Tabriz and its huge province of Azerbiajan were uneasily divided today between the followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and those who are staging a quiet revolt against central authority.
It has become clear that supporters of Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari, a rival to Khomeini, have already made a strong claim for Azerbaijan to win the same kind of autonomy that the Kurds are demanding. This province has a third of Iran's 35 million population.
Shariatmadari met with Revolutionary Council members today in the holy city of Qom, where two persons, including a bodyguard, were killed Wednesday in an attack on Shariatmadari's home that followed pro-Khomeini rallies.
Shariatmadari told reporters after the meeting that he and Khomeini both condemned the killings and "between us there is great friendship." Former prime minister Mehdi Bazargan, who was present at the meeting, is to come here Saturday in an effort to negotiate peace between the two sides.
In today's standoff here, Shariatmadari's followers held demonstrations and Khomeini's personal representative in Azerbaijan conducted a well-attended prayer meeting.
Later, Taher Ahmedzadeh, who recently resigned as governor of Khorassan Province, nearly 1,000 miles east, flew in to address a meeting defending Khomeini and attacking the pro-Shariatmadari forces as counterrevolutionary. The overflow crowd applauded Ahmedzadeh warmly.
The pressure by residents of Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking province fiercely loyal to Shariatmadari, for autonomy has increased Khomeini's problems with Iran's many and populous minorities.
In Baluchistan in the southeast, the Islamic Movement, the Baluchi Sunni Islamic political party, revealed it had issued an ultimatum to Khomeini three days ago asking for autonomy within one month on pain of unleashing an armed rebellion.
With Kurdistan to the west and south possibly on the verge of renewed fighting, sabotage and subversion continuing in oil-rich Khuzestan, and trouble brewing among the northeastern Turkomans, Khomeini seemed to be in no position to force an armed showdown.
The controversial new constitution apparently approved this week by referendum, which grants him virtually full powers, has further angered national minorities making up half Iran's population.
But in this city of 500,000, the momentum behind this quiet revolution was weakened by Shariatmadari's acceptance of Bazargan as mediator in the dispute.
Only last night, after the pro-Shariatmadari forces gained control of key government buildings included the radio and television station, Bazargan had accused the movement of being masterminded by suspect left-wing elements.
He was denounced on the radio here today as a "traitor" in commentaries. In the end, however, the local leadership of Shariatmadari's Moslem People's Republican Party was obliged to accept the ayatollah's own benediction of Bazargan.
Although party officals insisted, "we are in charge," they added, "We are obedient . . . . We are waiting for orders."
So far, they added, Shariatmadari's only orders had been "to keep calm and cool." Radio Tabriz announced earlier in the day that Khomeini and Shariatmadari had agreed yesterday in Qom on "far-ranging personnel changes" throughout the province.
Shariatmadari himself is reported to have said in Qom that Azerbaijan wants the same degree of auntonomy that the Kurds may negotiate with the central government. That is more than the normally ultracautious cleric had ever demanded in public.
Although the armed forces, police and Revolutionary Guards were clearly on the pro-Shariatmadari forces' side, there appeared to be little enthusiasm for cracking down on Khomeini's supporters.