Analysis: Iran’s increased repression against the Kurds who are seeking independenceAfter Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani declared that he is seeking a referendum on independence, the Islamic Republic of Iran has increased their repression against the Kurds, both inside Iran and in neighboring countries.
While the international community is virtually silent on the issue in the wake of the nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a long brutal history of repressing the Kurds, both within their own country and in neighboring countries. In recent times, Iraqi Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has announced that he is seeking to hold a referendum for independence, where Iraqi Kurds would finally break away from Iraq and form their own independent country. In response to this development, the Islamic Republic of Iran has decided to take a series of measures recently both against Iraqi Kurds as well as against their domestic Kurdish population.
According to Kurdish journalist Rahim Rashidi, “In South Kurdistan, the Iranian regime has tried to create divisions and problems between different Iranian political entities living in the sanctuary. Some 500 Kurds from Eastern Kurdistan, including leaders and commanders, were murdered because of their association with the Eastern Kurdistan’s political parties active in Southern Kurdistan. Iran’s support for the Kurds in South Kurdistan is only tactical and to serve their objectives. Now that the Kurds are talking about a referendum for independence, Iran has once again begun its propaganda machine against the Kurd’s call for independence, naming it a Zionist plot and strongly opposing it. We know that Iran is the biggest enemy of the Kurds in the region and will do whatever is in its power to demean their struggle and sponsor terror and hostility in the various Kurdish regions in order to tell the international community that the Kurds cannot govern themselves.”
Rashidi noted that Kurds within Iran have endured over a century of repression that has resulted in the death of 50,000 Kurds, thousands being held as political prisoners, and other discriminatory measures that include denial of access to education in the Kurdish language, widespread economic injustice, denial of self-government, leaving 20 million mines throughout Kurdistan that systematically maim people to date, and other grave human rights abuses, such as the Iranian Border Police randomly killing Kurdish Kolber people trying to earn a living by carrying loads for sport. Given these grave injustices, Rashidi claims that the only reason the Islamic Republic of Iran has succeeded to maintain control in Kurdistan and the rest of the country was by remaining constantly at war with Iraq and he stressed that Iran’s recent moves against Iraqi Kurdistan should be viewed from this perspective: “Iranians getting close to the western border with Iraq and South Kurdistan creates devastation in the region. Currently, the Iranian economy is in ruins and if they continue the old policy of war, they may be responsible for another war in the west of the country that engulfs the Kurdish region of Iran and Iraq, weakens the South Kurdistan economy tremendously, and more importantly creates new terrorist organizations and logistically gets them closer to the Levant.”
Interestingly, in the framework of Iran seeking to create unrest in Kurdistan in order to bring moves for independence to a halt, an Iraqi Kurdish source recently revealed to JerusalemOnline that Nawshirwan Mustafa, the General Coordinator for the Movement for Change, a Kurdish Iranian proxy, recently was recorded by the KDP as stating: “If we want to destroy the Kurdistan regions security, we don’t have to arm ourselves. There are more than 21 consulates in Erbil. If we shoot two of them, the rest will run away. There are more than 51 international companies drilling oil. If we kidnap two of their engineers, the rest will run.” The KRG chief prosecutor wanted him to be investigated for making this statement but he refused to show up in court after being summoned.
It should be noted that the Movement for Change recently attempted to pass a motion in the Kurdish Parliament against Independence and Barzani. When the move failed, the Movement for Change decided to form a unity agreement with the PUK, who is also under Iran’s umbrella. The idea of uniting these two groups that used to be against each other was Iran’s, who seeks to utilize both proxy groups in order to kill the idea of Kurdish independence from within. When the two groups signed their unity agreement, 33 consulates and embassies were invited to attend but no one showed up except for the Islamic Republic of Iran: “Even before that, the Movement for Change invited the Iranian Consulate on the same day they wanted Barzani to leave the presidential office and they voted against him in parliament. The Movement for Change tries the hardest to create a coalition against Barzani.”
“Iran is making internal problems to stop Kurdish independence,” the source added. “They have to make internal problems. They can’t do anything from Iran. The Movement for Change and the PUK have bases inside Kurdistan in the green zone that are loyal to Iran. They use this position to fight against Kurdistan, which they call the second Israel. They don’t want a second Israel as a neighbor. The PUK will do everything to stop us from establishing a state. Any agreement between Barzani and Turkey they will take advantage of. They exploited the pipeline. We already have a financial crisis. They deepened the financial problems for us. We could not extract oil for three weeks. We spent a lot of money constructing a pipeline. PUK and Change are all following Iranian ideology. They were against each other. Only because now we are close to having independence, they now made an agreement in order to block the agreement.”
“The PKK is in this structure as well,” the source noted. “They don’t support an independent Kurdistan. They want autonomy within Turkey. The PUK only supports the Kurds in Turkey, not Iran and not Iraq and not Syria. In Syria, they support PYG for they are part of PKK and have good relations with Assad. We sent Peshmergas to Kobane, which was 80% controlled by ISIS. They retook the city from ISIS. Now, they are not permitted to go back to fight against ISIS. The PYG prefers to do it alone even if they have less manpower. They force Syrian Kurds to join them and to fight. Many fled for they don’t want to fight for the PYG. PYG forces every young person to fight for them. Human Rights Watch reported that PYG took child fighters. The KRG-trained Peshmergas are all well trained and above 18. They were trained with advanced weapons and are from Syria. They won’t let them go back to fight. Some Yazidis were rescued by us. We sent them to camps and the young Yazidi children disappeared. Their children were kidnapped by PKK and they want KRG to take them back. We can’t do anything to get them back. PKK kidnapped them from the Yazidi camps.”
Another move that Iran has taken against Iraqi Kurdistan is setting up a military base near the border inside Iraqi Kurdistan itself that threatens them. According to Rashidi, “The missile base set up near the border inside South Kurdistan and without Kurdish authorities’ permission is first of all in direct violation of international laws, but Iran has no respect for such laws anyways. This bases are in direct response to the PDKI’s call and decision to resume its armed conflict with the Iranian regime after 20 years of no combat and the KRG decision on holding referendum for independence. What is important to note is that the tightening of the borders, and setting up widespread military bases in the region show the Regime’s fear of the PDKI, the other political parties; and any forms of uprisings in the west of the country.”
“Iran, in my opinion, will not make use of these missiles and military bases against the Kurds in Southern Kurdistan,” Rashidi declared. “The Kurds are the only people fighting ISIS on the ground and some 60 countries are supporting the Peshmerga in one way or another. Although we all know that the coalition of the 60 is more symbolic and the bulk of the war against terrorism is on the shoulders of the Kurds, the missile establishment is a scarecrow and more of a power show. Taking over or trying to take over South Kurdistan will be suicide for Iran especially given that the international community and NATO’s interest and support for the Kurds in their struggle against ISIS is growing. Iran will nonetheless continue its efforts to influence the outcomes and ways of life in Kurdistan through its diplomatic means and spy network. The effectiveness of these is however debatable especially given that the Kurds are no longer interested in becoming another ‘puppet’ for the regime and are calling for independence.” According to him, many Kurds believe that Iran is arming and aiding ISIS as part of their covert methods to weaken the Kurds: “The free movement of terrorist Qassim Suleimani in the Shia regions and many other reasons illustrate this fact.”
At the same time as the Islamic Republic of Iran is taking increased actions against Iraqi Kurdistan, they are also increasingly their repression against their domestic Kurdish population: “Since its formation, Iran has adapted various assimilatory and oppressive policies when dealing with its different nationalities. Some of these oppressive policies include but are not limited to exclusion, forced resettlement, denial of a racial and ethnic identity, discrimination, political violence, imprisonment, and mass hanging. Anyone found resisting these oppressive policies and demanding racial and cultural rights, freedom and self-governance has been subjected to inhumane treatments. Sadigh Kabodvand, who is known as the ‘father of human rights in Kurdistan’, the co-founder of the Kurdistan Human Rights Organization and editor of the Payam-e-mardom-e Kurdistan paper is just one example.”
“Kabodvand and similar personalities are calling for open and equal system where the rule of law is administered equally, where political violence and inhuman treatments against prisoners are minimized and ultimately diminished,” he noted. “Apparently, recently Mr. Kaboodvand sent a message of congratulation and solidarity to Selahattin Demirtas, co-chair of HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party) of Northern Kurdistan (Kurdistan of Turkey) in their struggle against Erdogan’s tyranny. His message caused the Iranian judicial system to extend his eleven years prison term and in protest, he went on hunger strike. We and the whole world should stand behind him and send a message to the Iranian theocrats to respect people’s opinion. Mr. Kaboodvand is a symbol of resistance and human rights and his opinion does not endanger Islam.”
Rashidi is not the only figure calling for Kabodvand’s release and other explanations were offered for his hunger strike as well. Salah Bayyazidi, the Washington, DC representative of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, has also called upon international human rights organizations to demand the immediate and unconditional release of Sadigh Kabodvand, whose health conditions have drastically deteriorated after waging a lengthy hunger strike, which followed being frequently rejected the right to visit his son Pejman, who was diagnosed with a rare blood condition and has been gravely ill in a Tehran Hospital for five months, putting the family under great emotional and financial pressure.
Kabodvand, age 50, is currently serving an 11 year prison term in Tehran's Evin prison after being found guilty of "acting against the national security" for establishing the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan and proposing a campaign to boycott the 9th presidential election which brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office in 2005. Amnesty International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and its affiliate, the Iranian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LDDHI) said in a joint statement that "the Iranian authorities are responsible for any risks" to Mohammad Sadigh Kabodvand as a result of his ongoing hunger strike. Kabodvand who was named the international journalist of the year at the British Press Awards in 2009, is on hunger strike since May.
"Mohammad Sadigh Kabodvand is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for his journalistic and human rights work and the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression. He should never have been arrested in the first place, and must be released immediately and unconditionally so that he is free to be with his family at this distressing time," said Ann Harrison, the deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program. Her comments were echoed by Karim Lahidji, the vice president of the FIDH and President of the LDDHI who warned that the responsibility for Kabodvand's health rest on the hands of the Iranian authorities. "The Iranian authorities are responsible for any possible risks to Mohammad Sadigh Kabodvand's life as a result of his continuing hunger strike and his deteriorating condition," he said. "Under the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the Iranian authorities are obliged to take immediate action to provide urgent medical care to Mohammad Sadigh Kabodvand. They must stop further tormenting a father by denying him the right to visit his ailing son."
In an open letter sent from inside jail in May, Kabodvand described the reasons behind his hunger strike as follows: "The Prosecutor and the security apparatuses continue to deny prison leave because of their enmity, grudge and malice towards me as a human rights activist; this despite my having served half of my illegal and unjust prison sentence and my son's incurable diseases and acute emergency situation... Therefore, to protest the illegal and inhumane behavior of these judicial and security officials, I launched an indefinite hunger strike. In the latest round of harassment against Kabodvand's family, activists said that security officials have recently prevented his family's access to the media by disconnecting their house landline and his wife's mobile.
According to the Bourjerdi Civil Rights Group, Kabodvand is merely one of seven political dissidents and human rights activists inside Iran that declared a hunger strike recently. Others include convert to Christianity Maryam Naghash Zargaran, journalist Ehsen Mazandarani, Turkic activist Rasoul Razavi, worker’s rights activist Jafar Azim Zadeh and two other political prisoners on death row. In addition, it has also been reported that Iranian Kurdish political prisoner Afshin Sohrabzadeh, who has cancer, has been returned back to prison without receiving medical treatment even though physicians stressed that he needed to stay at the hospital. Indeed, the mistreatment of Kabodvand is merely one of many examples regarding the mistreatment of political prisoners within Iran, whether they are Kurdish or are from other groups.
However, the Iranian regime considers the Kurds one of the greatest threats to their regime and thus is especially hard on them. As Rashidi proclaimed: “The Regime has adapted widespread oppressive policies when dealing with the Kurdish population, some of which include denial of self-representation in the city, provincial and at a broader level at the parliament, education in Kurdish is prohibited, little to no economic viability and infrastructure in the region despite Kurdistan being rich in oil and mineral deposits. There are no Non-Government Organizations, no free media outlets, and any other forms of freedom in the region.”
According to Rashidi, the Kurdish mindset is the opposite of the Islamist regime in Iran and this is what frightens them: “The Kurdish people are by nature secular and open minded; take for instance our cultural dance where both men and women hold hands, something that is forbidden in the Islamic tradition. Another example would be the equal participation of men and women in politics, cultural and economic institutions—look at women defending Kurdistan against ISIS and the role these women play in various political organizations. These examples illustrate the existing difference between the dominant nation-states and the Kurds. Iran as an occupier of Kurdistan has always tried to assimilate and bring under control these cultural differences in the hopes of creating some form of unity using Islam as a mechanism. By denying the Kurds access to education in their mother tongue and denying their existence as a ‘nation’ of 15-18 million, I believe they have no sympathy for the Kurds in Iraq. Oppression and denial of Kurdish identity has not only not worked but has strengthened the Kurdish national identity and call for self-representation and independence. The aforementioned is a framework of Iranian policy against the Kurds, be it in Iran, Iraq or elsewhere. The Kurds in Eastern Kurdistan are calling for a federal Iran where their national rights are respected and they have equal say in the countries internal and external affairs—a call that brings democracy and justice. It seems like this call threatens the establishment’s structures and foundation.”