The Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Turkey: Three Kurdish Perspectives; Iranian Kurds No Better off Than in Shah's Time

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The Kurds in Iraq, Iran and Turkey: Three Kurdish Perspectives; Iranian Kurds No Better Off Than in Shah's Time

Iran's policy on the Kurds is, inevitably, shaped both by internal developments in a volatile period and external developments in a volatile region. The policy of the Islamic regime, however, has been remarkably similar to that of the Shah. It denies the existence of the Kurds as a nation, as a distinct ethnic group or even as a linguistic minority. It suppresses their demands for national rights and it keeps Kurdistan under firm military and political control.

Under the Shah's regime, the Kurds of Iran were always more anti-monarchist than the clerics who came to power in 1979. The new Islamic regime, therefore, had no base of support in Kurdistan or among other nationalities such as the Turkmans and Baluchis. The Kurds soon confirmed that, as far as their aspirations for autonomy within a democratic and independent federated state were concerned, there was no difference between the old and new regimes. Both were centralist and despotic states motivated by Persian chauvinism. Less than two months after assuming power, the Islamic revolutionary government unleashed its army against the Kurds. Within a few months, Khomeini declared himself commander-in-chief and led a major military offensive. This war against Kurdish autonomy within Iran continues to this day.

The Iranian government has succeeded, to a large extent, in temporarily suppressing the Kurdish nationalist movement. The towns and cities are under Tehran's rule and Kurdish peshmargas (guerrillas) have been driven out of the countryside and into Iraqi Kurdistan. Today a vast network of garrisons, outposts, military roads and some 200,000 Iranian military personnel maintain loose control over Kurdish villages and strategic locations.

Military suppression has gone hand in hand with political and ideological repression. Tehran has assassinated the leaders of Kurdish political parties, including R. Qasemlou (Kurdish Democratic Party), S. Kamangar (Komala) and others, in order to root out the phenomenon of Kurdish organization.

The new Islamic regime had no base of support in Kurdistan.

Ideologically, the Islamic republic has failed to win the hearts and minds of secular, nationalist Kurds who refuse to become Islamized. Although Iranian Kurds, like other Muslim peoples, respect their religion, they have developed a deep-seated hatred of the Islamic theocracy imposed upon Iran since 1979. Tehran's attempts to set up an Islamic Kurdish leadership for the Kurds of Iraq also has largely failed. Members of the small group of Iran-backed Kurdish Islamists are considered puppets and traitors. They are called jash (moles) by their fellow Kurds.

On the surface, Iranian Kurds seem to have been spared such genocidal measures as the Iraqi Ba'th Party's Anfal (annihilation) of Kurds. However, all of the genocidal acts committed against Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria have been committed against Iranian Kurds, too, albeit on a lesser scale.

Although Kurdish peshmargas were outnumbered by Tehran's army and their superior weapons, the defeat of the autonomist movement was by and large political. Kurdish leaders have not measured up to their valiant and indefatigable followers in the struggle for national and democratic rights.

While suppressing "its own" Kurds, Tehran has not hesitated to exploit the Kurds of Iraq and, recently, those of Turkey to settle accounts with Baghdad and Ankara. …