Assyrians are among the oldest settled groups in modern-day Iran, but their numbers have dwindled due to targeted persecution, including the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Genocide of 1915. Hundreds of thousands of Assyrians were killed or expelled from the region during the genocide. Prior to the Islamic Revolution (1979), Assyrians in Iran numbered approximately 200,000. Today, it is estimated that under 50,000 remain, the majority of them residing in Tehran. It is estimated that less than 15,000 Assyrians remain in the historic Assyrian city of Urmia, located in northern Iran.
Protection of religious freedom.
Despite the fact that Iran's Constitution provides for the protection of religious freedom "within the limits of the law," Assyrians and other Christian groups face religious persecution and discrimination in Iran. Church have been raided, closed down, and Christian leaders have been imprisoned, and in some cases, sentenced to death. Evangelical Christians in particular are targeted and often detained, charged as threats to national security. According to Minority Rights Group International, by the end of 2016, around 90 Christians were reportedly in detention awaiting trial on account of their religious beliefs.
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the Iranian Government has not granted a single license for the establishment of a new church organization or permitted the construction of any church building.
All women are required by law to wear the Islamic headscarf in public, including Assyrians and other non-Muslim women.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Hold the Iranian Government accountable for its mistreatment of ethnic and religious minorities. Pressure Iranian leaders into compliance with international human rights standards and the unconditional release of Christians wrongly imprisoned for their faith. Continue to raise consistently religious freedom concerns at high-level bilateral meetings with Iranian leaders. Coordinate with other diplomatic missions and foreign delegations, including the UN and European Union, about human rights advocacy in meetings with the country's officials.
Achieving full participation for Assyrians in civil and political life.
Violation of Assyrian rights in Iran are part of a wider, well-documented context of human rights violations by Iran, and continue due to their lack of political power and influence.
Islam continues to be central to many aspects of civil and political life in Iran. Iranian citizens seeking public sector employment or professional advancement, as well as those pursuing higher education, are subject to rigorous ideological screenings as part of the Gozinesh process, through which they are assessed regarding their loyalty and commitment to Islam and Iran. The Gozinesh process has the effect of barring ethnic and religious minorities from full participation in civil life, and impairs equality of opportunity in employment. Assyrians and other non-Muslims who "fail" these screenings are excluded from certain positions, such as university teaching positions.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Support measures to end discriminatory practices that limit the participation of Assyrians and other minoritized groups in society; ensure that all disadvantaged ethnic groups, including Assyrians, have equal access to employment, education, and political office; increase the representation of minority ethnic groups in government offices and political positions.
Protection of Assyrian property rights.
All minoritized communities in Iran, including Assyrians, have been subject to illegal land seizures for decades. For example, in 2014, Iranian authorities confiscated land belonging to the Assyrian community's Chaldean Catholic Church in Tehran with plans to convert it into a mosque. Despite appeals from the only Assyrian representative in parliament, the land was not returned. More recently, Iranian officials confiscated valuable property belonging to Iran's largest Protestant Christian group. Ownership deeds have been transferred to the Headquarters for Implementation of the Imam's Decree, which operates under the supervision of the Supreme Leader, currently Ali Khameinei. It is not accountable to the government or parliament. Appeals Courts consistently uphold confiscation orders.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Pressure the Iranian Government to end land and property seizures targeting minoritized groups and return improperly expropriated properties to their rightful owners wherever possible.
Linguistic freedom for Assyrians and other minorities.
Although the Iranian Constitution permits the use of ethnic minority languages in media and literature, in practice authorities have placed strict limitations on the usage of languages other than Persian. Publications in languages other than Persian and ethnic minority cultural associations are repressed by Iranian authorities. The suppression of minority languages extends to schools, resulting in a lack of access of mother tongue education, especially at the primary level. The right to mother tongue education has never been formally recognized or guaranteed for Assyrians and other ethnic minority groups. Authorities also prohibit the use of ethnic minority languages in government institutions. Despite widespread reports of violations, Iranian officials maintain that members of ethnic and linguistic groups are are free to publish in and teach their own languages in their own schools.
Minoritized ethnic groups in Iran continue to be prohibited by civil registry officials from giving their children names in their own languages.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Press Iranian authorities to allow the Assyrian language and other minority languages to be taught in schools without restrictions. Support measures needed to facilitate children's access to mother tongue education at the primary and secondary education levels.
Ending economic neglect of minority-populated regions.
Areas inhabited by by large ethnic minority groups are disproportionately underdeveloped and disadvantaged compared to areas with a Persian-majority, resulting from historic neglect by the central government. Many members of underprivileged ethnic groups lack access to basic needs, including clean drinking water and healthcare. The uneven distribution of socioeconomic resources has led Assyrians and other minoritized groups living in poverty to share a widespread sense of discrimination and deprivation.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Urge the Iranian Government to distribute resources evenly, and allocate sufficient funding to minority-populated regions to reduce poverty and improve the quality of life.
Ending restrictions on freedom of speech.
Iran's violations of political and civil rights are well-documented. Iranian authorities have little tolerance for dissent, which often results in the arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, including members of minoritized ethnic and religious groups. Violation of fundamental rights of Assyrians and other minortized groups in Iran are part of a wider pattern of human rights violations in the country.
In numerous instances, members of minoritized communities have been arbitrarily imprisoned in response to their participation in peaceful advocacy or oppositional activity. Authorities often label minority activists as threats to national security and accuse them of separatism.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS: Press for and work to secure the unconditional release of peaceful critics, including ethnic and religious minority activists, as well as human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, and artists. Continue to raise consistently religious freedom concerns at high-level bilateral meetings with Iranian leaders. Coordinate with other diplomatic missions and foreign delegations, including the UN and European Union, about human rights advocacy in meetings with the country's officials.