Kurds are divided among the states of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. East Kurdistan, or Rojhelat as Kurds call it, is the Kurdish area in Iran.
During the Newroz Kurdish spring New Year celebrations, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) called on Kurds in Iran to hold widespread celebrations across the Kurdish areas.
“This call was well received by the people of Kurdistan and these celebrations were heavily politicized, and in some cases and places it was a direct opposition to the regime,” writes Mustafa Hijri, the secretary-general of the PDKI.
The PDKI was founded in 1945 and has been at the forefront of the struggle for Kurdish rights for 70 years. Since last year there have been increased clashes between Kurdish fighters and Iranian forces, particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Some of our Peshmerga [Kurdish fighters] units and groups are stationed inside East Kurdistan [in Iran] and are with and amongst our people, conducting organizational and political activities,” says Hijri. “The regime is terrified of these activities from these independent militant groups, along with the presence of our Peshmerga Forces inside the homeland, and the widespread support and assistance to our forces.”
Kurds are divided among the states of Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. East Kurdistan, or Rojhelat as Kurds call it, is the Kurdish area in Iran. Whereas the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq enjoys autonomy and Kurds in Syria have carved out a semi-autonomous area since 2014, Kurds in Iran lack many rights.
Iran plans to hold elections in May and the world’s eyes will be focused on whether the country takes a turn toward a more extreme-right government or remains with its current leadership that has been attempting to open the country more to the West since the Iran nuclear deal.
“My message to the world is to not fall for the Iranian propaganda and so-called election, because there is no such thing as a free and fair election [in the Islamic Republic],” assert Hijri. “This regime is not capable of holding a fair and free election; the supreme leader selects the so-called representatives and the president.
These representatives hold no power or authority to bring about any change, and the last four years of President [Hassan] Rouhani is a prime example of this fact.”
The PDKI describes Kurdish life in Iran as one where people live under “militarization” with “oppressive, suppressive, marginalizing, exclusionary policies and practices along with state-sponsored and state-sanctioned discrimination, denial and violence.” Will Kurds, who make up around 10% of Iran’s 77 million people, boycott the election? Hijri thinks that those who do vote will only do so because of coercion.
Since the PDKI was forced into exile following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, it has maintained itself in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. In the 1990s, Iran tried to attack its bases and in 2011 threatened to attack the border area of Iraq should Kurdish activity continue.
According to Hijri, the Islamic Republic has intensified pressure on Baghdad to expel Iranian- Kurdish political parties from Iraq. This would include not only the PDKI, but presumably also other Iranian-Kurdish parties such as the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) and Komala. “A hundred [Iraqi] politicians and parliamentarians have thus far signed the motion and their goal is to expel East Kurdistan political parties.”
As the battle for Mosul comes to an end, the Iraqi central government may face tensions with the Kurdish region.
This involves not only pre- 2014 struggles over disputed areas that were put on hold when ISIS attacked Iraq, but also tensions over the Iranian relationship with Baghdad and the close relations the Kurdish region has with Turkey. The Iranian Kurds are caught in the middle of potential disputes, fighting an Iranian regime that is at the height of its power, while the Kurdish region in Iraq fears being destabilized by any cross-border fighting.
Iranian Kurds are also divided into several factions, which may undermine their ability to generate any kind of major uprising.
However, if the US were to designate the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, that could give impetus for a focus on Kurdish demands in Iran. Certainly the success of Kurds in Syria and Iraq is an inspiration to those in Iran who would like to see the Kurdish flag flying freely on Newroz and other national days.