This is the name that has made headlines around the world as Iranian women protest the inequality they face systemically in the Islamic Republic. The cutting of hair and burning of headscarves as women of all generations in Iran–and men, too–as a protest against the brutality of the mullahs in Tehran is inspiring.
Yet this movement and its coverage has missed a number of key points. First, that the woman murdered by Iranian regime police was an ethnic Kurd. Her true name–her birth name–was Jina. But because Iran’s Persian-majority government and society systemically discriminates against the Kurds, she was forced to put the name “Mahsa” on her government documents. Yes, Jina was an Iranian citizen, and it is commendable yet unfortunate that she is the poster child of this movement. But somewhere along the way, the reality that Kurds and other minority groups and indigenous people in Iran are facing got lost in the messaging.
If George Floyd was the catalyst that ignited the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in 2020, Jina Amini has done the same in Iran this year. The parallels aren’t just about protests in a time of severe socio-economic turmoil. They also reflect on Iran’s deep history of systemic racism within the country. Iran’s Kurdish population are victims of many, if not most, of the country’s police brutality cases and executions. Iran’s majority-Kurdish provinces are among the poorest nationwide. Their language and cultural expression is deeply restricted. Despite being only around 9% of the Iranian population, Kurds make up around half of the country’s political prisoners. When seeking asylum abroad, they face terror plots and attacks by Iranian agents. And now with this protest movement–even as the Kurdish slogan of “Jin, Jayan, Azadi” (“women, life, freedom”) is chanted in Farsi–the role of the Kurds in this is ignored.
Iran has launched missile attacks on Kurdish schools and alleged militant bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, started an especially-brutal crackdown in Iran’s Kurdistan Region, and hinted at further repression to come. In Iran’s Azerbaijan province, there are rumors of separatists attacking Basij bases and killing security officers there as Iranian military personnel seek to quash protests. Historically, anytime there has been internal unrest, Iran’s authorities have sought to punish minority groups (Jews, Baha’i, Azeris and Kurds) and launch military strikes against alleged “Kurdish-Mossad bases” across the Iraqi border. Much like Russia’s pogroms in the 19th Century and its current mass enlistment of minorities for its brutal invasion of Ukraine, Iran seeks to shift blame elsewhere, be it Western powers or “Zionist” and minority agitators.
Pressure must be brought to bear on Tehran, not just because Tehran’s Butcher reigns over the country alongside the Ayatollah, but because of the systemic human rights abuses the country commits against its citizens and the destabilization it has wrought across the Near East. But at the same time, we mustn’t forget that this movement was started in particular by Kurds–and Kurdish women–a very long time ago. For too long, the role of the Kurds in social change and anti-terror campaigns in this region has been ignored or belittled. It mustn’t be any longer.
In this age, progressive movements proudly tout their stance for indigenous autonomy, equality for minorities, and human rights more broadly. Sadly, these stances have yet to break through to the mainstream media. However, it isn’t too late. We can start acknowledging the injustice in Iran towards minorities with a simple statement at the beginning of our articles covering this topic.
“Her name was Jina. Jin Jayan Azadi. Biji Kurdistan.”