Brussels, 30 September 2014 – Justice for Iran’s Kurds was the title and overarching theme of a conference jointly organised by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the International Network of Iranian Kurdistan Human Rights (INIKHR), which was held yesterday [29 September 2014] at Nieuwspoort in the Hague. In response to the notable absence of coverage on Iranian Kurdistan in Western media and political debates, this conference hoped to bring attention to the human rights abuses and systematic discrimination Iran’s Kurds suffer at the hands of the Tehran government, looking at it both from a historical and a more current political perspective.
Mr Keywan Faramarzi, from the International Network of Iranian Kurdistan Human Rights (INIKHR), opened the conference, and was followed by UNPO Program Manager Johanna Green, who underlined the importance of having an open discussion on the situation with both Kurdish political actors and international experts in order to raise large-scale awareness of the current difficulties faced by Iran’s Kurds and other minorities at the international level.
The first panel, ‘Iran’s Forgotten Scandal’, was opened by Martin van Bruinessen, Professor of Comparative Studies of Contemporary Islamic Societies at the University of Utrecht (The Netherlands). Concentrating his speech on the historical process that brought about the current situation in Iranian Kurdistan, Prof van Bruinessen underlined that even as an expert in the field, he always found it very difficult to access reliable information on the Kurds in Iran, especially when compared to Kurdish communities in neighbouring countries. Different from the strategy used by Iraq or Syria against their respective Kurdish population, the Islamic Republic of Iran uses fear as a weapon against the Kurds, targeting leaders rather than the whole population, and in this way suffocating dissent.
The following speaker was Mr Loghman Ahmedi, representative of Iranian Kurdistan to UNPO and head of foreign relations of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI). Mr Ahmedi gave an extensive presentation under the title of ‘A Catalogue of Tyranny: the Case against Tehran’, underlining in particular Iran’s denial of rights to Kurds. He stressed that the tactics used by Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq are very different, but all share the same project: the annihilation of the Kurds and of their identity, as well as their subjugation to the majoritarian culture. In conclusion, Mr Ahmedi presented the idea of replacing the current regime in Iran with a democratic and federal government – in his opinion the only solution that would make such a diverse country governable.
The second panel, ‘Future Prospects for Iran’s Kurds’, was opened by Mr Abdullah Mohtadi, well-known leader and co-founder (in 1969) of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan and former political prisoner. Mr Mohtadi outlined the situation of the Kurdish community in Iran, which he sees as one of the main unresolved issues in the Middle East. Despite the fact that the recent change of government was presented as a great hope for minorities in Iran, it has for now proven to be only a friendlier face of the same brutal regime and Iranian Kurds are still deprived of their most basic human rights, suggested Mr Mohtadi, stressing that there are still about 400 political prisoners, some of which are on the death row or serving life sentences. In this context, according to Mr Mohtadi, the Kurds could be a possible gateway to a political and democratic change for Iran.
The last speaker was Ir Frank van Dalen, Chairman of the Iran Committee in The Netherlands, a Dutch advocacy movement. Mr van Dalen gave a very concrete speech on how he believes Iranian Kurds should try to mobilise western support for their cause. Addressing the audience, which was composed mainly of people of Kurdish origin, he explained how the Iranian Kurdish situation unfortunately has to compete with many other crises around the world and how it is also overshadowed by the issue of nuclear security that involves the same country. Mr van Dalen also underlined that several Western interventions in Middle Eastern regimes in the past few years, despite overthrowing the regime or the dictator that was in place, led to other regimes, which also raised and continue to raise concerns over human rights and the situation of minorities. Hence, it is important that the Kurds, perhaps also in alliance with other minorities in Iran, offer a unified platform that Western politicians can more easily communicate with, as well as a longer-term plan for an alternative democratic political solution for Iran.
The conference, which brought together politicians, academic experts and civil society, was definitely a successful step towards opening a discussion on the oft-forgotten and complex topic of Iranian Kurdistan, and offered both a Western and a Kurdish approach to the situation. Nonetheless, as much further debate, and above all, dialogue, on the topic is needed in order to bring it further up the international agenda, UNPO remains committed to engaging in future initiatives on the Kurds and other minorities in Iran.