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Kurdish national liberation movement activist Kajal Mohammadi urges the international community to support the Kurdish struggle for the democratization of Iran. She explains that Iran is a state made up of various ethnic and religious groups and the government in the country should reflect this fact.

Iranian Kurdish women wearing traditional dress

Iranian Kurdish women wearing traditional dress Photo Credit: EPA

Iran, a country with an estimated 70 million people, is racially, religiously and linguistically diverse. Millions of individuals from different racial, religious and linguistic nationalities and background have for centuries resided in what is now known as Iran. These national groups include; Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis and Persians, as well as religious minorities such as Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha’is, Ahl-e-Haq, Sunni Muslims and non-believers.

Persians make up around 51% half of the population, and yet they have dominated and monopolized every aspect of social, political, economy and cultural institutions and government since the creation of the Iran nation-state in the 1920s. They have, throughout this time period, emphasized and implemented a Persian and Shi’ia nature of the state. The official state religion is Shi’ia Islam and its language is Persian. All government business and public instruction, education, media and publication is conducted in this language.

Over the past 500 years since the battle of Chaldarin between the Safavid Empire and the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds of Iran have constantly struggled against the hegemony of Isfahan, the old capital city of Iran and Tehran, the current capital city. The Kurds have since the partition of their homeland resisted the occupying force of Iran and called for peaceful negotiation, and resolution to the Kurdish national struggle and question. This call has been suppressed and ignored.

In 1979, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI), being one of the main political organization, as well as others supported the Iranian nations’ revolution, which ended Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s monarchy and ruling over the country. The 1979 revolution, also known as the Islamic Revolution, marked the end of the Pahlavi dynasty under the ruling of Mohammad Reza Shah and resulted in the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran led by then Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1979-1989). The Islamic Republic of Iran is a theocratic Republic with a Shiite Islamic political system based on “velayat-e faqih” [lit. ‘guardianship of the jurist’ or ‘rule by the jurisprudent’]. The supreme leader, otherwise known as Rahbar, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (1989-present) has ultimate control over key power structures and institutions from the legislative and executive branches of government to the judiciary, state-run media, armed forces and other key social, political, and economic institutions in the country.

Due to the power vacuum, the Kurds and the PDKI managed to control the entire North-West of Kurdistan in “a state of de facto autonomy” administered by the PDK-I Peshmerga. The Kurds rejected the regime’s constitution referendum and instead called for the establishment of democracy in the country. However, this call was reportedly rejected and the Kurds were accordingly subjected to mass killings, violence, destruction of homes and environment and the militarization of Kurdistan. The Kurds did not lay down their arms and protected the people of Kurdistan, who had come under direct attack of the regime forces in the hundreds of thousands marching towards Kurdistan and carrying out mass killings along the way.

Iranian Kurdish woman making traditional bread

Iranian Kurdish woman making traditional bread Photo Credit: EPA

Khomeini called on the Kurdish opposition armed groups in Kurdistan to lay down their weapons and join the revolutionary forces. When the Kurds refused he declared jihad, a holy war, against the Kurdish political organizations in the west on August 17, 1979, and accused them of Mehraba (roughly translated into ‘anonymity against God’). Khomeini further labeled the PDKI the “Party of Satan,” and Ghassemlou, the Secretary-General of the PDKI, as the enemy of Iran and the corruptor on Earth, thereby sanctioning mass murder and violence against the Kurds.

When the Kurds continued to press for more political and cultural autonomy and were persistent in their demonstrations and demands for more rights and the democratization of the country, the regime accused them of “seeking an independent state,” which was used by the government as a justification to carry out more violence. Thousands in Sna began to sit in and Khomeini ordered the revolutionary guard to move to Sna at once and do whatever necessary to suppress the Kurds. Helicopter gunships, phantoms jets, tanks and artillery were accordingly used to attack the towns and villages in Kurdistan. Khomeini ordered Mohammad Sadeq Givi Khalkhali, known as the “hanging judge” to go to Kurdistan and bring the protests and uprisings under control. Khalkhali is said to have sentenced and ordered mass execution of hundreds of innocent civilians and activists alike. Many of these summary executions were carried out in the public and machine guns are reported to have been used by the regime forces.

The Iran regime has employed systemic discriminatory and oppressive policies and practices when dealing with the Kurdish nation in all aspects of government and all its institutions including education, polity and economic. Kurdish names are still not registered and Kurdish language is still not taught in schools even though the Iran constitution guarantees the diverse nationalities in the country this right.

Hundreds of Kurdish civil, labor, ideological and political activists are detained and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences and executed without fair trail and even representation on a yearly basis. The regime treats Kurdistan as a colony for cheap labor, resources and kills innocent young and old men trying to provide for their families working on the borders. Kurdish political organizations are still banned and any sign of support and even empathy towards them lands one in prison and even killed.

Kurdish men work near the village of Sekanian Sheik Bakh

Kurdish men work near the village of Sekanian Sheik Bakh Photo Credit: EPA

Accordingly, the Kurds’ struggle for freedom, democracy, self-governance and even access to social and political representation and fair representative in the country is silenced and denied. Any claims to any social, political, economic rights and equal partnership in government is perceived and received as challenging the country’s territorial integrity; and is therefore subjected to repression. The international community must take a firm stand against this oppressive and suppressive state and support the Kurds in their struggle for the democratization of the country.