Are Afghan refugees cannon fodder for the IRGC and the new "Artsakh Miatsum"?

14.09.23 15:00

Armenian nationalists do not hide their hope that in the new "great war" in the South Caucasus (which their revanchists are trying to ignite) Iran, represented by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), will fight on their side. With the help of the IRGC, they hope to take revenge and conquer "Artsakh".


But the Tehran regime, even if it decides to engage in armed aggression to help the "new Nagorno-Karabakh," may have problems motivating its military, a significant number of whom are ethnic Azeris who simply do not want to fight their brothers.


Therefore, the IRGC now faces the task of recruiting its units, which are supposed to help the Armenians in their "miatsum", as far away from Azerbaijan as possible. And it seems that they have such a "human resource" - Afghan refugees.


Just in the last few months, the Iranian authorities have suddenly become "kinder" to the Afghan refugees in the country. In August 2023, during a visit to Kabul by a delegation of deputies from Iran's Islamic Majlis and the Iranian Ministry of Health, Nur-Jalal Jalali, deputy head of the Afghan Taliban government's Ministry of Interior, thanked Iran for hosting Afghan refugees. He also said in this meeting that Iran has never used Afghan immigrants as a lever of political pressure against Afghanistan. But the Iranian authorities have used Afghans in other countries. In particular, the IRGC has Afghan units in Syria.


Meanwhile, international organizations have recently noted the discriminatory attitude towards Afghan refugees in Iran, as well as the arbitrariness of Iranian border guards, police and local authorities. There have been numerous cases of Iranian border guards beating and killing refugees during illegal attempts to cross the border.  


Iranian authorities have also recently, while keeping Afghan refugees in overcrowded camps near the eastern border, tried to prevent them from moving to the north and west of the country, restricting refugees to the eastern border provinces and allowing them to freely visit only the Shiite shrines in the cities of Mashhad and Ghum. Recently, however, all restrictions have been lifted and the number of Afghan refugees has increased significantly even in provinces where they were previously banned, such as Iranian Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Gilan.


The exact number of Afghan refugees in Iran is difficult to determine. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 3.6 million Afghan citizens migrated to other countries between 2021 and 2022 alone after the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, 70% of whom (2.48 million) migrated to Iran between 2021 and 2022. However, given that Afghanistan has been unstable before, and the flow of Afghan refugees to Iran has not stopped since the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979.


According to various estimates, there are between 4 and 5 million Afghan refugees in Iran. A small number of them have been "naturalized," given Iranian citizenship, and integrated into Iranian society. But a significant number of Afghans in Iran still live in refugee camps or in semi-legal and illegal situations.


According to analysts, given the fact that Iran has been experiencing a decline in birth rates for more than two decades, leading to a demographic crisis, it is refugees from Afghanistan, where the tradition of large families still exists, who are becoming Iran's "demographic donors". The total fertility rate in Iran fell below 2.1 in 2000, the level required for simple generational replacement, and in Tehran and provinces such as Gilan and Mazandaran it has now fallen to 1.1, lower than in most European countries.


Given the fact that Afghans who resettle in Iran tend to be people with low levels of education and no special professional skills, Afghan refugees become cheap labor. And given the extreme militarization of the Tehran regime, they are also cheap "cannon fodder" for such a structure as the IRGC.


A significant percentage of Afghan refugees in Iran are Hazaras, a people of Turkic-Mongol origin who have converted to the Iranian language and adhere to the Shiite religion. The Hazaras tend to be much more sincere and devout Shiites than a significant portion of the Persian population, whose religiosity has become largely formalized in recent times. This factor has long been used by the IRGC to recruit Afghan Shiite refugees, primarily Hazaras, for its operations outside Iran.


In 2014. In 2014, Iran formed the Liwa Fatimiyoun (Brigade of the Followers of Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad) from Afghan Hazara refugees. The organizer of "Liwa Fatimiyun", Ali Reza Tavassoli, was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and a confidant of one of the key figures of the IRGC and commander of the Iranian special unit "Al-Qods" Qasem Suleimani (later destroyed by the Americans).


The Hazara units, which have essentially become a "subsidiary PMC" of the IRGC, are still fighting in Syria.  The "Liwa Fatimiyoun" brigade numbers more than 20,000. Recruited mostly from Afghan refugee camps in eastern Iran, they are further trained and armed by the IRGC.


The Liwa Fatimiyoun Brigade has been involved in some of the fiercest fighting throughout its involvement in the Syrian conflict. This has resulted in heavy casualties.  In Aleppo and Deraa alone, at least 700 Afghans from this unit have been killed. The Hazaras have also distinguished themselves in other operations. On February 3, 2016, Syrian government forces broke the blockade of the Shiite-populated towns of Nubel and Al-Zahra (north of Aleppo province). Hezbollah and foreign Shiite formations, including the Hazara Liwa Fatimiyoun Brigade, were at the forefront of the offensive.


However, the IRGC appears to be actively recruiting not only Shiite Hazaras into its combat units. A significant percentage of the Afghan refugees in Iran are also Sunnis: Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Khar-Aymaqs, Baluchis, and others. Many of them are frankly poor in the refugee camps, so the prospect of "making money" in the IRGC may attract many. Not to mention the fact that the Afghan Taliban government continues its policy of discrimination against Shiite Hazaras. The number of Afghan refugees of this nationality in Iran is only increasing, which means that the IRGC has no problem recruiting them.


It is clear that the IRGC intends to add at least 20,000 Hazara Afghans from the battle-hardened Liwa Fatimiyoun Brigade to form even larger units of Afghan refugees for deployment on "new fronts. And some in Tehran clearly see Zangezur and Azerbaijani Karabakh as one of those "fronts.



Varden Tsulukidze

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