By Abdullah Mohtadi — Secretary General of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan.
We hear a lot in today’s media about Kurds and Kurdistan, arguably, more than ever before. Kurdish Peshmarga have always been a great source of pride for their nation, serving as protectors of their people and land over years of oppression and brutality. However, the term has recently become familiar in the West and has come to represent the legitimate Kurdish freedom fighters on the forefront of war against terrorism. They have been recognised as the force helping to protect not just their own but other threatened ethnic and religious groups and peoples. This struggle has by no means been easy, the war and suffering is on-going and Kurds continue to pay dearly.
The Kurdish issue has long been one of the major unresolved political questions in the Middle East. However, of the four parts of Kurdistan spread across the heart of the region, Iranian Kurdistan is often overlooked. While Iran does not shy away from news headlines around the world, it is usually in regards to its nuclear programme and its hostility with the West. Seldom does its appalling human rights record make news, much less the specific persecution of its Kurdish minority.
With a population of roughly ten million people, spreading across at least four provinces in North and North-western Iran, Iranian Kurds are still deprived of their basic human rights. They do not have the slightest resemblance of a self-rule, they are denied education in their mother tongue, investment in development projects is very rare, Kurdish students are constantly and disproportionately rejected into higher education by the notorious ‘selection’ (gozinesh) process, they have been denied access to high positions in government for the last three decades of the Islamic regime, they are subject to the harshest violations of human rights and the most brutal state violence.
Despite some initial optimism at his election as president, Hassan Rouhani has just proven to be a friendlier face of the same brutal regime.
A report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran last month confirms that the human rights situation in the country remains of concern. Various laws, policies and institutional practices continue to undermine the conditions needed for the realisation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by international and even national law.
A United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran held last year concluded that there are many concerns still facing ethnic and religious groups. Despite significant progress achieved in reducing extreme poverty, certain underdeveloped regions, including Kurdistan, continue to show high levels of poverty. Poor living conditions in regions traditionally inhabited by ethnic minorities, in some cases completely lacked basic services such as electricity, plumbing, sewage systems, public transport, medical facilities or schools.
As well as this, ethnic minorities face severe restrictions in practice with regard to education in their mother tongue, including Azeri, Kurdish, and Arabic, despite some laws protecting the limited use of non-Persian languages. Closures of publications and newspapers in minority languages also prevent those groups from their right to take part in cultural life.
There are about 400 Kurdish political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in the prisons across Iran. 60 of them are on death row and 15 have been given life sentences.
In the last three months alone over 12 border traders, known as ‘Kolbar’ in Kurdish, have been shot and killed by the Iranian armed forces and 23 have been injured.
In his annual report about human rights in Iran, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, stated that the Iranian president’s consideration of human rights in Iran remains symbolic, with serious efforts for improvement yet to be seen. According to him, different ethnic and religious minorities continue to face persecution.
Human rights activists in Iran claim that 40% of the country’s political prisoners are Kurds. They also state that in the past two months, 140 people in Kurdish cities have been arrested, 111 of which were by security forces.
Crucially, despite all this the Kurdish movement in Iran has remained democratic, secular, and pluralist and has not succumbed to extremism, fundamentalism or terrorism and blind violence. In fact the Kurdish movement has been a vital component of any democratic movement in the country and in the region.
Kurds have been at the forefront of fighting democracy in Iran for the last 35 years. Kurds have a special place among Iran’s other nationalities and can play an indispensable role in the struggle to achieve democratic rights. It is only natural that the Kurdish parties have been one of the founders of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran and a significant partner of this umbrella organisation of Iran’s nationalities.
The international community should back Iranian Kurds in their fight for their legitimate rights. Kurds and the Kurdish political parties constitute a key component of any democratic movement in Iran and are a vital element for progress in the future. Kurdistan can be the gateway to political and democratic change in Iran.
While the concerns of the international community regarding Iran’s nuclear programme are legitimate it is vital that the discrimination and the widespread violations of human rights are not neglected. As an unrepresented people, the Kurds of Iran should be given a voice at congressional and parliamentary hearings.
Kurds can significantly contribute to a new democratic, multicultural, federal and secular Iran, which is the only way forward for an Iran that is at peace with its own people as well as the world.
Note: Part of this article was presented by Mr. Muhtady at the International conference on Justice for Iran’s Kurds
The Hague, 29 September 2014