Kurdistan Workers' Party soldiers, commonly known as PKK near the Iran/Iraqi Kurdistan border
© James Gordon / Flickr Commons
Kurdistan Workers' Party soldiers, commonly known as PKK near the Iran/Iraqi Kurdistan border
Last updated: December 26, 2013

Rouhani’s new Iran – a façade for despotism?

Banner Icon Iran’s improved foreign relations with the West is aimed at concealing deadly crackdowns on dissidents inside the country, claim Kurdish opponents.

Many in the international community have praised Iran’s recent nuclear deal with six world powers perceived as curtailing the much-propagated Iranian nuclear threat. Many Iranians have also welcomed it, hoping sanction relief would restart the country’s degenerated economy. Iranian Kurdish opponents, however, claim President Hassan Rouhani had agreed to the nuclear deal only to mask despotism and vindictive crackdown against Kurds and pro-democracy dissidents inside Iran.  

“Kurds are extremely skeptic over the nuclear deal"

Kurds in Iran number an estimated 10 million, living mainly in the Kurdistan Province. They demanded autonomy following the Islamic Revolution of 1979, for which they were denounced as ”counterrevolutionary infidels” by the then Iranian Shiite Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who eventually called for Jihad against them that led to several years of Civil War between official soldiers and various Kurdish armed groups. Clashes have since persisted, but on a much smaller scale.  

“Kurds are extremely skeptic over the nuclear deal because they know it is scenic to look at it from outside Iran, while inside, it only contains empty promises,” said Neriaman Kerimi, a Kurdish journalist who had spent two years behind bars in Iran for having edited a student newspaper that promoted Kurdish culture.

He said that he was apprehended during the reign of former President Mohammad Khatami, who ruled from 1997 to 2005 and whose foreign policy at the time was considered “reformist” like that of incumbent Rouhani.

“Iranian ‘Islamic reformists’ ease tensions with the West for their own interests inside Iran and Rouhani has done the same agreeing to the nuclear deal,” he said, adding that former President Khatami of Iran had similarly pursued an open policy with the West and even lifted certain domestic conservative rules.

Khatami implemented far more reforms domestically than Rouhani is attempting, but crackdown on ethnic minority activists, liberals and pro-democracy dissidents had remained and would remain the same inside Iran under Rouhani,” he said.

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Kurdish writer and activist Omer Hojebri said that the “Iranian nuclear deal has nothing to do with Rouhani. The new lenient policy with the West is in fact the agenda of Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, who has the last word in Iran.”

Hojebri believes that the nuclear deal has not much to offer the Kurds either. “It is aimed at changing the image of Iran’s typical militaristic stance on international affairs, that would lift sanctions to prosper the economy and cover up crimes committed against Kurdish people and civic dissidents inside Iran, which has proved quite successful, as hanging of political prisoners continues across the country but the international community is silent because of the nuclear deal. ”

Perhaps Kurds have their own excuses for being so skeptic, when four months after Rouhani was elected Iran’s new President, three long-time Kurdish political prisoners were hanged. More await the same fate, according to an Amnesty International report.

30-year-old Habibollah Golparipour was executed by hanging at Urmia prison on 26 October 2013. On the same day, 34-year-old Reza Isma’ili was confirmed hanged at Salmas regional prison. On 4 November 2013, 34-year-old Sherko Moarefi was hanged at Saghiz prison. 

Iran’s “Revolutionary Court” had found them guilty of “enmity against God” {Moharebeh} and “corruption on earth" {Ifsad Fil-Arz} for alleged membership in Partiya Jiyana Azada Kurdistanê {Free Life Party of Kurdistan} (PJAK), an outlawed organisation founded in 2004 claiming to fight for Kurdish rights within the national boundaries of Iran.

PJAK has since led major attacks against Iranian military outposts across the Kurdistan Province.   

A statement by the Golparipour family, however, says their son was a civic activist apprehended in 2009 for having owned a book, reportedly considered PJAK literature and therefore banned in Iran.  

Nassir Golparipour, his father, said in a telephone interview, “My son did not have any weapon with him when he was arrested, nor did he kill and commit crimes, he was executed for having had a book and court documents have confirmed it.”

Rouhani’s Special Assistant in Ethnic and Minority Affairs Ali Younesi had expressed his dismay at the executions and said that “extremist elements” of the Islamic Republic were responsible.

But the Kurds are yet to consider the regrets and given that PJAK has warned of “retributions,” it is probable that armed clashes could soon re-emerge, although in the last two years PJAK and Iran had agreed to a ceasefire that ended armed operations in their respective territories.

"Repression and murdering civic political activists seems to be the new agenda"

“But hanging of the Kurdish political prisoners in Rouhani’s Iran broke the ceasefire,” announced PJAK in a statement following the executions.

Scores of armed clashes have since taken place in the Kurdistan Province and five Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGs) were reportedly killed. PJAK did not officially claim responsibility, but it is widely believed that they were PJAK-led in retaliation.

“Furthering repression and murdering civic political activists seems to be the new agenda of Rouhani’s cabinet and the nuclear deal simply means; diplomacy abroad despotism at home,” said PJAK leader Abd al-Rahman Haji Ahmadi.

“Iran shall therefore expect retributions and self-defense from the Kurds, as people have the universal right to defend themselves from unprovoked attacks; that is what the Kurds and any democrat would do in the face of deceitful authoritarians like those of the Islamic Republic,” he said.

Rozh Ahmad
Rozh Ahmad is a journalist based in Paris. He grew up in England but has his roots in Iraq’s Kurdish region. In the last three years, Rozh has reported from and about Kurds in Europe, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria for various English and Kurdish publications.
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