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Alongside Komala Guerrillas In the Mountains of Kurdistan

By The Renegade

Zrgwez - A Komala Town

“Gundê Zrgwez (Zrgwez village),” I told the taxi driver.

“Basha, gundê Zrgwez,” he replied.

We drove past the first one and stopped at Zrgwezalla, the second of two Zrgwez villages, both within a couple miles of each other.

“Two Zrgwez,” he said with a giggle.

“First Zrgwez,” I replied back with a giggle pointing back at the first Zrgwez we drove past.

One thing was clear right away: Zrgwez is a Komala town. The allegiance of the people of Zrgwez can be found everywhere. Red flags of Komala dot the skyline, from the mountain cliffs to the village guard towers. In spite of the recent bombings, life goes on. Just a few weeks after the attacks, children play in the streets, laughing, joking, and mocking the big ideas of the world, as Saroyan would say.

Komala (CPI) base and village mosque side by side.

Inside the base.

After a fair amount of hill hiking I happened upon a Komala base. It wasn’t until after I impromptu interviewed central committee leader Hassan Rahmanpanah that I figured out which Komala faction’s base I was in. Of at least three different active Komala factions, it turned out I had entwined myself in Komala Kurdistan’s Organization of the Communist Party of Iran (CPI). Though I came near the sites of the recent bombings, I chose not to enter them. Instead of documenting the disaster spectacle that was, I felt the social climate in the wake of the attacks needed to be appreciated and followed more closely.

They're cute as hell and they know it. They will happily liquidate any given coercer on any given day. Just look at the 'stache of Hassan Komala Boukan (right). Cute and deadly in all the best ways.

Defying the recent Iranian attacks and threats of invasion, the Komala spirits, much like the children of the town, were high as ever. Laughs permeated the air as cadres and Peshmergas (fighters) mocked the big ideas of the world. I joined them in this pursuit, singing and joking along with the broken Sorani-Kurmanji fusion I could piece together. I told them of the resistances in the US, explaining my IWW press pass and the recent actions against the police state on the West Coast. They were intrigued and expressed their solidarity.

Guard tower and radio tower as seen from the village.

Atop the guard tower.

Amid the guard tower.

An older Peshmerga from the first Komala generation, Hassan Komala Boukan, showed me around the base. He allowed me to enter the guard tower, where one finds a sweeping view of the valley and mountains of Sulaymaniyah region in Bashur (also known as so-called Iraqi Kurdistan, politically controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG). Boukan wanted me to stay for the night, but he discussed it with others and it was decided against, given that I had just met them a few hours prior. The process of hevaltî (friendship) was quite swift.

The Ballad of Many Komalas

Road sign of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PIK).

Road sign of the Komala of the Toilers of Kurdistan (TK).

Road sign of the Komala Kurdistan's Organization of the Communist Party of Iran (CPI).

Komala (CPI), officially known as Komala Kurdistan’s Organization of the Communist Party of Iran, is only one of multiple Komala factions in Kurdistan that has waged an armed political struggle against the Iranian state. The original Komala was founded in January 1979 as a Marxist alternative to moderate Kurdish rebel groups, such as the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI). Komala had a significant presence in the 1979 Kurdish rebellion, where it established a lasting influence in eastern Kurdish politics. At this time, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) emerged as the preeminent communist party in the north and west of Kurdistan under Turkish and Syrian occupation, while Komala emerged as the preeminent communist party in the east of Kurdistan under Iranian occupation. Komala announced a ceasefire in the 1990s.

In 2000, Komala experienced internal schisms over controversial appeasement policies set forth by co-founder Abdullah Mohtadi, and eventually split up into five different factions. Three of these factions are still active and are all based in the two Zrgwez villages, where they have operated since the Iran-Iraq War. The active factions today are Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PIK), Komala of the Toilers of Kurdistan (TK), and Komala Kurdistan’s Organization of the Communist Party of Iran (CPI).

Komala (CPI), the only Komala still attached to the majority-Kurdish Communist Party of Iran, prides itself on being the most committed faction to achieving autonomy in the east and guaranteeing the security of Kurds living within the borders of the Iraqi state in the south. Though Komala (CPI) and (TK) have abstained from launching assaults on Iranian military targets in recent years to avoid direct conflict, they are heavily armed and prepared to defend themselves from attacks. Though their membership is kept secret, most estimates put each Komala faction in the hundreds to low thousands, not including affiliates and sympathizers. Komala (PIK) is the largest of the three.

Hassan Komala Boukan pointed to the locations of the recent strikes as we peered over Zrgwez from the guard tower. He shared this video with me from September 28.

All three active Komala parties are currently designated a terrorist organization by the Iranian and Japanese states, a designation that many view to be more politically-motivated than independently-motivated. The Iranian state perceives all Komala factions as a threat to its power, and has recently threatened to invade Bashur to destroy the Komala factions. Their bases have been subjected to many Iranian attacks in recent years, leading to both civilian and guerrilla casualties.

Interview With Komala (CPI)


After gaining the trust of the cadres and Peshmergas, I interviewed the leader of the Komala (CPI) central committee, Hassan Rahmanpanah, at the Komala (CPI) base in Zrgwez, Sulaymaniyah region.

Renegade: Obviously Komala took some losses in the latest series of Iranian strikes. How is the recovery process going, and are there any adjustments or changes being made to defend against drones? In the broader context of this, how do you feel about the ongoing Kurdish resistance against the Iranian state in Rojhelat (Iranian-occupied Kurdistan)?

Rahmanpanah: We as an organization (Komala (CPI)) have not had any casualties, but ordinary people, more than 250 people have lost their lives in (our) villages and cities. There is not a single political party involved, it is a people who have experienced the Islamic Republic for 43 years. They hate it. Life is very hard. That is what the people rose up in the streets for. In the experience of the last month, they showed the people a new method of struggle against the government. We are sure that they will reach their objectives and be successful. We ask the Kurdish people in all of Kurdistan for a public strike, which twice have been really successful. The people show that they are against the government.

Renegade: Clearly the Iranian state does not want Komala to be here in Bashur. What do you think the future of Komala (CPI) relations with the Iranian state will be? Will there be a diplomatic path, or is a diplomatic path completely off the table right now?

Rahmanpanah: We have been here for a long time going back to the Saddam Hussein period. We stayed here during the Iran-Iraq War. Also, we have a very close relationship with Iraqi Kurds dating back to the Second World War, and even to the Ottoman Empire. The people on both sides of Kurdistan, they have helped each other during crises…It did not matter which government was in power. The friendship of Kurds on both sides of the border has always been there. The regime wants to take advantage of this friendship, every government wants to. Also what is important is the family level relationship, especially in the villages and cities along the border. They have families, they live together. This relationship goes back for ages...During the Halabja incident, the people of Iranian Kurdistan opened their arms to hundreds of thousands of refugees. This historical relationship is not going away with one threat from the Islamic Republic. The Islamic Republic tries to show that the things that are happening inside Iran are somehow caused by outsiders, or led by foreign countries. They want to change this relationship among the Kurdish people. We will not accept anything from the Iranian government.

Renegade: I would like to ask for our socialist and communist audiences, how do you define socialism and communism, and how does this relate to your structure as an organization?

Rahmanpanah: The program we have is for the majority of the people, whom are working class. We want a better life for working class people. The communism we believe in is a humanistic communism. Women and working people are part of this. Our communism is human, and it is for justice. We are not for what happened during, for example, Stalin in the Soviet Union. We have a communism that is completely different from the Stalin era. We believe in what Marx said in Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto, but also updated with the human knowledge of today, not from 200 or 300 years ago. We are not adamant with what happened in China or in Russia or in North Korea or Albania. Our understanding of communism is completely different. To explain in short, we want a majority of people to have a better life, a good life, and not exploitation. That is not just a local issue, it is absolutely an international issue. But, unfortunately, there is not a worldwide organization to do this. In Kurdistan and Iran, we are a small part of that international struggle for justice and a better life for the working class. That is not something we can do by ourselves. The people on the street, if they come together, they will make change. It is not change from any party, it is a force coming from the working class.

Renegade: As an extension of that question, how does Komala (CPI) separate and distinguish itself from the other socialist and communist parties of Kurdistan? What about Komala socialism makes it more effective than other forms of Kurdish socialism, and what are your relations with the other socialist parties?

Rahmanpanah: In our program and what we do, you can see the differences. Another important thing is what we do in everyday life. People can see the daily differences between those forces and us. We see ourselves as part of the struggle of every left and communist party in the Middle East and in the world. We support any other justice movement and any other freedom movement. For example, in Rojava we actively help them and support them, and are probably the only party in Bashur that supports Rojava in this way. Because we see that they are against the barbaric movement ISIS, against Erdogan in Turkey, against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. It was the right movement to support.

Renegade: Lastly, we know that the Turkish state is a regional power that has caused extensive damage to Kurdish society both recently and historically. What is Komala (CPI)’s stance on the Turkish state, and would Komala be willing to mobilize its forces against a Turkish invasion if necessary?

Rahmanpanah: We are against the Iranian government and in opposition of the Iranian government. Our duty is struggle against the Islamic regime. If we have to establish policies…we talk about that. We are primarily in opposition of the Iranian government. That is what we have now in our program.

(Credit to Mohamad Xaki and Kaweian Esmaieli for helping with translations. Not every part of the interview could be translated, but we have pieced together a majority of it)

Kalashnikov resting at my side throughout the interview.

I left Zrgwez with a greater understanding of how Komala (CPI) fights for the immediate relief of the population, and how this comes in many forms. For example, Komala (CPI) makes an effort to create a better life for working class Kurds by distributing residency cards to those who cannot obtain Iraqi and KRG residence cards, creating an opportunity for displaced peoples to find refuge.

It was clear that a range of community services and necessities were offered by the party to local villages, meanwhile not antagonizing any organ of the community nor brutalizing dissenters. It was evident in the energy of the village that there was not any immediate bad blood between the party and the community. Rather, the party had provided an opportunity for the community that would otherwise not exist, reflected in its consistent resources and self-sufficiency. At the same time, the party does not dictate daily life nor diminish autonomy. Its purpose is rather to protect and expand the community’s autonomy, which can indeed be found on every corner.

As reflected by Rahmanpanah's ideas on communism and failed state Marxist projects, Komala (CPI) is the most anti-authoritarian of the Komala parties. It is not a traditional vanguard by any means, if a vanguard at all. Though there is a central committee that has the final say in official party policy, cadres and Peshmergas have a significant degree of autonomy relative to other parties. Komala (CPI)’s structure has been described as decentralized and separate from democratic centralism.

Ideationally, Komala (CPI) sees itself as part of the greater international front, and not just an isolated movement. As explained by Rahmanpanah, Komala (CPI) does not feel as though it is any lesser or greater than any other freedom movement, but rather one regional component of the aggregation. To Komala (CPI), it is the social and communal dimensions of human life that make a path of struggle complete, not a vanguard, not chauvinism, and not the alienation of autonomy through police statism.

Zrgwez Speaks Loudly

Komala (PIK) base in Zrgwezalla.

A few days later I made my way to the second Zrgwez up the road, Zrgwezalla, where Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PIK) is most prominent. This time the taxi driver knew exactly where I was going. He took me straight up to the Komala (PIK) base. “Zrgwezalla,” the driver said after stopping at the base, as if the town itself was the party. “Spas kaka (thanks buddy),” I replied with a smirk. Clearly foreigners don’t go to Zrgwezalla unless they’re doing something with the party.

Komala (PIK) checked my documents and told me they appreciated my presence, but they could not accept an interview at the base for security purposes. This was no surprise, as it is the sole Komala which has officially resumed its armed struggle against the Iranian state since 2017.

Front gates amid a stormy day in Zrgwezalla.

Komala (PIK) guard station.

Komala (PIK) is an interesting juxtaposition, being the most social democratic of the Komalas, but also the most militant of the Komalas. Abdullah Mohtadi, leader of the Komala (PIK), has recently created more controversy by appealing to the US for support, further deepening the split with the other Komala factions, who are strictly anti-imperialist. Mohtadi is widely seen by other Komalas as the main instigator of this divide, having led the first split in 2000. In recent years, Komala (PIK) has expanded its relations with the moderate PDKI, while the other Komalas have kept their distance.

The least flashy of the Komala bases, Komala (TK) has a modest red star and flags at its entrance.

The third Komala base I visited, belonging to the Komala of the Toilers of Kurdistan (TK), appeared to be the most emotionally affected by the attacks. Though very warm and cordial like the others, there was a sense of despondence in body language and speech. The loss was obvious, and very understandably so. The parties affected endured over 70 ballistic missiles and over 30 suicide drones in a single day, resulting in at least two Komala casualties. Not to mention a series of subsequent artillery strikes. Still, Zrgwez could not be muted by anyone.

Interview With Komala (TK)

A Komala (TK) Peshmerga lights a cigarette.

A guard calling over cadre Mohammed Hakimi for the interview.

A cadre by the name of Mohammed Hakimi approached me, and signaled to enter the guard station. “There is no one available now. Unfortunately we cannot discuss because of the situation,” he told me. However, he agreed to briefly answer questions through my translator app.

I replied, “Ah, no worries. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Now we need much-needed military equipment,” he said.

We began the interview. I asked him the same questions for the most part, with some variation for the time constraint, and an additional question. I was not able to take any photos or videos of Hakimi, as the interview happened entirely through my translator app.

Renegade: Obviously Komala has suffered some losses in the latest series of Iranian attacks. How is the recovery process going, and are there any adjustments or changes to drone defense?

Hakimi: We have started the recovery process, but not like before. We have changed our way of life to prevent casualties.

Renegade: Clearly the Iranian state does not want Komala (TK) to be here in Bashur. What do you think the future of Komala relations with the Iranian state will be? Will there be a diplomatic path, or is a diplomatic path completely off the table right now?

Hakimi: We are always ready for dialogue, but there will never be dialogue with the Islamic regime, which has closed all doors. How can we sit down and dialogue with a regime that kills women and children?

Renegade: I want to ask for our socialist and communist audiences, how do you define socialism and communism and how does this relate to your structure as an organization?

Hakimi: We as Komala (TK) believe in social justice, equality between men and women.

Renegade: As an extension of that question, how does Komala (TK) separate and distinguish itself from the other socialist and communist parties of Kurdistan? What about Komala socialism makes it more effective than other forms of Kurdish socialism, and what are your relations with the other socialist parties?

Hakimi: Komala (TK) believes in returning to humanity and the environment. What distinguishes us from others is that we are the people and we are among the people of the East (Rojhelat), and they believe in us.

Renegade: What are your aspirations in terms of Kurdish politics? Does Komala plan to expand its electoral power or align it with the KRG political system in the long term?

Hakimi: We believe in multi-party democracy and I do not believe that we should follow the policy of the KRG because we have a totally different political ideology.

(Credit to @kurdistanipeopleii for helping confirm the translations)

Komala (TK) guard station.

The question of militancy is a frequently discussed topic among the Komalas. From the lens of Komala (CPI) and Komala (TK), active militancy draws belligerent information warfare, and with belligerent information warfare comes Iranian casus bellis. Komala (CPI) in particular is very careful not to lose what it has accomplished. With the communal system it has meticulously constructed over the course of 43 years, Komala (CPI) has much to lose from such a posture, and Komala (TK) also follows this idea.

The newer Komala (PIK) however, has built itself on seeking opportunity and expansion wherever it can be found, even when this comes at the expense of local and international ethics. With the Komala bases in such close proximity to one another and part of a mutual community, the actions of one party often have a direct impact on the others. The Iranian state does not care to decipher which Komala is in active armed struggle and which isn’t.

Departing Komala Land

Many a cat and kitten reside in Zrgwez, and an occasional Kangal dog.

Zrgwez and the valley.

After the interview with Hakimi I made my way back to the Komala (CPI) base to give my best wishes before leaving. Some very meaningful discussions were held during my two days on this base that will be kept secret for now.

“You are beautiful humans, and I want to wish you the best before leaving,” I said.

“We like you. If you need anything from us, let us know,” one of the cadres told me.

It was not easy to depart the presence of guerrillas that power the international front with every breath and every heartbeat.

As Rahmanpanah elucidated in the standing of Komala (CPI), this is just one small chapter, a small fragment of a much larger international front. It is in this vehicle of life that humanity finds itself in a broad struggle for being, against metastasizing structures created by a small privileged few. It is in this vehicle of life that one finds even the littlest moments meaningful, forging a different path from the Eurocentric nihilist status quo that comes along with a collapsing liberal international order and the consequences of late-stage capitalism.

If there is only one thing I learned from Komala, it is that when knowledge and being is exchanged on the international front, it is not just humans communicating, it is our ancestors and martyrs as well. It is in our ancestors and martyrs that we sustain the eternality and immortality they forged in the mountains they moved and continue to move from within us.

The light of the ancestors and martyrs burns here, and it doesn’t go out. This chapter is far from over.


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