By: Kamal Hassanpour
Iran is an ancient and multi ethnic country. The population consists of Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Balouchis, Turkmens and Arabs. These people have lived side by side for centuries and they all have played an important role in shaping the country’s cultural heritage. Kurds who constitute approximately 12 percent of Iran’s 80 million people have been neglected by rulers in Tehran in more than a century. Their language, culture, history and very existence has been challenged by policies that their only goal have been to promote one language, one culture and one history, namely the one which belongs to the ruling Persian people. But not long ago Kurds did govern their territory but paid taxes to the king in capital and whenever the king did declare war; Kurds contributed with warriors. This way of coexistence between the Kurdish semi autonomous region and the central government disappeared when the Pahlavi dynasty was founded by king Reza in 1925. He started an assimilation policy with the aim to create a country with one language (Persian), one culture (the Persian culture) and a highly centralized governance method in which all the decisions were made by the government.
This policy was one of the main reasons behind the Kurdish people’s struggle for their political and cultural rights. In 1942 a society called “The Kurdish Revival Society” was established by some Kurdish intellectuals in the city of Mahabad and their goal was to gain back the Kurdish people’s deprived rights and freedom. Three years later when Kurdistan Democratic Party replaced The Kurdish Revival Society, the goal was the same. The Second World War did have a significant impact on Iran. King Reza who sympathized with Hitler posed a threat to the allies interests. This threat resulted in occupation of Iran by Great Britain in south and Soviet Union in north. The occupiers forces King Reza to abdicate in favor for his son Mohammad Reza and expelled him to South Africa. The weakness of the central government as a result of the occupation, gave Kurds an opportunity to establish a Kurdish Republic. Despite the short life time of the republic (11 months), it contributed to boost the Kurds self confidence. During this short period of time the Kurdish language was used in schools and by other local authorities. A newspaper and a periodical in Kurdish were published and the first Kurdish play was showed in the first Kurdish Theatre. Youth and women organizations were established too.
All the peace, freedom and harmony disappeared when the republic collapsed and Mahabad, the capital of the republic, was taken by the Iranian army. Qazi Mohammad the founder and president of the republic and two of his aides were put into trial in a military court and sentenced to death. The three leaders were hanged publicly in the same square where Qazi Mohammad almost two years earlier had proclaimed the Kurdish Republic. The government’s goal by hanging Qazi Mohammad and his aides was to crush the Kurdish aspirations for self determination.
After the tragic death of Qazi Mohammad and his aides a period of total oppression was imposed in the Kurdish areas. The cold war which started after the Second World War made Iran an important ally of USA which led to modernization of the Iranian army and secret service which in turn resulted in a total intolerance towards all political views advocating a more decentralized way of governance. In 1951 when Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh became prime minister a short period of liberalization started which in Kurdistan gave KDP an opportunity to revive its political activities but when Mosadegh was removed from power as a result of CIA backed coup, the situation deteriorated in the country and especially in Kurdistan which meant that many political activists either fled the country or were put in prison.
In late sixties (1967-1969) some young Kurdish activists decided to start a military revolt against the central government but their revolt was crushed and almost all of the founders were killed. Once more the Kurdish people’s dreams for freedom were crushed and their demand for political and cultural rights was answered by more brutal oppression.
Just a couple of years after King Mohammad Reza called Iran the island of stability in the region, the protests against him started, first in Qom and later in Tabriz and Tehran. Soon people all over the country started to march on the streets demanding freedom and the Kurdish people who were awaiting a chance to gain their rights started demonstrating against the monarchy.
KDP leadership visited ayatollah Khomeini when he was in Paris and offered him support and brought up their demands for autonomy for the Kurdish region. The answer that was delivered was that after the overthrow of the monarchy there will be freedom and all the minorities in the country will enjoy a political system in which all kinds of discriminations and dictatorship will be abolished.
When the revolution succeeded in 1979, Kurds were in euphoria and thought that they finally have got an opportunity to realize their dream. The KDP leadership visited ayatollah Khomeini once aging but this time in Qom and repeated their demands for autonomy and even this time they did not get any specific deal with the man who was the founder of the Islamic Republic.
The freedom and happiness about the new regime did not last long. March 18th 1979 the Iranian army in Sannandaj the capital of the Kurdistan province started an unwanted ware against the Kurds.
Kurdish political and religious leadership did everything in their power to stop the bloodshed and one of their actions was to send a high ranking delegation to Tehran in order to meet Mr. Bazargan the prime minister and ayatollah Khomeini but their efforts did not stop the propaganda war against the Kurdish people and soon after their return new clashes took place in Naghade, Mariwan and Paweh. In August 19th 1979 ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree in which he declared Jihad (holy war) against the Kurdish people and ordered the army and the revolutionary guard to use all the necessary means to take control over the city of Paweh.
During the following months the Iranian army and the revolutionary guard attacked the following cities in order to take control over Kurdistan which was controlled by Kurdish freedom fighters: Paweh, Sanandaj, Mariwan, Saqez, Piranshehr, Mahabad, Baneh, Sardasht.
Hundreds of freedom fighters and thousands civilian people were killed during this period of time. It is worth mentioning that in all these cities when army and revolutionary guard took over, many civilian people were arrested and executed in order to intimidate the Kurdish people into silence.
The Qarna massacre
Qarna is a little village in outskirts of the city of Naqadeh. In September 2nd 1979 while many of the male inhabitants were on their farms and elderly, women and children were in the village; a group of revolutionary guards and the paramilitary unit “Komiteh” attacked the village and started shooting people indiscriminately. The farmers who heard the shooting, rushed back into the village in order to save their women and children but many of them were attacked by the aggressors and were brutally murdered. The village priest, who wanted to stop the killing, rushed into the mosque and took the holy Quran and went to a group of the aggressors and raised the holy book and begged them to stop but his action did have no effect and he got killed too. Within a couple of hours 68 innocent civilians were killed and none of the perpetrators were put in trial or even arrested.
The end of the 3 months war
After ayatollah Khomeini’s decree, within a couple of months Kurdistan became a militarized zone. Hundreds of thousands of army and revolutionary guard personnel poured into the Kurdish cities.
They controlled the major cities and some of the roads during the daytime.
After losing the control of the Kurdish cities, the Kurdish freedom fighters changed their tactics and started guerilla warfare. They had control over the Kurdish countryside and at nights they controlled major parts of the cities as well.
The Kurdish resistance was something that the central government did not count on. Despite the military leaderships statement about cleansing the Kurdish areas within weeks their casualties increased every day. The government and their leader ayatollah Khomeini needed to calm the situation in order to reorganize their armed forces and get control over the situation. To do so they needed time, hence started sending signals that they wanted to negotiate.
Since the Kurdish leadership has always believed that there is no military solution to the Kurdish question they welcomed the initiative and met Mr. Darioush Forouhar, under secretary of state, in 3-4 occasions and discussed their term in order to end the war. The Kurdish demands were: 1. An end to the executions of the Kurdish prisoners 2. Freedom for all political prisoners 3. The revolutionary guard should leave the Kurdish areas and the Iranian army should not intervene in domestic issues in Kurdistan but their main objective should be guarding the border to Iraq and Turkey 4. The return of Kurdish freedom fighters to the cities 5. Recognition of autonomy for Kurds 5. The negotiations should be published officially In October 23rd 1979 the central government announced that a committee consisting of 3 ministers had got the responsibility for so called Kurdish matters. The invasion of the US embassy in November 4th 1979 resulted in resignation of Prime Minister Mr. Mehdi Bazergan and his government.
After some meetings between the committee together with MR. Forouhar and the Kurdish delegation, finally in November 17th 1979 ayatollah Khomeini made a statement and in some vague wording about all Muslims equality suggested that the political, economic and cultural discrimination against the Kurdish people would be abolished and Kurds would administer their affairs in Kurdish areas.
This statement resulted in the biggest celebrations ever in Iranian Kurdistan. The Kurdish political parties took over the Kurdish cities and a delegation was built which would act as a representative body during negotiations with the government negotiation group.
After the resignation of the interim government of Mr. Bazergan the preparations for the first presidential election started and many more or less known people did registered themselves as candidate. Before the election day only one candidate officially announced that he would accept autonomy for Kurds and that candidate was Mr. Masoud Rajavi the leader of People’s Mojahedin Organization, hence the Kurdistan Democratic Party leadership decided to ask the Kurdish people to vote for him in the coming election. But before the election, ayatollah Khomenini decided to remove Mr. Rajavi from the list of the candidates. This undemocratic action resulted in boycotting the election by the Kurdish people.
January 25th 1980 the first presidential election took place and Dr. Banisadr was elected as Islamic republic’s first president. After the election, the leadership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party sent a message to Mr. Banissadr asking for permission to meet him in Tehran. The KDP delegation together with the negotiation committee established during Mr. Bazergan’s government met the president in February 25th 1980. The result of the meeting was that a new peace plan consisting of 6 demands was presented to Dr. Banisadr and he promised to get the approval of the influential Revolutionary Council.
According to Mr. Daryoush Forouhar, when Dr. Banisadr did present the peace plan to the Revolutionary Council it was rejected at once.
The peace negotiations continued for a while but at the same time the revolutionary guard and the Iranian army did provoked some clashes with the Kurdish freedom fighters in different parts of Kurdish areas.
A propaganda campaign against the Kurdish political and religious leadership had stared. Kurds were accused to be backed by USA, Israel and the Iraqi Baath regime.
New round of war and new massacres
The propaganda campaign followed by more and more military activities in Kurdistan and army and revolutionary guard intensified their so called cleansing operations with the goal to once again take over the control of the Kurdish areas.
In an open letter to ayatollah Khomeini the KDP leadership urged him to approve the peace plan and in order to show willingness to settle the Kurdish issue in the country through peaceful means, order the armed forces to go back to their military compounds.
The founder of the Islamic republic did never answer to that letter. Instead the military operations intensified and soon became the Kurdish areas a vast battlefield with an aggressor government from one side and a people on the other side which had no other choice than defending its existence.
The Qalatan massacre
Naqadeh is a city with mixed Kurdish and Azeri population. The majority of the Azeris were sympathizing with the Islamic republic and some of them were members of revolutionary guard and the paramilitary group “Komiteh”. After the war between the Kurds and the Azeris in Nqadeh which took place in April 20th 1979 the relations between the two people were tense.
Qalatan is a Kurdish village situated between Naqadeh and Oshnawieh. Early in the morning March 27th 1980 the village was attacked by a group of armed Azeris which were backed by army tanks and artillery.
Within a couple of hours the aggressors killed and mutilated 15 villagers. Like previous massacres the perpetrators and the masterminds behind this action were not put to any trial.
State organized and financed terrorism
The Islamic republic has a well known track record of state terrorism. It started with killing of some prominent figures from the previous regime in early 80s. When it comes to killing the Kurdish political leaders, the Islamic republic has committed many atrocities.
After the end of the Iran-Iraq war the Iranian political leadership used some channels close to KDP-Iran and sent messages which meant that they wanted to solve the Kurdish issue through dialogue. Since the Kurdish leaders have always believed that negotiation is the only way to find a solution for the Kurdish issue in Iran, the peace initiative was welcomed by KDP leadership. Dr. Ghasemlou the party leader started a series of negotiations with an Iranian delegation in Vienna during December 1988 and January 1989 without reaching an agreement. A fourth meeting took place in July 13th 1989 in Vienna and it was during this meeting that Iranian so called negotiators murdered Dr. Ghasemlou and other Kurds who were present at the meeting.
In August 1989 the Iranian secret service murdered 2 Kurdish prominent leaders (Gholam Keshawarz and Saddigh Kamangar) of the Iranian communist party.
In September 17th 1992 a group of terrorists of Iranian and Lebanese origin attacked the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin and killed Dr. Sharafkandi the successor of Dr. Ghasemlouo who was in a meeting with some Iranian dissidents. Besides Dr. Sharafkandi, three other people were killed in that attack.
In the verdict of the trial of the arrested terrorists, which was announced in April 10th 1997, the court stated that the Iranian government was responsible for both Vienna and Berlin massacres.
After the end of the first Golf war and proclamation of the so called no fly zone in northern provinces of Iraq, a power vacuum emerged there which was used by the Iranian secret service in order to put pressure on Iranian-Kurdish dissidents who were based in Iraqi Kurdistan. They started kidnapping and killing the dissidents mainly in Suleimani province. The campaign which went on until 1998 resulted in killing of at least 160 dissidents.
The current situation in Iranian Kurdistan
The rulers in Tehran have always considered Kurdistan as a potential national security hazard and all the demands put forward by the Kurdish community has been seen through security glasses. The Kurdish areas are one of the most underdeveloped areas in the country and the unemployment rate in the Kurdistan is much higher than the Persian dominated areas. The discriminations against the Kurdish people are worse than ever.
Despite the 31 years of systematic efforts by Iranian governments in forcing the Kurdish people abandon their demands for their legitimate rights, their awareness about their awkward situation and a variety of discriminations is very high. As a result, the Kurdish people is now more motivated than ever in continuing their struggle for their rights.
Right now there are thousands of Kurdish activists in areas such as Human Rights, environmental, cultural and women’s rights imprisoned in various jails all over the country. Many of them have been sentenced to long-term imprisonment and at least 21 of them are sentenced to death and waiting death penalty.
The dictatorship in Iran has become more and more brutal and its tolerance towards dissidents has become much less to the extent that only a small minority who prove their absolute obedience to the leader ayatollah Khamenei can enjoy all the preveligies. After the wide spread fraud during the latest presidential election a nationwide movement started which the government has still not been able to crush and it would not have been a surprise if this movement could be the end for the dictatorship era which has hit Iran in centuries.
No matter what, the future of Iran and its people will be a bright one only if a decentralized, secular governance system is established in which all the minorities have a genuine chance in influencing their daily life and future.
Half a century effort by Mr. Abdollah Hassanzadeh
The 3 months war by Mansour Bolouri
Banisadr and Kurdistan by Behzad Khoshhali