The Kurds in Iran

By | September 1, 2021

As in Iraq and Turkey, the Kurds in Iran have waged a long struggle against their country’s regimes, but so far with limited success.

According to uncertain estimates, the Kurds in Iran make up almost ten percent of the country’s population, that is, about 8 million. They have traditionally lived in the northwestern parts of the country, but many move as these areas lag behind the rest of the country economically. Only a third of Iran’s Kurds today are said to live in the traditional Kurdish area.

Like the Kurds in Turkey, the Kurds in Iran have been exposed to strong pressure to give up their own culture and are assimilated into the majority population. In Iran, there are also religious differences between the Kurds and the majority Persians. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslims while the Persians are Shia Muslims. All in all, this has created deep distrust among many Kurds against the Iranian state.

Autonomous Republic

In 1945, the left-wing Democratic Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDPI) was formed, which in early 1946 proclaimed an autonomous Kurdish republic centered in the northwestern city of Mahabad. Its leader was executed when Iranian troops occupied the republic in 1946.

In 1969, the left-wing movement Komala was founded, which waged an armed struggle for Kurdish rights in the 1980s but laid down its arms in 1990. The following year, 1991, the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) was founded and in 2004 the Party began a free life in Kurdistan (Pjak or Pejak) an uprising through sporadic attacks from bases in Iraqi Kurdistan.

However, the Iranian Kurds remained divided, and attempts to establish autonomy, including after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, failed. Since then, attempts at dialogue with the government have alternated with temporary clashes between Kurdish guerrilla groups and Iranian security forces.

Fighting in the 21st century

In the summer of 2005, riots broke out in Mahabad after a Kurdish activist was killed and at least 17 people were shot dead by Iranian security forces. In 2009, the fighting between Pjak and the government side escalated. Many see Pjak as an Iranian branch of the Kurdish PKK guerrillas in Turkey, but Pjak’s leaders claim that the movement is completely independent. Iran has accused the United States of secretly supporting Pjak, which has been rejected by the United States.

In a major offensive in September 2011, Pjak was driven across the border into Iraq. The guerrillas were forced to promise not to strike at Iranian targets and not to recruit Iranian citizens, but there were continued reports that Pjak was active inside Iran, a country located in Middle East according to

In May 2014, a number of leading representatives of Pjak announced that they had formed a new movement called the Organization for a Free and Democratic Society in Eastern Kurdistan (Kodar) which wanted to resolve the conflict in the region through dialogue with the government.

End of ceasefire

After a relatively long period of a unilaterally declared ceasefire, in 2015 the KDPI resumed its armed struggle against the Iranian regime. In September, fighting broke out between the KDPI guerrillas and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. In April 2016, the fighting continued, now between the KDPI in alliance with the smaller PAK. Both groups announced that they had taken up arms because the situation in the Kurdish parts of Iran had become unbearable, especially in light of the extensive executions of Kurdish political prisoners who were not considered to have received a fair trial.

Several hundred Iranian Kurds are said to be imprisoned for political reasons. The information varies between about 250 and almost 1000. During the period 2009 to 2015, at least 15 Kurdish prisoners were executed. In 2016, the number of executions increased sharply. According to Amnesty International , at least 24 Kurdish political prisoners were executed in August 2016 alone.

When the hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was succeeded by the more moderate Hassan Rohani in the summer of 2013, many Kurds hoped that the rulers would take a more conciliatory attitude towards the Kurdish minority, but this did not happen. Kurdish hopes for a better future were further weakened by the nuclear energy agreement in early 2016, which normalized Iran’s relations with the outside world. This shattered all possible hopes that the outside world would use the agreement to pressure Iran into concessions regarding the Kurds. The fact that the United States later dropped the agreement has not improved the situation for the Kurds.

The Iraqi Kurds’ attempt to declare independence in the autumn of 2017 aroused enthusiasm on the Iranian side of the border but worried the Iranian regime, which quickly closed the border to help stifle the Kurdish dream of freedom. Iran has also continued to accuse the Kurds of cross-border actions from Iraq, demanding that those responsible be extradited. In September 2018, Iranian government forces carried out an attack on what was said to be the headquarters of an Iranian-Kurdish party in northern Iraq. 15 deaths were reported.

The Kurds in Iran