March 31 is Remembrance Day in Kurdistan. On this day 67 years ago, President Qazi Muhammad – the President of the newly established Republic of Kurdistan – and two of his cabinet members were executed in public in the city of Mahabad by the dictatorial monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi where the Republic was first proclaimed.
Every year, on this day, millions of Kurds pay tribute to all the martyrs of Kurdistan who have paid with their lives for the liberation of Kurdistan and the Kurdish people.
Two months after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, British and Soviet troops jointly seized Iran from its potentially pro-German ruler — securing both oil resources and a precious route for sending American supplies to Russia’s desperately pressed defenders.
Kurds were very far from Stalin or Churchill’s calculation, but the moment also offered a power vacuum permitting de facto Kurdish self-rule in a narrow band straddling Soviet and British occupation zones.
As the war drew to a close, erstwhile allies began girding for the Cold War — and the disposition of Iran was a dress rehearsal. Moscow was keen to maintain influence in that country’s north, and to that end encouraged Iran’s Azerbaijani region to form a pro-Soviet administration — which it did in December 1945. The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad followed suit on January 22, 1946 (a date still commemorated by Kurdish activists) with Qazi Muhammed as President. Although the Mahabad Republic is sometimes characterized as “Soviet-backed,” or even a Soviet puppet, that might be a better description of its hopes than its reality.
Mahabad may have represented the national dream for Kurds, but it was a small pawn to the Soviets, easily sacrificed when its position became untenable. Moscow’s priorities were elsewhere, and this was the brief window when America was the only nuclear power: the Red Army was (diplomatically) forced out of Iran and the breakaway Republics reoccupied by the western-backed Iranian government. And Mahabad, a statelet founded by a middle class party with only limited backing from tribal chiefs, required Soviet support to have any hope of holding up.
Seeing where the wind was blowing, the Kurds submitted in December 1946 to the advancing Iranian army without a hopeless fight, but Qazi Muhammed refused on his honor to flee, hoping to placate the Iranians.
For all its inadequacies, Mahabad was the only Kurdish state of the 20th century, and Qazi Muhammed its founder and only President. That has earned him a place of honor in the crowded pantheon of Kurdish martyrs.
Dr. Ghassemlou once famously said “A nation in quest of freedom must be ready to pay the price of freedom.”
May Qazi Muhammad’s memory live among us for ever, and may his dreams come true.
This year, I had the honor of attending the Martyrs Day Commemoration in Cambridge, Ontario Canada on Sunday March 30, 2014. (Album below)
A larger ceremony was organized in Kurdistan, in PDKI’s headquarters: (link below)