64 years ago, for the first time in Kurdish history a modern Kurdish Republic was born. Though confined to a very limited geography of Kurdistan, and short-lived, the Republic and its legendary leader Qazi Muhammad left behind a landmark in our people’s history. I have revisited my media archives and came across this piece by Dr. Hussein Tahiri to share with you on the 64th anniversary of the first Kurdish Republic.
The Kurdistan Republic of 1946
By Dr Hussein Tahiri
The Kurdistan Republic of 19461 has been one of the most important symbols of Kurdish nationalism. It was formed at a time that the Kurds had been suppressed in all parts of Kurdistan. The formation of such a republic symbolized the revival of Kurdish nationalism. It was especially important for the role the Kurdish intellectuals played in the formation of the republic.
Before World War II, the Kurds in all parts of Kurdistan were living under oppression. Isma’il Agha Shikak, Simko, was killed in 1930 by the Iranian government. The Sheikh Mahmud’s revolt in Iraqi Kurdistan was defeated by 1932, and the last Kurdish revolt in Turkey was suppressed by the end of 1938. After the defeat of these revolts, a dark stage of Kurdish history began. The ruling states, mainly Turkey, Iraq and Iran decided not to allow the Kurdish leaders to conduct any other revolt. On 8 July 1937, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Afghanistan signed a pact, with encouragement from the British, to contain communism, and prevent its influence in the Middle East. It was more a non-aggression pact by Iran, Iraq and Turkey to contain Kurdish insurgencies as the signatory states agreed to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of each other, cooperate and consult each other on security matters and respect their existing borders.2 It meant these states were to avoid supporting Kurdish insurgencies in other parts of Kurdistan and cooperate to contain Kurdish revolts. The Kurds were well contained until the World War II.
World War II was a hope for Kurdish intellectuals in Iran to realize their long dream of a Kurdish state. The Allies, Russia, the British and United States occupied Iran in 1941. The authority of central government in Iran over Kurdistan was undermined. The Kurdish intellectuals in Mahabad used this occasion to establish their organization. In 1946, they declared the formation of a Kurdish republic in the town of Mahabad. However, this republic lasted only for eleven months; the Iranian forces defeated it in the same year.
Iran was drawn into World War II, despite the fact that Reza Shah declared its neutrality. Before World War II, Iran had established economic relations with Germany, and during the war some of the Iranian officials sympathized with Germany. Iran was also an important route to transport arms and logistics to the Soviet Union. The Allies’ suspicion that Iranian leaders might be sympathetic to the Germans was a good pretext to invade Iran. Therefore, in the summer of 1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the Allies occupied Iran.3
The Iranian territory was partitioned between the Allies. On 25 August 1941, the British attacked from the south and the Soviet Union from the north. Iran was divided into three zones: the southern provinces were controlled by the British and the United States, the central provinces e.g. Teheran and Mashhad remained neutral, and some of the Northern provinces were controlled by the Soviet Union. Kurdistan too was partitioned into three zones: Saqqiz southwards was under the British influence, the north of Kurdistan was under the control of the Soviet Union, and Mahabad and a few surrounding towns remained as a buffer zone between the British and the Soviets. But the Soviets still had some influence over this buffer zone.4
The power vacuum in the Kurdish buffer zone gave the Kurdish intellectuals in the town of Mahabad an opportunity to form a Kurdish organization. By the beginning of the World War II, there was a tiny group of urban Kurdish intellectuals in the Mahabad town. This group included students, junior civil servants, teachers, and traders. Unlike the previous Kurdish intellectuals they did not come from noble families, they rose from among ordinary Kurdish population. They formed the middle class strata of Kurdish society who could embrace ethnic nationalism.5 On 16 September 1942, it was this group of Kurdish intellectuals who gathered in Amin al-Islam Garden in Mahabad to form the nucleus of Komalayi Jiyannaveyi Kurd (J.K), the Committee for the Resurrection of Kurdistan.6 The J.K. was a secret committee and aimed at autonomy for the Iranian Kurdistan. The J.K. was a purely nationalist organization. The only condition for its membership was to be a Kurd. Its aims were as follow:
1. The J.K. refuted armed struggle to gain self-determination. Its members, looking at the Kurdish history, believed that armed struggle had by then only brought destruction and despair to the Kurds.
2. It emphasized education as a very important element which would enable the Kurds to gain freedom and their rights. It committed itself to elevating the education level in Kurdistan.
3. It said that Islam was the religion of the majority of the Kurds for over a thousand years. The J.K had a special regard for it. The members of the J.K. were to swear on the Quran when they joined it. The followers of other faiths were to swear on whatever was holy for them.
4. Four groups could become members of the J.K, but they would never become its leaders. They were aghas, sheikhs, priests, and sayyids. The reason for their exclusion from leadership was that they had a special respect among the Kurds so they could easily become dictators.7
The J.K. had to change its structure as its membership increased. A small and secret organization like J.K. could not keep up with the pace of developments in the Mahabad region. The secrecy of the J.K. had severely limited its activities. The nationalist sentiments among the Kurdish intellectuals had heightened. The authority of the Iranian government had diminished in Mahabad. In May 1943, the Kurds of Mahabad attacked the police station, killed seven policemen and occupied it. The last vestige of the Iranian authority was destroyed.8 The Kurdish intellectuals and tribal leaders, encouraged by the Soviet Union, felt they needed a larger organization which could be expanded to other areas and become a base for their future plans.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party was formed on 16 August 1945.9 The Kurdistan Democratic Party, PDKI, formed its first congress on 22 October 1945. It published a manifesto which consisted 22 articles. The manifesto had provisions for use of Kurdish language, a provisional Council in Kurdistan, local Kurdish officials, education and economic developments. In regard to the status of a future Kurdish entity, Chapter 2, Article 4, stated that the aim of the PDKI was to form an autonomous Kurdish state within the territorial integrity of Iran. That autonomous state was to consist of all the provinces where the Kurds had historically lived.10
The Kurdish leaders announced the formation of a Kurdish state. The Kurdish leaders, hopeful of the Soviet support, decided to form an autonomous Kurdish state. On 22 January 1946, the Republic of Kurdistan was proclaimed at the Chwar Chira Square, and Qazi Muhammad was elected as the president .11 On 11 February 1946, Qazi Muhammad formed his cabinet of 14 ministers with Haji Baba Sheikh as the Prime Minister.12
The Kurds from other parts of Kurdistan joined the Republic of Kurdistan. From the start of the J.K. there were contacts between the Kurds of Iran and Iraq. Before J.K. was formed, its founders asked the Heva Party in Iraq to help them to form an organization as they did not have enough experience. A member of the Heva attended the first meeting in which the J.K. was founded.13 On 11 October 1945, Mulla Mustafa Barzani who had been attacked by the Iraqi forces and the British air force had no choice but to cross to the Iranian Kurdistan. His brother, Sheikh Ahmad, and 1,000 of Barzani forces, (according to one account 3,000) with their families accompanied him. They joined the Kurdish Republic of 1946 and formed its military backbone.14 Also, Kurdish representatives from Turkey and Syria visited the republic.15
The Kurdish Republic of 1946 acted quickly in implementing some reforms. For the first time the Kurdish language became official in schools; Kurdish books, newspapers and magazines were printed; the officials were recruited within Kurds; women participated in political, cultural and social events, and the Kurdish theatre began. The Kurdish Republic established relations with the Soviet Union and the Azerbaijan Republic.16 A Kurdish army was formed which consisted of 70 officers, 40 non-commissioned officers and 1200 soldiers. The Soviet Union sent some arms and military logistics to the Kurdish army. A captain, Salahaddin Kazimov, was sent to train the Kurdish army alongside the Kurdish officers who had come from Iraq.17 Apparently, everything was going according to the desires of the Kurdish leaders, but it soon became apparent the Republic’s power base was shaky.
The Soviet Union was forced to leave Iran and the future of the Kurdish Republic remained in doubt. The United States’ forces left Iran on 31 December 1945 and the British followed on 2 March 1946, but he Soviet refused to do so. The Iranian government under the Prime Minister Qavam began a serious of diplomatic pressure on the Soviet Union. Qavam appealed to the United Nations, the United States and the British to put pressure on the Soviet Union to leave the Iranian territory. The Soviet would not leave until it got some oil concessions. The Qavam government promised the Soviets some concessions, but maintained that the agreement had to be ratified by the Iranian Parliament. The government could not call the election as long as the foreign powers were present in Iran.18 Thus, the Soviet troops left Iran in May 1946.
The Kurdish Republic was abandoned to the mercy of the Iranian government. As there was more affinity between the Soviet Azerbaijan and the Iranian Azerbaijan, the Soviets put pressure on Iran to recognize the local government in Azerbaijan. The Kurdish government was not communist; the Kurds had retained their traditional way of life. There was no point for the Soviet Union to put pressure on Iran to recognize the Kurdish rights. If the Republic of Azerbaijan was defeated, an ideological ally and a communist government which was under the influence of the Soviet Union was to be defeated. In the Kurdish case, Kurdish ethnicity was to be defeated. The Kurds were under the influence of the Soviet Union, but had not changed their views in favour of communism and there was no indication they were going to do so. Therefore, the Soviets had nothing to gain by backing the Kurds. They needed the Kurds to put pressure on the Iranian government to give some concessions and they received the promise for such concessions. The Kurds were of no further use for the Soviet Union.
The Kurdish Republic was in a disadvantaged position vis-a-vis the Iranian government compared to the Azerbaijan Republic. On 23 April 1946, the Azerbaijan and Kurdish republics signed an agreement. They agreed to jointly resist the military incursions of the Iranian forces, increase the cooperation between the two republics and solve their territorial disagreements in future. Furthermore, they agreed neither of the party should negotiate with the government without the consent of the other.20 Thus, when the Azerbaijan representatives negotiated with the Qavam government, Sadr Qazi occasionally represented Kurdish Republic. There was very little for the Kurds in those negotiations. Qavam insisted the Kurds were a part of the Azerbaijan Republic and were to deal with the Azeri officials not the Iranian government. The Kurdish question became more complex; they were an ethnic group in Iran and a minority within the Azerbaijan Republic.21 Qavam with his policy, regarding the Kurds as a part of the Azerbaijan Republic, wanted to play the Kurds and Azeris against each other. The Kurds could not agree with such terms. They decided to conduct direct negotiations with the government. The government initially was reluctant to give the Kurds any concessions, but as the military might of the Kurds put pressure on the government forces in the Saqqiz front, the government gave in. The Kurdish representative and Qavam agreed on the following points:
1. The Kurdish language was to be used in education
2. There was to be political freedom for the Kurdish organisations in particular and for democratic organizations in general.
3. Persian forces were to withdraw from all the areas the Kurds lived.
4. Kurdish publications were to be allowed.
5. An autonomous status for the Kurds was to be recognized.22
The terms and conditions agreed by the Iranian government with the Kurdish and Azerbaijani governments were short tactics devised by Qavam to get the Soviets out of Iran and leave the Soviets with no pretexts.
The Kurdish Republic was defeated by the end of 1946, and ended the dream of many Kurdish nationalists. When the Soviet departed, the Iranian forces prepared a major attacked on the Azerbaijan and Kurdistan republics. They tried the Kurdish forces in the Saqqiz fronts, but each time the Kurdish forces prevailed and forced the Iranian forces to retreat. Then they decided to attack the Azerbaijan Republic which would be easier to handle. By defeating the Azerbaijan forces they could destroy the morale of the Kurds. A force of 20,000 attacked the Azerbaijan Republic. The Azerbaijan leaders did not resist the Iranian attack so on 13 December 1946, the Iranian troops entered Tabriz, the capital of the Azerbaijan Republic.23 As the Iranian forces had faced several setbacks previously in the Saqqiz front, this time they attacked from Miandoab. Despite the defeat of the Azerbaijan Republic, the Kurdish leaders decided to resist, but on 15 December the economic representative of the Soviet left Mahabad. His departure gave the Kurds the impression that the Soviet Union was no longer going to protect them. Thus, Kurdish leaders decided not to resist and gave themselves up. On 16 December 1946, Qazi Muhammad went to Miandoab to facilitate the surrender of the Kurdish Republic. On 17 December 1946, Mahabad was officially handed over to the Iranian forces without any resistance.24
Some of the Kurdish leaders were arrested and executed, and the traces of the Republic were destroyed. Before the arrival of the Iranian troops some Kurdish leaders escaped to Iraq. Mulla Mustafa Barzani left Mahabad and retreated to the Iran-Iraq borders, and then sought asylum in the Soviet Union. Qazi Muhammad and some other Kurdish leaders remained in Mahabad. A few days after the capture of Mahabad, Qazi Muhammad and some other Kurdish leaders were arrested. They were tried in a marshal court and condemned to death. On 30 March 1947, at 6:00 am Qazi Muhammad, his cousin Seif Qazi, and his brother Sadr Qazi were hanged in Chwar Chira Square, in the same place where the Republic was proclaimed, for what the Iranian government termed treason.25 The Iranian government was not satisfied with the defeat of the republic and execution of some of its leaders. It tried to eradicate the signs of the Kurdish Republic. Kurdish publishing press was closed and Kurdish publications were banned; Kurdish books were burnt, and teaching in Kurdish language was prohibited;26 Hence, the final episode of the Kurdish Republic came to end.
This article was originally published on kurdmedia.com on 25 January 2003
1. The Kurdish Republic of 1946 is also known as the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad because it was established in the town of Mahabad and its authority did not go beyond Mahabad and a few surrounding towns. Nevertheless, the Kurdish Republic of 1946 aimed at self-determination for all the Kurds of Iran. Therefore, the Kurdish Republic of 1946 is more appropriate.
2. Philip Robins, ‘The Overlord State: Turkish Policy and the Kurdish Issue’, in International Affairs, Vol.69, No.4,1993 , p.671.
3. Louise L,Estrange Fawcett, Iran and the Cold War: The Azerbaijan Crisis of1946 , Cambridge University Press,1992 , p.1.
4. Borhanedin Yassin, ‘A History of the Republic of Kurdistan’, in The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, Vol.11, Nos.1-2,1997 , p.128.
5. David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds,London, I.B. Tauris,1996 , p.237.
6. Sayyid Muhammad Samadi, JK Cibu, Ci Dewist ve Ci be Ser Hat (What was JK, What It Wanted and What Happened to It?, Mahabad,1981 , p.11.
7. Ibid., pp.12-13.
8. Chris Kutschera, Kurd le Sedey Nozde u Bistom da (Kurdish History in the19 th and20 th Centuries, p. 264(Kurdish translation by Muhammad Riyani).
9. Jalil Gadani, Pencah Sal Xebat: Kurteyek li Mijoyi Hizbi Dimokrati Kurdistani Iran [Fifty Years Struggle: A Short History of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, The Ministry of Education’s Publication, , p. 21(Kurdish).
10. Ibid., p.28.
11. John Bulloch and Harvey Morris, No Friends but the Mountains: The Tragic History of the Kurds, London, Viking,1992 , p.106.
12. Dana/Muhammad Biha’addin Mella Sahib, Qazi Muhemmed u Kumari Mahabad [Qazi Muhammad and the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, Suleimaniyeh, Raperin Publications,1970 , p. 29(Kurdish).
13. Sayyid Muhammad Samadi, op.cit., p.15.
14. Archie Roosevelt Jnr., ‘The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad’, in Gerard Chaliand (ed.) People Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan, London, Zed Press,1978 , p.141.
15. A. Ghassemlou, ‘Kurdistan in Iran’, in Gerard Chaliand (ed.) People Without a Country: The Kurds and Kurdistan, London, Zed Press,1980 , p.120.
16. Abdurrahman Qasemlo, Kurdistan and Kurds, APEC-Forlag,1996 , p. 95(translated into Persian by Taha Atiqi).
17. Chris Kutschera, op.cit., p.271.
18. Amir Taheri, The Spirit of Allah: Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution, Maryland (USA), Adler Publishers Inc.1986 , pp.129-132.
19. The government formed in Iranian Azerbaijan was a communist government, and there also was racial and linguistic affinities between the Soviet and Iranian Azeris.
20. Archie Roosevelt Jnr., ‘The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad’, in Gerard Chaliand (ed.) op.cit., p.143.
21. Nader Entessar, Kurdish Ethnonationalism, Boulder and London, Lynne Rienner Publishers,1992 , p.16.
22. Dana/Muhammad Biha’addin Mella Sahib, op.cit., p.45.
23. Chris Kutschera, op.cit., p.284.
24. Edgar O’balance, The Kurdish Struggle1920 -94, London, MacMillan Press Ltd.,1996 , p.32.
25. Peyam, ‘An Important Historical Document’, Peyam Newspaper, Issue: 6 March1998 , pp.1, 2(Kurdish).
26. Archie Roosevelt Jnr., ‘The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad’, in Gerard Chaliand (ed.), op.cit., p.149.