The Islamic Republic of Iran enters its fourth week of nationwide protests despite the harrowing pattern of deliberately firing live ammunition at protesters as well as the rising death toll. Anti-regime chants are still echoing in every city and village in Iran and more people are joining the protests in defiance of a ruthless crackdown by Iran’s security apparatus.
The protests that are taking place are different to ones that were seen in 2009 or 2019. The current uprising is broad-based and inclusive, crossing through ethnic and class lines. Iran as a whole is revolting: the rich urban residents have come out alongside the poor. The youth are there, and so are their parents, alongside Iran’s non-Persian national communities – the Kurds, Baluchis, Azeris, Turkmen and Iran’s Arab community.
The uprising was triggered by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish women from Saqqez in the north-western region of Rojhelat, Kurdistan. Her name is Zhina Amini, but her family were not allowed to register her Kurdish name, hence on official documents her name is Mahsa Amini.
Zhina has given a human face to all of Iran’s people who have been long suffering under the oppressive Iranian regime. In the face of the common injustices that every Iranian experiences, ethnic, class or religious differences became insignificant.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets in a show of solidarity with Zhina’s family but also to voice their own anger and demands of “regime change.” More than 150 people have lost their lives, thousands were injured and many more have been detained by the police.
In spite of this, in his first remarks on the uprising, Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, gave a strong backing to the security forces and accused Iran’s enemies to be behind the unrest. “If there had not been issue of the young woman’s death, they would have used another pretext to stir up unrest and riots at this time,” Khamenei said. On Monday, 3 October, Khamenei fired a number of tweets, one of which declared, “I openly state that the recent riots & unrest in Iran were schemes designed by the US; the usurping, fake Zionist regime; their mercenaries; & some treasonous Iranians abroad who helped them.”
Khamenei’s words should not come as a surprise as his oppressive government has proven to be intolerant of any domestic dissent and opposition. The country’s whole population has suffered enormously from this authoritarian theocratic rule. However, while all of the world’s media are focusing on Tehran, Iran’s ethnic minorities are disproportionally suffering. The Iranian security forces’ response to the protesters differs by region. Compared to the central parts of Iran, peripheral regions such as Khuzestan and Kurdistan (populated by Arabs and Kurds, respectively) had higher rates of death and arrest of protesters.
“Zhina Amini was not killed because she wore her hijab loosely – she was killed because she is Kurd,” Hana Yazdanpana
Hana Yazdanpana from the Media Department of Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), told Majalla that the Iranian regime is aware that there is a lot of focus on Tehran from international media outlets. So there is less brutality committed there. But in Baluchistan and the Kurdish region the government has gone in ruthlessly. “Right now (5th of October) I received news that the Iranian army is mobilizing at Baneh’s border with heavy weaponry. We expect it to be deployed in the Kurdistan Region soon,” said Yazdanpana.
Yazdanpana told Majalla that all the Kurds know that Zhina wasn’t killed because she wore her hijab loosely. Yazdanpana further said that the Iranian regime wanted “to humiliate the Kurds once again to make them an example for the Persians and the people in Tehran that the penalty for a loose hijab is death like Zhina’s.” She continued explaining to us “that there are many minorities in Iran so there are many aspects to this nationwide uprising. These demonstrations have many dimensions, each of which belongs to an oppressed nation that has been under torture for 43 years. As for us Kurds and PAK, we are not satisfied with anything less than our liberation, freedom and a right to statehood. This is evidenced by the speeches, writings and placards of the demonstrators who said: ‘We are not Iranians.’"
Rojhelat is the Most Militarised Part of Iran
The Kurdish Region of Iran, called by the Kurds Rojhelat or Eastern Kurdistan, is the most militarized part of Iran since 1979. Among Iran’s ethnic minorities, the Kurds have been the most vocal in expressing their opposition and rejection to the authoritarian regime of Iran.
Rojhelat is located in western Iran and has been inhabited by Kurds for centuries until the present day, dating back before the Islamic invasion of the 7th century. The Kurdish population of Iran is estimated between 10-12 million and live mainly in the provinces of Ilam, Kermashan, Kurdestan, Loristan and the West Azerbaijan Province. The Rojhelat region shares its borders with parts of Iraq and Turkey which are also inhabited by the Kurds.
Kurdish nationalism and the aspirations of establishing a homeland, Kurdistan, go back to the 10th -12th centuries AD. More recently, in the region of Mahabad in West Azerbaijan Province, several Kurds from Iraq and Iran established the “Republic of Mahabad” in 1941, with the support of the Soviet Union. In 1946 when Soviet Union pulled out of Iran, the Iranian regime brutally invaded Mahabad and it leaders were publically hanged and executed.
Kurds faced substantial political oppression during the Pahlavi rule, and Kurds, like many Iranians who actively supported the revolution of 1979, fell victim to Ayatollah Khomeini’s promises of a fairer and just Iran. After the revolution, Khomeini viewed the Kurds with hostility and saw them as dangerous opponents to his newly established Islamic Republic of Iran. Bloody armed conflict broke out as Khomeini tried to establish control in Rojhelat. Tens of thousands of Kurds were killed and more were imprisoned as these and other serious human rights violations were committed against the Kurds since 1979.
Ali Khamenei’s recent tweets about the current unrest being orchestrated by Iran’s enemies, is a four-decade old mantra. Back in the 1980s when Kurdish parties and activities called for equal citizenship, the regime labelled the leaders of the Kurdish movement as “corrupters of the Earth,” accusing them of being sponsored by foreign powers: USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Many media outlets have neglected to report to their viewers that the current uprising in Iran actually began at Amini’s funeral in her hometown. It is in Rojhelat where it all started and spread like a wildfire all over Iran, spiralling into the biggest show of opposition to Iran’s oppressive clerico-fascist rule since the protests of 2009 and 2019.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGG) has always been intolerant of unrest among ethnic national communities. As protests sweep Iran’s big “Persian” cities, the IRGG is committing war crimes against Iran’s marginalized communities, mainly by using horrific brutality against the Baluchi and Kurds.
Majalla, spoke to Hengaw, a Human Rights organization that covers Human Rights Violations in Kurdistan (Iran). The organization also shared with us harrowing images of Kurds killed and injured by IRGG attacks on Kurdish towns and villages. One of those heart-breaking images is of Kurdish man who lost his wife and infant child. He is seeing leaving the hospital with the dead infant on his arm.
On September 28, the IRGC also fired rockets and drones at the headquarters of the Iranian Kurdistan parties (PDKI, PAK, Komalah). The headquarters are located in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan in Iraq. Six members of the PDKI (Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan) six members of the PAK (Freedom Party of Kurdistan) and two members of the Komalah were killed in this attack. In all, a total of 13 people lost their lives.
The attacks on the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan have further angered the Kurds in Iran. Kurdish political parties there called for a strike in Iranian Kurdistan to condemn the Iranian regime's attack. The population responded to this call on October 1st with strikes that took place in over 20 cities in Iranian Kurdistan. All shops remained closed that day.
Again on Saturday the 1st of October, IRGG attacked Iraqi Kurdistan. A senior member of Komalah, an exiled Iranian Kurdish opposition party, told Reuters that two party offices in Halgurd Mountain in Iraq's Erbil were struck in Iranian shelling. A Kurdish security official said Iranian artillery also shelled the Choman district in Erbil.
On October 4, Iranian forces bombarded several villages on the border near the town of Penjwen in the Sulaymaniyah Province in Iraqi Kurdistan.
The United Nations said that Iranian attacks last week hit Iranian refugee settlements across the border in Iraqi Kurdistan. Local officials said at least nine civilians were killed and dozens more injured.
Since last week, IRGG’s strikes on Kurdish villages and towns in the Kurdish region of Iran, have displaced more than 700 families. On Saturday, 1 October, another hundred families were forced to flee after the IRGG renewed shelling on the village of Choman, near the Iran-Iraq Kurdish border
IRGG attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan has drawn widespread condemnation from Kurdish and Iraqi officials, as well as world leaders. Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry released a statement announcing that: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s strong condemnation of the Iranian attacks on Kurdistan Region of the Republic of Iraq, killing and wounding a number of innocent people.
The Kurdish-Iraqi commander in charge of border areas, General Bahram Arif Yassin, said Iranian forces have beefed up troops on the border but so far has not tried to crossing into the Iraqi Kurdish region. The Iranian government is blaming Kurdish groups for fomenting some of the protests that are gripping the country.
The US has a military base in the Iraqi Kurdish region and last week it shot down an Iranian drone heading towards Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Iran’s armed forces Commander in Chief, Major General Mohammed Bagheri, warned the US army to not to interfere, “the armed forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran will respond to their hostile measure (…) Tehran has complete and precise knowledge of U.S bases in Harir, Erbil and Duhok [Kurdish cities in Iraqi Kurdistan].
The official from Hengaw who spoke to Majalla said it is important to highlight that this is not the first time the Iranian regime has fired rockets at the headquarters of the several political parties in Iranian Kurdistan. In 2018 there was also a rocket attack on the PDKI headquarters and a dozen members of the party were killed.
The official continued, “What would also be important to emphasize in connection with the protests: Kurds are doubly oppressed in Iran. On the one hand as citizens of Iran, on the other collectively as a people. This means that there are reprisals that only affect the Kurds and the Kurds are also protesting against this oppression and for their freedom. Kurds are oppressed collectively as a people on a political, economic, cultural and religious level.”
Since the uprising against the Iranian regime started in the Kurdish region, more than 25 Kurdish protesters have been killed, 1138 injured and more than 2000 have been arrested, according to Hengaw’s statistics from 4th October.
In Tunisia on December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a poor street vendor, was once again harassed and humiliated by the local officials. He went the governor’s office to complain, but he refused to see him. With a sense of despair and hopelessness, Bouazizi set himself on fire and with it he sparked the Arab Spring. Nationwide protests broke out and the regime of Ben Ali was overthrown on 14 January 2011. Will Zhina Amini be Iran’s Mohamed Bouazizi? Only time will tell.