by HAMID FAROKHNIA in Tehran
24 Jul 2011 03:35
‘Federalism is not a recipe for disintegration,’ declares DPIK chief Mostafa Hejri.
As one of the oldest Kurdish political parties in the Middle East, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK, also known as PDKI, KDPI, and PDK-I) has experienced challenges of the sort that have crushed much larger political entities. Born in the throes of the superpowers’ Cold War rivalry after World War II, it was able to establish an indigenous Kurdish government — known as the Mahabad Republic — for a brief period in the northwest corner of Iran. While the party became a model for Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (its founder, Mustafa Barzani, pictured on homepage, was defense minister in the Mahabad Republic) and several other successful offshoots, with the violent defeat of its forces and ensuing mass reprisals against its followers in 1946, the DPIK led a largely underground existence until the 1979 Revolution. Then, within days of the fall of monarchy, the party was able to quickly assert control over large swaths of Iranian Kurdistan. Most observers credited the memories of the Mahabad Republic for the party’s widespread popularity in the region.
However, the DPIK’s David was no match for the Islamic government’s Goliath. By the mid-1980s, thousands of members and sympathizers had been imprisoned, executed, or driven into exile. The bloody civil war — with atrocities committed on both sides — left deep scars. Neither the DPIK nor the Iranian Kurds as a whole have recovered fully from their defeat. Almost three decades later, Iranian Kurdistan remains a virtual armed camp. There are no signs of investment from the central government, every administrative appointment comes from outside Kurdistan, and even Kurdish entrepreneurs prefer to spend their capital in other regions.
Another major loss was the assassination of party leader Abdul Rahman Ghasemlou in a Viennese hotel room in 1988 while he was conducting negotiations with government representatives. This was followed in 1992 with the assassination of Ghasemlou’s successor, Sadegh Sharafkandi, in a Berlin restaurant.
The collapse of the Soviet Union did not affect DPIK as it did most other secular left groups in the Middle East. Even in exile in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, party leader Ghasemlou had angered the authorities by siding with the brief Prague Spring in 1968. By the 1970s, the party had all but shed its entire Marxist Leninist ideology.
September 11 was a watershed event for Iranian and Iraqi Kurds alike. That was the beginning of the end for Saddam’s regime and the virtual end of the armed struggle for the DPIK leadership. By renouncing armed struggle, the party wisely put the ball in the regime’s court while disassociating itself from the charges of terrorism frequently thrown at it by Tehran. Since then, the party has tried, not always successfully, to navigate a difficult course between getting support from pro-regime-change forces in Washington — and, some believe, in Tel Aviv — and maintaining its image as an independent beacon of hope for Iran’s suffering Kurds.
Despite and perhaps by virtue of these difficulties, any traveler to Iranian Kurdistan could attest that the party would easily win a fair and free election. Still, the future may prove to be no less convulsive than the past. Like the rest of Iran, Kurdish society has undergone monumental changes in the last 15 years. As in Iraqi Kurdistan, where a new sociopolitical movement has come into being, social forces are emerging in Iranian Kurdistan that challenge old assumptions and verities. And although the DPIK — unlike its Iraqi counterparts — has never been based on traditional structures and institutions like tribe and clan, it is facing a new generation dissatisfied with old, formulaic solutions and clamoring for fundamental change. This is visible in the growth of mass acts of civil disobedience in Iranian Kurdistan, which in some ways are more advanced than the pro-democratic protests in Tehran. Will the DPIK succeed in its seventh decade to surmount its many challenges? Only time will tell. But in a June 10 Skype interview, party leader Mostafa Hejri, pictured above, was quite upbeat about his party’s prospects.