Kurdistan - Iran
Kurds consist of some 5 million, or 7%, of the population of Iran. They are mostly settled along the borders with Iraq and Turkey. Nearly all Kurds are Sunni (orthodox) Muslim, though a third or less of Iranian Kurds are Shia Muslim, the predominant religion of Iran. In Iran Kurdish is spoken as a home language. Historically, most Iranian Kurds have lived in villages, the rest being nomadic. Kurdish was taught in schools in Kurdish areas. There were newspapers, magazines, and radio broadcasts in Kurdish. However, most Kurdish speakers in Iran also spoke Persian (Farsi).
The Kurdish language belongs to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It consists of a continuum of languages/dialects spoken in Kurdistan, an area that covers northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey. Kurds are also found in southwestern Armenia and an enclave in Azerbaijan. Iraqi Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Province in Iran have been the only officially acknowledged as parts of Kurdistan. The Turkish and Syrian governments have not recognized the parts of Kurdistan under their control as a demographic or geographic region.
The Iranian regime continued to repress its minority ethnic and religious groups, including Azeris, Kurds, Bahai (a religious minority), ethnic Arabs, and others. Consequently, some areas within the country where these minorities reside, including the Baluchistan border area near Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Kurdish regions in the northwest of the country, and areas near the Iraqi border, have remained in conflict.
The Kurds have manifested an independent spirit throughout modern Iranian history, rebelling against central government efforts to restrict their autonomy during the Safavid, Qajar, and Pahlavi periods. A major Kurdish rebellion in the early 1960s led to the deployment of a covert US military mission to assist Shah Reza Pahlavi in putting it down. Another Kurdish uprising took place in 1979 following the Revolution as Kurds rebelled against the authorities trying to take advantage of the often chaotic post-Revolutionary situation. Mahabad, which has been a center of Kurdish resistance against Persian authority since the time of the Safavid monarch Shah Abbas (1587-1629), was again at the forefront of the Kurdish autonomy struggle.
Following the 1979 revolution, one of the foremost pressing ethnic challenge to the new regime came from Kurdish rebels in the northeast, who had long struggled for independence. In several 1979 meetings, Khomeini warned key Kurdish leaders that any attempts at dismantling Iran would be met with the harshest response, and he sent Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard Corps) units to the north, underlining the seriousness of the government's intention. Despite these warnings, in the spring of 1979, seizing on the turmoil of the Revolution, the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran, the Komala (Komala-ye Shureshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Komala, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan) and the Kurdish branch of the Fadayan mounted a well-organized rebellion, but the revolutionary regime was ready.
The confrontation between Tehran and the Kurds intensified sharply when the Iran-Iraq War broke out. It was assumed that Iraqi Kurds and their Iranian brothers would cooperate to exploit weaknesses on both sides. Past divisions within the Kurdish communities were temporarily shelved in pursuit of the long-cherished goal of an independent state. Not surprisingly, neither Baghdad nor Tehran was willing to accept that outcome. Rather, both sides insisted on organizing special loyalist Kurdish military units to participate in the war and to demonstrate allegiance to their respective states.
Intense fighting between government forces and Kurdish guerrillas thus occurred from 1979 to 1982, but by 1983 the government had largely asserted its control over most of the Kurdish area.
The complicated geopolitics of the region, coupled with Kurdish interests in three states, have long created conflicting temporary alliances and other relationships between Kurdish groups and the nations they inhabit. During the Iran-Iraq War and through to the US led intervention in Southwest Asia in the early 1990s and on to the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Kurds have alternately sided with Iranian authorities, Saddam Hussein, and others. Kurds have also been targeted by organizations such as Mujahadin-e Khalq Organization (MEK/MKO), who have sought to overthrow the government of Iran, but who have actively opposed Kurdish pushes for self-determination. The MEK was said to be responsible for atrocities against the Kurds in Iraq, as part of their support from the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The Iranian military battled Kurdish peshmerga forces from the Free Life Party in the Sardasht region of eastern Iran in July 2004. Haji Ahmad, a leader of the Free Life Party and member of Kongra-Gel (formerly known as the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK), claimed Iranian forces initiated the fighting, adding that Kurdish forces "defeated forces of the regime and then captured a military barracks of the Revolutionary Guards in the village of Mazra." Ahmad further claimed that Kurdish fighters ambushed an Iranian military vehicle, killing an Iranian commander and soldier. There was no independent confirmation of Ahmad's claims. Meanwhile, Tehran struck an agreement with Turkey to wage a joint struggle against the Kurds. That agreement was to be made formal when Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan traveled to Tehran on 27 July 2004. Iranian Ambassador to Ankara Firuz Dolatabadi announced that Iran would declare Kongra-Gel a terrorist organization during Erdogan's visit.
In 2005 the Majles' national security and foreign policy committee studied the unrest in Kurdistan, and its rapporteur told domestic media that one factor was the comparatively high level of economic development in Iraqi and Turkish Kurdish areas. The representative from Sanandaj, Kurdistan also cited the lack of Sunni cabinet members as a grievance. However, the results of a government inquiry were not made public.
There were clashes in June 2005, and there were strikes and demonstrations in July and August 2005, following the killing of a Kurdish activist by security forces. According to Human Rights Watch and other sources, security forces killed at least 17 persons and wounded and arrested large numbers of others. On 4 August 2005 the regime used attack helicopters against crowds of demonstrators in the Iranian Kurdish town of Saqqez, killing 13 demonstrators and wounding more than 200, according to eyewitness reports on Los Angeles-based Radio Sedaye Iran and National Iranian TV (NITV). The killings came from a regime effort to put down three weeks of protests in northwestern Iran following the assassination of a prominent pro-democracy activist on 9 July 2005. By the end of the day, the death toll in Saqqez reportedly reached 39, and more family members collected their dead and phoned in reports to the exile radio and TV stations in Los Angeles. Similar unrest and regime counter-attacks was reported in other Kurdish towns, including Piranshahr and Sanandaj. Overall, reports indicated that hundreds may have been arrested.
In 2006 Kurds clashed with police, resulting in many deaths and hundreds of arrests.
In an interview in Arbil in 2007 Osman Ocalan, the brother of its revered leader, estimated the total strength of the PKK guerrillas at just under 7,000. "There are 2,750 fighters in Turkey," he said. "A further 2,500 are in the border areas of Iraq and 1,500 are in Iran." It was the PKK's war in Iran, where there was a Kurdish minority of four million, that was said to be escalating. "In the last six months the PKK has started a war against Iran."
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