“The part of Kurdistan that does not exist in the eyes of the public and mainstream media”
In this article, reasons for the general ignorance that is seen in Kurdish mainstream and public opinion towards the issues facing Iranian occupied or Eastern Kurdistan will be discussed.
A brief history of Eastern Kurdistan’s revolts in the past 100 years of Kurdish struggle:
For centuries Eastern Kurdistan, also known as Rojhilat, has been a stronghold and core part of the Kurdish nations’ desire for an independent state.
In this section, the major Kurdish revolts, uprisings, and movements will be briefly presented.
Simko Shikak’s rebellion (1918-1930)
Simko Shikak, a prominent Kurdish tribal leader of the Shikak tribe in the Urmia Region, established his authority over the western regions of Lake Urmia in the summer of 1918. He organized an army of approximately twenty thousand men, and secured a self-governed region centred in Urmia city. After several battles with the Persian Army, he expanded the areas under his control to nearby regions and towns such as Mahabad, Miyandoav, Piranshar, Khuy, Salmas, and Maku. In 1921 he took over the cities of Sardasht and Bana, followed by the takeover of Maragha in 1922, and he encouraged Lurs to revolt against the Central Persian Pahlavi kingdom.
Eventually, in 1922, Simko and his army couldn’t resist the Persian army led by Reza Khan Pahlavi, and were defeated at Chahriq Castle in Northern Urmia, where Simko’s army was camping. Simko fled to Northern Kurdistan where he resided until 1926. In 1926 he regained control over his tribe and began another rebellion against the Persians, but half of his troops betrayed him to the tribe’s previous leader. That is why he fled to Southern Kurdistan and stayed in the village of Barzan until 1930.
In 1930, the Persian Army commander General Hasan Muqaddam sent a letter to Simko and invited him and Khurshid Agha Harki to a meeting in the town of Shino (Oshnavieh) that was to be held at the house of a local army commander by the name of Colonel Nouruzi. After Simko arrived at the General's house, Nourozi onvinced him to go to the outskirts of the town to welcome the General's arrival. Nevertheless, was this a trap, which led to Simko being ambushed and killed on the evening of June 30, 1930.
Lady Qadam Khayr’s revolt in the Luristan region of Eastern Kurdistan (1927-1933)
Qadam Khayr, a Kurdish Luri heroine born in Alvar - Andimeshk of the Luristan region in the year of 1899, was an influential Kurdish female leader who, alongside her two brothers and husband revolted against the newly established Persian kingdom of Pahlavi between the years of 1927 and 1933 to secure regions around Shush (Susa), Andimeshk, Dezful, and Khurremawa in Luristan and Eastern Kurdistan. It is said that this uprising and several others in the region were inspired by Simko Shikak’s revolt in 1920-1930. Qadam Khayr is considered a heroine and praised as a brave, strong, and upstanding woman in Luri-Kurdish folklore. Her reputation was mostly due to her participation in the armed struggles and her efforts to deliver food and military equipment to the Luri -Kurdish tribal combat forces.
After the assassination of her brothers and husband in 1929, she gave up the struggle and isolated herself in order to deal with her family loss; in addition to fighting a hard battle regarding her mental health. Later Jalal Walizadah, a local landlord and affiliated to the Pahlavi, proposed to Qadam Khayr. Due to her hatred towards the kingdom and government, she refused the proposal. Later under pressure from other tribal leaders she finally married Walizadah. She passed away in 1933, still suffering from the loss of her family along with forced marriage and was buried in a graveyard near the old bridge of Dezful.
The Republic of Kurdistan also known as the Mahabad Republic (1946), the symbol of Kurdish nationalism and statehood
In August 1941, some parts of Eastern Kurdistan were invaded by the Soviet Union. The absence of the Persian government led to the Soviet Union attempting to overtake the occupied areas of Eastern Kurdistan, by doing so they promoted Kurdish nationalism and asked for Kurdish autonomy within the Iranian state.
In Mahabad a committee of middle-class people supported by tribal chiefs took over the local administration. A political party called the “Society for the Revival of Kurdistan” (Komeley Jiyanewey Kurdistan or JK) was formed. Qazi Muhammad, head of a family of religious jurists, was elected as chairman of the party. Although the republic was not declared until December 1945, Qazi's committee ruled the area for more than five years until the fall of the republic.
A Soviet commander in Miyandoav summoned Kurdish chieftains and invited them to Baku in Azerbaijan SSR. The prime of Azerbaijan SSR, Baqirov, recommended the Kurdish Minister chieftains to change the name of “Komeley Jiyanewey Kurdistan” to “Democratic Party of Kurdistan”. On December 10 the Azerbaijan Democratic Party took control of some parts of Eastern Azerbaijan province from Iranian government forces, forming the Azerbaijani People’s Republic. Qazi Muhammad decided to do the same, and in December 15 the Kurdish People’s Government was founded in Mahabad, On January 22 1946, the Kurdish People's Government was founded in Mahabad. Qazi Muhammad announced the formation of the Republic of Mahabad (Kurdistan Republic). Some of the aims mentioned in the manifesto include:
● Autonomy for the Kurds within the Iranian state
● The use of Kurdish language as the medium of education and
● The election of a provincial council for Kurdistan to supervise state and
● All state officials to be of local origin
● Unity and fraternity with the Azerbaijani people
● The establishment of a single law for both peasants and notables
On March 26, 1946, due to pressure from Europe and especially the United States; Soviet Union promised the Persian Kingdom of Iran that they would pull out from Iranian Occupied Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. In June the central government took control over Azerbaijan which resulted in the isolation of Mahabad Republic. Following this, all economic and military assistance from the Soviet Union was cut and the newly established republic stepped into an economic crisis. The Kurdish tribal leaders saw no reason to support the republic and this weakened the Kurdish government.
On December 5th, 1946, the war council told Qazi Muhammad that they would fight against the Persian forces if they tried to enter the region. However, the lack of Kurdish tribal support made Qazi Muhammad only see a massacre upon the Kurdish civilians performed by the Persian forces, rather than Kurdish rebellion. This forced him to avoid war at all cost.
On December 15th, the Persian Forces directed by Qawam Saltana (Gholam Hossein Azimi) entered Mahabad to prosecute Qazi Muhammad, Sedir Qazi. and Seyf Qazi. In an open court Qazi and his comrades had been accused by the following: manipulating the map-border of Iran, proclaiming independency, occupying part of Iran’s land in the name of Kurdistan, oil trading with Soviet Union without consent from the Persian kingdom, outlining Kurdistan border, joining all Kurdistan parts, creating Kurdistan flag and creating Kurdish currency. Therefore, the death penalty had been applied on them. Later on 31st March 1947, Qazi Mohammed, Seyf Qazi and Sadir Qazi were publicly hanged at “Chawarchra Square” in Mahabad by the Pahlavis.
The Kurds and the Islamic Revolution of Iran (1979 - present)
Kurds under Dr. Ghassemlu’s leadership played an important role in bringing down Muhammad Reza Shah in the pre-1979 uprisings. Ayatollah Khomeini promised the Kurds that they would have autonomy and that all their rights would be preserved under the new revolutionary regime. But as soon as the Ayatollah returned to Iran and took the power, he rejected all different ideologies, political parties, and minorities such as Kurds, Baluchis, Ahwazi Arabs (Arabistan), and Turkomen. He stated that all parties and ideologies other than the Shia Islam and his Islamic Republican Party are rejected, and that the regime and constitutions must be based on Islamic Shiism ideology of Imam Mahdi’s succession, called “wilaayit faqiih” in Arabic. This meant that all the minorities that had been promised autonomy and preserved rights must surrender to Ayatollah’s will. The Ayatollah had a strong legitimacy, mostly among Persians and Azeris who are majority Shia Muslims, which gave him more power for the suppression of all different and opposing ideologies and parties such as Communist Persian parties, Nationalist Persian parties, and especially Kurds.
On the 30th and 31st of March that year, the newly established revolutionary government and 99.5% of the voters (15.6 million) said yes to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Kurds were the first to reject this referendum because it was not democratic, and there were not more options except an “Islamic Republic”. This was the beginning of Kurdish Iranian conflicts.
Ayatollah Khomeini, the new religious leader of Iran, declared a Jihad (holy struggle) and a Fetwa (religious edict) against the Kurds, and key Kurdish nationalist figures like Ghassemlou were seen as "enemies of the state" in his statement on August 17, 1979. The government then began a three-week campaign to clear out Kurdish strongholds; mainly Saqqez and Mahabad. As a result, between 10,000-20,000 Kurds were killed, nearly 200,000 were displaced, and hundreds of villages and towns were destroyed.
After months of intensive fights, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) took control of the Kurdish cities and nearly suppressed the Kurdish fighters (KDPI and Komala Peshmerga). In the late 1980s when the war ended, the Iranian government decided to start negotiations with the Kurds. Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was the Secretary General of KDPI. After several Meetings in Vienna, on July 13, 1989, the Iranian Government’s Delegation assassinated Dr. Ghassemlou and his aides Adbdullah Qaderi Azer (a member of the PDKI Central Committee), and Fadhil Rasoul, a Kurdish university professor who had acted as a mediator.
His deputy Sadegh Sharafkandi succeeded Ghassemlou as secretary general up until his assassination known as “Mykonos incident”. On September 17th, 1992 Dr. Sharafkandi and his aides Fattah Abduli, Humayun Ardalan, and their translator Nouri Dehkurdi were assassinated in the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin by Iranian intelligence agents during Kurdish Iranian negotiations. While most of its military and political activity in Iran was greatly reduced after the 1979-1981 rebellion; the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran had continued its opposition activities through the 1980s. In 1989, the KDPI renewed its military activities, the most notable of which was the 1990 fighting, in which some 300 Iranian soldiers were allegedly killed.
Following an effective political and military crackdown in 1996, the resistance of KDPI against the Iranian government shifted to the political opposition abroad. Renewed insurgency in Eastern Kurdistan has been undertaken since 2004 by another Kurdish militant organization: the PJAK who is affiliated with the PKK. Since the establishment of the Islamic Iranian Republic in 1979, Eastern Kurdistan has always been a main core of opposition against the central regime. Several protests and strikes have taken place in different Kurdish cities. As a result, the regime has turned Eastern Kurdistan into a security sensitive region, and deployed thousands of the IRGC forces to the Kurdish cities and villages to suppress the Kurds. These forces have been murdering local Kurds especially Kolbars (cross border laborers) for years.
The biggest question:
Why is this part of Kurdistan usually missed, ignored and forgotten by Kurds from other parts of Kurdistan and the diaspora, Kurdish mainstream media, and public eye despite all these very important, pertinent, and sensitive events in modern history of the Kurdish nation’s struggle?
There are several answers to this question and some of them will be discussed below.
1. Iran is a very isolated country to begin with, and due to its history in opposing the central government; the government has isolated Kurdistan more than other regions. This has made access to news and information very hard for human rights activists, journalists and media
2. All the news agencies in Kurdistan are state owned, and Kurdish peoples’ issues are not discussed by them.
3. The internet is strictly controlled and access to nearly all social media is impossible unless IP changers or VPNs are used.
4. Independent reporters, journalists, and activists are extremely suppressed. According to Foreign Policy, Iran is the 7th worst country for journalists, and according to Reporters Without Borders, Iran is ranked number 173 among 180 countries for press freedom index.
5. The major Kurdish parties KDP, PUK, and PKK who own the major Kurdish media platforms such as Rudaw, Kurdistan 24, Kurdsat TV, NRT, Ronahi TV, Roj News, ANF, Hawar, etc usually don’t report much from Eastern Kurdistan. If they do so, it’s mostly the same as what the Iranian media report. The reason these party-owned media platforms ignore and somehow boycott Eastern Kurdistan is because the parties have ties with the Iranian government, and for that reason they will never risk losing their benefits by reporting Kurdish peoples’ issues under the Iranian Government. These Kurdish media have official and unofficial reporters in Eastern Kurdistan, and what they report is mostly what is allowed by the Iranian government such as documentaries about people’s daily lives, religious celebrations, or what is generally available on the Iranian State news. Additionally, sometimes they only report news that is in favour of their party or leaders.
6. In international community, Iran’s case is mostly related to terrorism and nuclear bomb threats. Human rights and especially minorities’ rights are not discussed at the same level. The only cases that are discussed are usually Related to Persian human rights activists and journalists who get promoted by powerful United States, United Kingdom, European and Saudi funded media such as
BBC Persian, VOA Farsi, Radio Farda, Iran International, Manoto TV, etc. Other than using the Kurdish case as a means to oppose the Islamic republic of Iran, they don’t discuss Kurds at all.
7. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International that have sections for Iran, and since these sections are mostly managed by Persian activists they usually focus on Persian activists inside Iran and other minorities are not given much attention.
8. Since the establishment of modern Iranian, Turkish, Iraqi, and Syrian states; the Kurds have been denied the right of learning their mother language and have been targeted by intensive assimilation campaigns planned by these four states. The human rights activists, independent journalists and reports in eastern Kurdistan write or speak mostly in Sorani Kurdish (Arabic script), or Persian, which the majority of Kurds from other parts of Kurdistan and the diaspora cannot read. Only a few of them can write or speak in English, Arabic, or other foreign languages. This has made communication between Kurds from different parts of Kurdistan and diaspora even more difficult.
During the past few years, the situation in Eastern Kurdistan has become worse. People deal with tough economic crises, poverty, religious and racial discrimination, assimilation, and oppression. Nevertheless, this important part of Kurdistan, with almost 10-12 million in population, is ignored by both Kurdish media and human rights activists alike.