By Farhang Faraydoon Namdar
This paper is authored by Dr. Stansfield & Dr. Hassaniyan. It recently appeared in the Journal of Middle Eastern
Studies. It covers the history of the last four decades of Kurds in Iran.
Their story begins with the Islamic revolution of Iran in 1979. A sense of
revolution passed to the Kurds and they have uninterruptedly commenced a
political and armed struggle against the Islamic Republic.
The Islamic Revolution and Kurds in
The authors depict a contemptible
picture of Kurds in Rojhelat or Iranian Kurdistan. Kurdish rights have been
infringed upon with Rojhelat going through a process of militarization since.
However, in the 1980s Kurds began an armed resistance against Iran that was led
by two main insurgent groups. Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the
Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan (known as Komala in its
Kurdish acronym). Though, a weakened Saddam Hussein and later the collapse of
its regime in 2003 further empowered Iran and proportionately weakened the
Kurdish movement in Rojhelat.
In addition, the movement in Rojhelat
suffered heavily from selective assassination of its prominent leaders that
continues to date. After ten years of insurgency, Kurdish groups left their
bases in Iran and have settled in Iraqi Kurdistan ever since. Consequently, due
Iran’s strong influence within Iraqi Kurdistan, now ruled by Iraqi Kurds. KDPI
declared a unilateral ceasefire due to continuous pressure from Iran.
Effectively reducing the armed insurgency to levels unseen since the Islamic
revolution. After almost two decades of silence, Kurds of Rojhelat have found
themselves in fresh regional circumstances. Leading to their reorganization.
Rojhelat in the 21st century
Kurds in Western Iran have gone
through a transformation. The society in Iran has organized demonstrations and
strikes with great effects, the paper states. It cites strikes throughout
Kurdish cities of Iran in 2017 and 2018 as effective political activities.
Though, it resulted in further militarization of the region. Consequently
leaders of the movement were invited to the United States in the context of the
US-Iran rivalry. The parties were back on the stage after years of absence.
A new strategy named Rasan adopted
by the insurgents is an adaptation to the changes. It is essentially a new
strategy adopted to mount pressure on Iran. It translates into combining
peshmerge in the mountains with activists in urban areas of Rojhelat. Rasan
brought back Peshmerge to mountainous regions of Iran after years of ceasefire.
Justification for the strategy finds itself in the stubborn attitude of the
Islamic republic. Even if the Kurdish groups resorted only to political means
to achieve their rights. Iran only grew more aggressive. Many in Rojhelat
criticize the strategy as ill-advised. For the strategy has re-ignited a frequent
armed insurgency against Iran. In addition, most of
the armed groups in Rojhelat have severely criticized the strategy. Usually
bickering among themselves.
Consequences of Rasan
2018 hosted multiple clashes between
Kurdish armed groups and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corpus (IRGC) across
Rojhelat. The IRGC’s response found itself in targeting peshmerge, Kurdish
leaders and bombing of their bases. The IRGC’s operations have been precise
given the latest warfare technologies. Most notably, IRGC managed to bomb the
main headquarter of KDPI where Rojhelati leaders held a meeting. Although, it
is division that has weakened the Kurds not lack of technology, the paper
KDPI and Komala have experienced
many splits since the 1990s. As the papers states “three parties laid claim to
the name Komala, and two KDPI groups distinguished themselves from each other
by suffixes, prefixes or hyphenated names”. Nonetheless, there have been
attempts to reunite the organizations. Formation of the Cooperation Centre of
Iranian Kurdistan’s Political Parties (CCIKPP) in 2018, it included almost
every party in Rojhelat. Nonetheless, members CCIKPP retain
their independence and some have withdrawn from the center.
One of the defining features of the
political landscape in Rojhelat is distrust between Kurdish parties, the
authors opine. For instance, PJAK (the Free Life Party of Kurdistan) is accused
by the KDPI and Komala among others, for being an offshoot of the PKK
(Proletariat Party of Kurdistan). They briefly fought each other. Further, the
KDPI and Komala have been dependent on Kurdish Government of Iraq (KRI). The
region is ruled by Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic
Party (KDP) both having close ties with Iran. The authors argue that through
its allies in the KRI, the Islamic Republic has attempted to minimize armed
insurgency within Iran.
Thus disorganization and ineffective
policies have led to the current situation in Rojhelat. The vacuum left by
Rojhelati groups was filled by the PKK. The authors claim that the PKK doesn’t
genuinely want to confront Iran which is why it formed PIJAK. Due to the fact,
that the PKK is sponsored by Iran. As a pretense to satisfy Rojhelatis.
Nonetheless, the emergence of PIJAK has altered the game. Other parties
increasingly find it difficult to exclude PIJAK from inter-party cooperation.
The authors chronically, albeit
briefly, cover the history of negotiations between Iran and Rojhelati parties.
Kurds began their struggle with negotiations and may achieve their goals
through negotiations. Kurds were adamant on securing autonomy and national
recognition for Rojhelat. Even though they have been futile. The last
negotiation ended in assassination of general secretary of KDPI and ever since
distrust has prevented any rapprochement.
However, the paper expounds that
negotiations between Iran and Rojhelat have resumed. Based on leaks from
anonymous sources. In 2019 Kurds had participated in the negotiations via
CCIKPP in Norway.
The Kurdish party officials have
described it as preliminary. KDPI denies the existence of negotiations with
Iran, refusing to comment on the subject. Critics point out that Iran always
uses negotiations as a tactic not a solution. A statement from Iran’s Ministry
of Intelligence, issued after the negotiations, is used to back this claim.
Though, the paper balances this statement by stating that negotiation is
recognition of the Kurdish parties. Yet it also mentions the regional context
in which negotiations are conducted.
The paper finds out that
negotiations were preliminary and nothing of importance was discussed. The
Kurdish parties believe that Iran has nothing to offer and don’t hide their
distrust of the regime. Though, they don’t dismiss peaceful solutions.
The authors conclude that the
society in Rojhelat has undergone a transformation since the last two decades.
Becoming politicized, capable of challenging government of Iran. The general
strike of 2018 is a textbook example of this. However, resumption of
hostilities has undermined the politically active society and has brought more
repression over the Kurds on the part of Iran. Despite continuous threats on
Rojhelat, Kurdish political parties are still divided across many lines. The
Kurds have resources and ability to achieve their aims but they are
The paper provides a comprehensive
insight into Kurdish struggle in Iran over the past forty years. Yet it is
simplistic. The authors promote the idea that the collapse of Saddam’s regime
has rendered Rojhelat weaker and Iran stronger. However, they fail to
mention that it paved the way for a Kurdish polity in Iraq. Which has been a
beacon of aspiration for Kurds around the world. KRI has been a safe haven for
Kurds across the Middle East. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have come together
on multiple occasions to crush Kurdish political movements.
The paper refrains from mentioning
the deep roots between Kurds of Iraq and Iran. For instance, the first modern
Kurdish state was formed in 1946 whose official army was composed of Kurds from
Iraq and led by Mustafa Barzani. Further, it displays only one side of the
story. That KRI has assisted Iran to contain Rojhelat.
The paper traces division to
partisan politics. Insurgencies without causes that people could embrace,
almost always fail. The insurgency in Rojhelat has not realized its stated
goals. On the contrary, it has been in a constant setback. Consequently, when a
political group misses its aims, it will lose its raison d'être. Therefore, the
main reason behind the divisions is due to the fact that these parties either
stagnate or deteriorate. Therefore, Rasan would not simply substitute its raison
d'être. For it’s only a continuation of the earlier strategies. The strategy
only changes the means and not the end. Political groups without popular
support are not insurgencies.
The authors forget the
transformation of the Islamic Republic. Whose developments are inextricably
linked to Rojhelat. Currently, Iran is a regional hegemon whose proxies engulf
political parties working against Iran. It has been able to resist the United
States and its allies and has mastered the art of proxy warfare.
In terms of references, a
significant portion of the sources listed in the bibliography are either funded
or affiliated with Kurdish political parties of Rojhelat. For instance, the
Organization of Hengaw for Human Rights is pro-KDPI. It reports on almost every
activity that KDPI conducts.
Regarding negotiations, the paper
fails to mention that the Islamic republic doesn’t recognize nationalities but
religions. Kurds demand a national autonomy which equals the disintegration of
Iran. Because only religion is shared among the majority of Iranians and Iran
is a multiethnic state.
Currently many Iranians are worried
about religious freedom rather than ethnic freedom. The paper fails to mention
that discrimination against Kurds is usually religious. More importantly,
it doesn’t indicate that Kurds adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam while more
than 90% of Iran adheres to Shia Islam. Iran is a theocracy with most of its
key decision makers being religious scholars rather than university pundits.