Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani reacted Feb. 21 to the recent flaring of tensions between Gonabadi dervishes and security forces, saying he will not tolerate any violent behavior toward law enforcement officers.
Clashes between dervishes and security forces in Tehran reached a climax Feb. 19, when a supporter of the Gonabadi order reportedly rammed riot police with a bus, killing three officers. Two members of the Basij militia were also killed in separate but related incidents — one was rammed by a car while the other was stabbed to death.
The clashes led to the arrests of 300 dervishes and left 30 officers injured. According to some reports, three dervishes were also killed — though this was later denied by the semi-official ISNA news agency.
Members of the Gonabadi order adhere to the Sufi branch of Islam, though they adhere to Shiite beliefs. The name of the order is derived from its base in the northeastern city of Gonabad. The recent clashes — one in a line of incidents over the years as the authorities periodically clamp down on the Sufis — erupted as a group of Gonabadi dervishes gathered in front of their grand master’s home in northern Tehran to protest the reported erection of a checkpoint in the neighborhood.
In reaction to the violence, Rouhani lauded the performance of the police, saying that the officers had shown “[well]-thought-out management [of the situation]” with “maximum tolerance.”
The Iranian president emphasized that while he respects all beliefs and thoughts and accepts the diversity of cultures and opinions, “violent behavior by any group is condemned.”
He added, “[We] will not tolerate violent behavior and insulting the police, which is the protector of order and security in society.”
After spiraling tensions and the deadly clashes, it seems that both sides have adopted a softer tone to achieve a resolution. Nour Ali Tabandeh, the Gonabadi grand master, issued a statement Feb. 20 expressing regret over the death of police and Basij forces.
He addressed his followers in his statement, saying their travel to Tehran to stage a protest was not right. “If you are worried about my health and you want to come to Tehran, [I should say] thank God I’m well and there is no concern about that. … [Do] not come to Tehran during this period,” Tabandeh said.
Adopting a conciliatory tone, Tabandeh added, “Fortunately, now that the country is in the hands of leaders who believe in God and the Prophet [Muhammad], it would be good if they attempt to eliminate the hostilities that can lead to these kinds of painful clashes.”
Seemingly addressing those reportedly among his followers who were behind the killing of the security personnel, Tabandeh noted, “Everyone should know that only those who observe Sharia and spiritual orders are considered dervishes, and they are the real dervishes.”
Adopting the same soft tone, Interior Minister Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli seemed to want to distance “real” Gonabadis from the violence, claiming on Feb. 21 that those who clashed with police were not dervishes.
He stated, “We know the dervishes as a wise, logical and moderate current. … We don’t attribute Monday’s events on Pasdaran Street to this current.”
The interior minister, however, added, “Those who are seeking to violate the law must not suppose that police forces’ tolerance, restraint and intelligence are due to their passivity. Despite all the plans [those seeking to incite violence] had, they [the police] attempted to solve the issue with negotiations and talks, but unfortunately, those who were [trying to sabotage the situation] weren’t seeking to observe the law and engage in cooperation with police forces and weren’t willing to negotiate at all, and resorted to illegal and violent activities.”
He continued, “Eventually, police forces managed to arrest those who were there in 15 minutes and refer them to the judiciary.”