Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Kurds in Iran: Waiting for Change Through Existing Channels

Kurds in Iran - Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan Fanack HH Large1024px
A young recruit and the symbols of the “Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan” in a camp of the exiled organisation in northern Iraq. Photo Laif/HH.

While developments in Turkish, Syrian, and, to a lesser extent, Iraqi Kurdistan are moving so fast it’s difficult to keep pace, in Iranian Kurdistan there is scarcely any news. In the big picture spanning decades, any new development is little more than a ripple in the strong currents of history. As Abbas Vali, an Iranian Kurdish professor at Istanbul’s Bosphorus University, said in an interview with Fanack in April 2016; “Iranian Kurds know very well that the regime isn’t going to fall any time soon.”

The first Kurdish state, the Mahabad Republic, was founded in the mid-1940s on Persian soil, but three-quarters of a century later, Kurds in Iran are still waiting for recognition of their very identity. They try to achieve that by supporting Iranian reformist voices, but the tactic seems to lead nowhere; they’re never rewarded for their support. Another tactic, a campaign of violence against those in power in Tehran, has lost its appeal, if it ever had any.

The Kurds seem trapped in a system that discriminates strongly against them. They are, it is often said, in double trouble. They not only have a different ethnicity and language from most Iranians, but a different religion as well; most are Sunni, not Shia. This makes them more vulnerable than other Iranian citizens to the human rights abuses that are common in Iran. Kurds are arrested and prosecuted for political reasons more than average and are more likely to be sentenced to death. According to Amnesty International, this is because the state distrusts their loyalty to the country. This doesn’t affect only Kurds but also Baluchis, another Sunni-majority ethnic minority, living mostly in southeastern Iran.

The Kurds Special Files

Fanack offers a special file on the Kurds in the region.

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