphasis on marginal perspectives[23].

Hence, for the feminist movement to gain momentum and assume a central role in future protests by uniting the aspirations and concerns of diverse classes, ethnicities, and communities, it must draw strength from marginalized feminists. Their lived experiences on the margins offer them epistemic privileges and political insights, potentially enabling them to foster an inclusive, class-based decolonial perspective that transcends elitism. Consequently, examining class dynamics in peripheral regions serves as a catalyst for reframing the narrative of domination power, portraying the margins not merely as victims but as a potent political force and a locus of tension where the antagonist interests within the nationwide movement come to the fore.

The lived material experience and the exploited classes, especially those who live in the border regions, can even expand the cognitive possibilities of the nationwide movement. Those raised in border areas often possess a more nuanced, fluid, hybrid understanding of identity, readily embracing transculturalism and acknowledging multiple identities as a tangible reality shaped by their everyday life circumstances. In fact, many Kurds, Arabs, and Baloch individuals, enriched by diverse material backgrounds, grasp that the notion of “Iranian identity” often promoted within the confines of a Persian-Shiite framework primarily serves as a tool of oppression, representing the interests of the country’s bourgeoisie. Consequently, in peripheral regions, the “three-color flag” historically symbolizes the centralization of power by dictatorial regimes (both monarchical and Islamic) and embodies oppression. Conversely, in central regions, it serves as a unifying emblem of the “shared identity” of Iranians. This divergence underscores the absence of a consensus on “Iranian identity” as the predominant identity, with many in the periphery identifying first and foremost as Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Arab, Baloch, Lur, etc., before considering themselves Iranian. During the Jina uprising, images of burning the three-color flag circulated in Kurdistan and Baluchistan, reflecting a profound sense of estrangement from it. For these individuals, the notion of a “common identity” is intrinsically linked to the erasure of their history and culture, perpetuating the exploitation and impoverishment of millions of oppressed ethnic-national minorities.

In such circumstances, strengthening mutual trust can be achieved through the recognition of fluid, multiple identities that peripheral regions have prioritized in their cognitive approach. This entails distancing oneself from homogenizing and oppressive definitions that uphold “Iranian identity” as the sole legitimate one. Sexual minorities are another marginalized group that can offer theoretical and political possibilities to challenge heteronormative binaries within the movement. Their contributions can foster the fluidity of the nationwide movement, allowing it to transcend center-periphery binaries within normative frameworks. Drawing inspiration from non-binary and hybrid sexual identities, the movement can embrace polycentrism in its agenda. This aspect of polycentrism will be explored further in the second part of this note, to be published later.



[1] ASGHARZADEH Alireza, Iran and the challenge of diversity: Islamic fundamentalism, Aryanist racism, and democratic struggles, Springer, 2007.

[2] Rostampour, Somayeh. “Hiérarchies au sein des mouvements féministes en Iran. Marginalisation des femmes des minorités ethniques dans la production féministe académique et militante.” Genre, sexualité & société Hors-série n° 4 (2023).

[3] If we point out only a few factors, the dominance of a positivist approach in the social sciences and the prevalence of a homogenizing discourse rooted in constitutional and religious laws have hindered a comprehensive understanding of the diversity within Iranian society. Refer to Tawfiq Ebrahim’s work, “Societal Transition and Postcolonial Discourse: Reflections on the Crisis of Social Sciences in Iran,” Iranian Journal of Social Sciences, (2011)

[4]Sense of Belonging to Iran Among Iranian Ethnicities, Authors: Seyyed Samad Beshti, Mohammad Haqmoradi, Published in the Journal of Applied Sociology, Autumn 2017, Volume 28, Number 3. Ghaderzadeh, Omid, and Mohammazadeh, Hossein. (2018). “Survey Study of Ethnic Nationalism and Nationalization of Kurdish Identity in Iran.” Strategic Research on Social Issues in Iran (Strategic Research on Security and Social Order), Volume 7, Number 1. Alos, “Dasgouharan,” in a text titled “Why is the Chabahari Girl our Code Name?” is a group consisting of active female Baloch activists inside the country. They declared their existence during the revolutionary uprising of Jina on the fifteenth of Mehr month in the year 1401.

[5] In the revolutionary Fridays of Baluchistan, we have repeatedly heard revolutionary slogans against both the Shah and the Sheikh (such as “Neither Monarchy nor Leadership, Democracy and Equality”). In Kurdistan, often depicted in Iran’s dominant cinema as a “backward geography,” people shouted: “Kurd and Baluch, Azeri, freedom and equality.” Even the slogan “Long Live Socialism” echoed, and mosque loudspeakers played revolutionary Kurdish songs. This very phenomenon highlights the propagandistic, political, colonial, and imaginative dimensions of gendered and racist normative attitudes, pushing them to the forefront of the periphery more than ever before. Meanwhile, the monarchist banners, seemingly “modern,” in the streets of Europe, America, and Australia, were shouting gendered slogans like “Vegetable pilaf with fish…” and “Lentil pilaf with neck…”, not hesitating to employ various racist and regressive slogans and reproduce the overall discourse of the oppressive regime by using divisive language and more.

[6] Women from lower socioeconomic classes in the outskirts of the country, with less social capital (fame, internet access, social networks, rents), economic capital (assets, inheritance, capital), and cultural capital (education, mastery of various languages, arts, skills), have rarely been in the public eye. Therefore, their images are published later and less frequently. For example, it took 53 days for the image of Hasti Naroui, a seven-year-old Baluchi child who was killed, to be published. Many female prisoners from non-middle-class backgrounds, especially in non-central regions, have remained anonymous. The detained protesting women in the outskirts of Tehran, especially in the Shahr-e Rey area, either have not had physical court sessions, or their trials have been briefed and conducted via video conference or phone. In some cases, judgments have been issued without holding a court session. In these virtual courts, often of low quality due to internet issues, many have received two-year prison sentences, without these verdicts receiving significant media coverage.

[7] ELLING Rasmus Christian, Minorities in Iran: Nationalism and ethnicity after Khomeini, Springer, 2013. For the topic of “The Dissolution of Development State in the Global Capital,” refer to the following article by Morteza Samanpour:

[8] When a “social group” (Persians) transforms into a “nation” with the intervention of colonial powers and, thereby, gains privileges at the cost of the deprivation and exclusion of other social groups (oppressed nations), the latter group does not necessarily passively accept this situation. Oppressed national groups emphasize and insist on their “nationality” equally, aiming to eliminate unfair and unequal relations. Consequently, they view the central government as an occupier or colonizer. This has occurred, at least, in Kurdistan.


[10] Ismail Shahbakhsh, the uncle of Farzad Shahbakhsh, one of the casualties of the bloody Friday in Zahedan, refers to a video: “For what crime did you shoot? If it’s because of stone-throwing, then according to this logic, in occupied Palestine, not a single Palestinian should be alive, neither a man nor a woman, those whose stone-throwing is always broadcast on the Islamic Republic television.”

[11] “After the occupation, massacre, corpse stealing, kidnapping protesters, and destroying homes, they leave colonial signs on the walls to impose their hegemony by force and intimidation. What have the Nazis done in Poland, Americans in Vietnam, Iraqis in Khorramshahr, and Israelis on the western coast? The Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards also introduced themselves more than ever as occupiers in Kurdistan during the Jina uprising. Of course, being buried in the occupied landmarks is the end of any occupation,” as mentioned in the following link:


[13] Rostampour, Somayeh. “Clivages ethniques au sein du mouvement protestataire iranien: À l’encontre du mythe «Une nation, Un État 1».” Multitudes 2 (2021): 112-119

[14] To learn more about what has happened in Javanroud, refer to the report titled “Investigative Report on the Crimes of the Islamic Republic in the City of Javanroud: The Fire of War Ruling over Empty Hands and the Ramparts of People’s Wrath,” published by the Kurdistan Human Rights Network.

[15] Cultural expulsion, through assimilationist nationalist policies, has practically resulted in their exclusion from the core structure of the country’s formal economy. This has paved the way for the growth of the informal (often criminal) economy and increased economic exploitation of these communities. In this context, the state’s oppressive and quasi-colonial relationship has extended to social and economic levels, reinforcing a relationship based on exploitation and discrimination. In such conditions, oppressed nations have always faced the binary choices of either “assimilation into the dominant external culture” or “nationalism” as two existing solutions for crises such as unemployment, poverty, cultural marginalization, and a sense of alienation against the racist and repressive central government. The people of Iran have often preferred the latter option. When individuals are criminalized or killed for belonging to a nationality or ethnic minority (being Baluch, Kurdish, etc.), the survivors who are witnesses, by expressing their religion and respect for that identity, use it as a flag for resistance, essentially valuing that suppressed identity for the preservation of “life” against “death.” This reaction has been demonstrated by Algerians against the colonial French, Kurds against the discriminatory Turkish central government, Jews against the Nazis, and black individuals against racist white supremacists.

[16] Minority groups, such as those resisting forced assimilation, often choose to combat quasi-colonial state policies, even within the framework of non-Persian nationalism, as the most pragmatic solution to prevent the reproduction of the culture of poverty for future generations. They aim to ensure control over resources that will guarantee the future of people in peripheral regions by putting them in the hands of the “locals.” However, experiences from successful anti-colonial movements, including those in Africa, Latin America, and even in places like Iraqi Kurdistan, have shown that as long as the “locals” represent the local bourgeoisie, they may remain dependent on external colonizers and imperialists. They may continue to prioritize corruption or familial relationships or monopolize existing resources, making it difficult to pave the way for the majority of the colonized people to escape the culture of poverty. Nevertheless, not all anti-colonial movements are destined to follow this path. Just as the failure of Soviet socialism does not mean that the anti-class struggle has become meaningless or necessarily led to Stalinism, the failure of dominant anti-colonial movements in promoting an emancipatory and collective political agenda does not imply that the fight against various forms of colonialism and efforts to reclaim control over local resources are futile or will inevitably lead to the dominance of identity-centric, corrupt liberal nationalism.

[17] She was an Afghan citizen who had been living in Baluchistan with a temporary residence permit for years. However, security forces threatened her family, stating that if they publicly announced her death, the family’s residence permit would not be renewed, and they would be deported to Afghanistan under Taliban control. For this reason, her identity and photo were not disclosed until 72 days after her death. She is not alone; many Baluchi women lack identification documents and are deprived of proper education. When they are murdered, it takes weeks for their photos to be released (if it becomes newsworthy at all)

[18] Daniel Paybandi is just one of several student laborers who was killed at the age of 17 on November 25th in Saqqez. Iman Behzadpour is another laborer who was killed in Sanandaj. This list is ongoing.

[19] Dasgoharani in a text titled: “Why is the Chabahari Girl Our Code Name?




[23] Feminists, through working with women in the marginalized neighborhoods of major cities or on the outskirts of small towns, particularly focusing on the issue of violence against women, have been more proactive than others in considering economic and class factors in their analyses of gender. For this reason, in recent years, numerous feminist texts on feminist political economy have been translated or even authored, indicating the movement’s special attention to this subject.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *