The religious leader of this Turkish-speaking area in northwest Iran warned the central government today that it faces civil war here if it fails to listen to his advice that it grant more self-rule.
"If the executive makes any more mistakes [by not listening to him]," Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari told reporters in his home in the holy city of Qom, "disturbances will continue, tensions will increase, people will start to kill each other and civil war will take place."
"If civil war does occur," he continued, "and I hope by the grace of God it does not, the Army will be divided and start fighting each other."
A civil war here could be disastrous for Iran. The provinces of East and West Azerbaijan hold the largest national minority in the country -- fully one-third of the Iranian population -- and greater disturbances her would inflame other already heated cries for more autonomy from the Kurds in Kurdistan, Arabs in Khuzestan and Baluchis in Baluchistan. National minorities make up half the population of Iran, which is governed almost entirely by Persians.
Tabriz was calm today, but at least seven persons have died in disturbances since Thursday, the day after a guard at Shariatmadari's house in Qom was shot by demonstrators. The demonstrators were protesting the cleric's views that the new constitution needs revisions, especially to provide more self-rule for national minorities and lessen the power of the clergy in the government.
But the Iranian finance minister and former foreign minister, Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, who is heading a mission here to bring peace between the Azerbaijanis who want more local control over the government and those who want to maintain strong central control from Tehran, dismissed Shariatmadari's warning with a light comment: "I hope we don't make any mistakes."
Later, Bani-Sadr added, "Shariatmadari would not be happy with a civil war. If Shariatmadari does not want a civil war, it will not occur. But if we take the hypothetical, and it does happen, the people will deal with it the same way they dealt with the small minority in the stadium today."
He was referring to a series of brief clashes between a small group of Shariatmadari supporters and a much larger group favoring the strong central rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The rally at a soccer stadium here was one of two appearances Bani-Sadr made today in an attempt to calm Tabriz. Although heavily advertised on radio and through fliers distributed in the streets, the rally drew less than 5,000 people -- a small crowd in this area. Most were supporters of the central government, and they held pictures of Khomeini and cheered loudly for Nureddin Gharavi, the governor general who was chased from his office Thursday night.
A minority of the crowd, however, caried pictures of Shariatmadari and hissed Bani-Sadr and the governor. Three times the smaller group thrust themselves like a flying wedge into the mass of the Khomeini supporters only to be pushed back. Finally, when Bani-Sadr spoke and they tried to drown out his speech with their shouts, the great bulk of the crowd decided it had had enough. They turned on the anti-Bani-Sadr group, giving chase in a brief melee that ended outside the stadium.
At a later press conference, Bani-Sadr accused Shariatmadari's Moslem People's Republican Party of organizing the demonstration against him and said, "Nothing is worse for a policical party than to resort to force to make its point."
Party spokesman denied this.
One spokesman added that the party wants to stop bloodshed and said individual members of the party are working with Bani-Sadr, Nonetheless, he called the peace mission "useless."
Meanwhile Khomeini tonight named former foreign minister Ibrahim Yazdi as a trouble-shooter to travel through the provinces and listen to popular complaints.
The significance of Yazdi's sudden return to grace was not immediately clear. He had been fired in effect at the outset of the hostage crisis in early November.
The two officials handling the most immediately explosive regional trouble spots are Bani-Sadr here in Azerbaijan and Dariush Foruhar in Kurdistan.
Some abservers woundered if Yazdi's appointment might signal Khomeini's realization that many Iranians throughout the country are increasingly dissatisfied.
Although wide differences still remain, a measure of calm appears to have retruned to Tabriz. The radio-television station and the governor general's offices are back in official hands. Tension remained, however, at the Moslem People's Republican party headquarters, where party workers were armed and said they feared an attack.
There was some justification for their fears. Party workers reported today that their headquarters in the town of Razariyeh, about four hours' drive from here, was destroyed in an attack last night and two workers were killed.
Bani-Sadr blamed the troubles here on two minority groups "which are showing themselves to be zealots"-- one side pretending to be on Khomeini's side, the other pretending to be on Shariatmadari's side.
"The majority of the people in Tebriz believe that Shariatmadari is the source of religious inspiration and they believe in the political leadership of Khomeini," he said.
Bani-Sadr suggested one way to defuse the situation is to end censorship of radio and television -- a swipe at a political foe, Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, who until last week ran the national radio and television system.
Radio and TV programming is a major issue here because Tabriz residents believe Shariatmadari is being deliberately kept off the air by Tehran authorities who want to squelch his views on the constitution and home rule.
Shariatmadari's warning about a possible civil war was echoed by a local doctor and a lawyer who are active in a movement to bring greater self-rule here.
"This is an opportunity for the central government to use this middle-of-the-road popular movement that wants nothing more than the right of home rule," said Ali Zari Nabaf, a lawyer here. "If it doesn't come forward with an accord, I'm afraid there will be an uprising led by leftist extremeists."