Financial Times: Federalism is a real demand of Kurds in Iran


“I can coexist with any state and rulers who give me my rights as a citizen,” says Vafa, sitting in the bookstore he owns in Sanandaj, the capital city of Kurdistan province in northwestern Iran. “But I will not accept to be treated as a second-rate citizen.”

Financial Times’s correspondent، Najmeh Bozorgmehr has travelled to the heart of Iranian Kurdistan, Sanandaj to report (December 3, 2014) first-hand on this long neglected and deprived region.

Since 1979, a new generation has emerged in Iranian Kurdistan, the majority in their early years witnessing the turmoil as young Kurds rose up to fight for self-rule from the new Islamic regime.

 Vafa and his generation have learnt from this bloody episode. They now say fighting for an independent Kurdish state is unrealistic; instead they are quietly lobbying for equal rights. They hope they can eventually establish a federal relationship with Tehran, similar to that achieved by the Kurdistan Regional Government in neighbouring Iraq.

“I can coexist with any state and rulers who give me my rights as a citizen,” says Vafa, sitting in the bookstore he owns in Sanandaj, the capital city of Kurdistan province in northwestern Iran. “But I will not accept to be treated as a second-rate citizen.”

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

The Times correspondent puts the number of Kurds in Iran at 8 million, spread over the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Ilam.

An ancient community that has have lived in the region for centuries, it has been treated as a security risk by the government in Tehran in the aftermath of the failed fight for independence, fuelling resentment. Many Kurds are also Sunni Muslims, and feel doubly discriminated against under the Shia regime.

But the desire of many to be recognised as a nation with its own language, history and culture, rather than simply as an ethnicity, remains strong. Among their demands are the right to hold senior positions in the government, for the Kurdish language to be taught in schools and for action to promote economic development in Kurdish provinces.

Activists are engaged in a non-violent campaign to promote their message, standing in elections, publishing books and using social media and Kurdish television. They have also undertaken civil disobedience – for example, many closed their shops in a one-day protest three years ago when five Kurds were hanged on charges of acting against national security.

(Iranian Kurds Mourned Their Death With a Day on Strike)

However, Tehran is unlikely to accept any form of Kurdish self-rule in a country where half the population is composed of non-Persian minorities, including Azeris, Arabs and Baluchis as well as Kurds, for fear of encouraging other breakaway movements.

As for the demands of the Kurds as one of the largest national groups in Iran, activists envision a future political structure for their people in Iran, that according to them is their only way to accommodate the demands of Kurds in Iran:

“Federalism is a real demand of Kurds, but we know that the chance under the Islamic Republic is next to zero,” says one activist, who asked not to be named. “We may have to wait at least a decade to achieve only some of our demands for equal rights.”

Despite the high number of executions and arrests under the so-called reformist President, Hassan Rouhani, human rights activists are optimistic that the conditions are far better than the era of Ahmadinejad:

Despite the frustration, many Kurds see grounds for optimism. “The level of repression under Rouhani is probably a quarter of what we faced in the previous years,” says Ejlal Ghavami, a human rights activist who has been publicising the plight of about 250 Kurdish prisoners.

To the surprise of activists such as Mr Ghavami, the government in October permitted Kurds to hold a peaceful rally in Sanandaj – the first since 1979 – in solidarity with Syrian Kurds in the besieged town of Kobani. An estimated 10,000 people participated.

It should be noted that the local authorities only allowed the Kobane solidarity demonstrations to be held in cities across Iranian Kurdistan, if the organizers agreed to use slogans and posters approved by the authorities.  Defying their orders, scores of activists and organizers were later arrested (Scores arrested in Iran following Kurdistan-wide Kobane solidarity protests).

In her report, the FT correspondent often writes about “separatist sentiment” among Iranian Kurds while there is no evidence tracing independent-seeking movements and parties among major Kurdish political parties in Iran.  Furthermore, the report makes the impression that giving Kurds wealth and power will lead them to abandon their long-held aspirations for self-rule in the framework of a federal and decentralized form of government.

This approach may offer the regime the best chance of quelling separatist sentiment. “Even federalism can gradually wane if people see a fair distribution of power and wealth,” says Mr Varzandeh. “Kurds are not Persians but are Iranians. The view that Iran belongs to us is gaining strength.”

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