Iranian regime intensifies its campaign to lure Afghan immigrants to fight in SyriaSep 6th, 2016
Iranian regime intensifies its campaign to lure Afghan immigrants to fight in Syria
Hassan Dai*, September 6, 2016
For the past several months, the Iranian regime has been carrying out a large-scale public campaign to justify its military intervention in Syria and reinvigorate the regime’s ideological base that seems shaken by the Syrian quagmire. This campaign specifically targets Afghan immigrants who provide the majority of recruits for the “Fatemiyoun” Division, the Afghan unit of Iran’s Quds Force fighting in Syria. The Fatemiyoun Division was founded in 2013 and is estimated to have around 12,000 members, 400 of whom have been killed in Syria.
This campaign seems crucial for the Iranian regime as it is bogged down in Syria and in desperate need of more fighters for its war machine. However, the dramatic increase in Fatemiyoun causalities in recent months has made it more difficult for the Quds Force to find new recruits amongst the Afghan community. Furthermore, numerous Western media reports on the Iranian regime luring impoverished Afghans to Syria by paying them money and promising social and legal protection for their families have tarnished the regime’s Syrian campaign in general and the Fatemiyoun’s standing in particular.
It should be noted that the Fatemiyoun Division consists of two distinct categories of fighters; its commanders and high ranking members are predominantly Afghan members of the Quds Force and Shiite fanatics loyal to the Iranian regime’s ideology. But the majority of Fatemiyoun members are impoverished Afghans, mainly immigrants in Iran. According to recent figures, of the three million Afghans living in Iran, only one million have legal immigration status, making the other two million, illegal immigrants. They live under extremely harsh economic conditions and are constantly subjected to discrimination, ridicule and abuse, making them desperate and their situation dire enough to enable the Iranian regime to take advantage by recruiting them as manpower for its war campaign in Syria.
In May, the Supreme Leader received some of the families of the Afghans killed in Syria with the meeting being broadcast on national TV. More recently, Ghassem Soleimani the chief commander of the Quds Force visited the family of one of the Fatemiyoun commanders who was killed in Syria in 2015. Several high profile TV programs have also been dedicated to the families of Fatemiyoun members.
A large number of documentaries and video clips have been produced to honor the Afghan “martyrs” and their families. They feature the ideological commanders and members of the Fatemiyoun in an attempt to present a positive image of them as devoted Shiites who have volunteered to fight in Syria to defend their faith. A TV program featured a religious figure of the Afghan immigrants in Iran who defended the Fatemiyoun and their members claiming they sacrifice their lives to defend Islam.
The Iranian regime has also been trying to repair the damage caused by the revelation that a number of Afghans killed in Syria have been buried without being identified. The burials have taken place in the absence of government or military officials and without appropriate rituals dedicated to the martyrs. The issue became more contentious for the regime after a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards publicly denounced these practices and pointed to the burial of 28 “unidentified” Afghans. The regime has now begun organizing public funerals and religious ceremonies for the Afghan martyrs who did not have family members in Iran.
In order to encourage the Afghan community to enlist for the Syrian war campaign, the Iranian regime has also announced a series of legal and social incentives for the families of the Fatemiyoun members killed or injured in Syria. The family members will be granted Iranian citizenship even if they have been living in Iran as illegal aliens. The families will be covered by the “Foundations of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs”, providing them with a wide range of social and financial privileges including living expenses, housing and health insurance. The children will be accepted to a special educational program dedicated to the families of martyrs that provides them with opportunities to study in good schools and places them in the quota to enter the best universities across the country.
*Hassan Dai is an investigative journalist and political analyst specialized in Iranian regime activities in the Middle East and pro-Iran activities in the West. He is the editor of Iranian American Forum.