Veysi Dag

The Role of Kurds in Transforming Repressive Regimes in Iran and the Middle East

The author took this image during his fieldwork at the 9th Kurdish Film Festival in Berlin in 2019. This is an image of the film, entitled "Girls of the Sun".
The author took this image during his fieldwork at the 9th Kurdish Film Festival in Berlin in 2019. This is an image of the film, entitled "Girls of the Sun".

While the 22-year-old woman Jîna Mehsa Amini, of Kurdish origin from Saqqez in Kurdistan Province of Iran, was visiting Tehran with her family on 13th September, she was accused by the regime’s morality police (Gashte Ersad) of wearing inappropriate hijab, the so-called Islamic headscarf, arrested, and beaten to death.

As a result of her death, Kurdish groups and parties such as Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDK-I), The Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan (Komalah) called for a general strike in Kurdistan. Shopkeepers responded to this call and launched a general strike, closing their stores in Sine, Saqqez, Shino, Bukan and Bana in Kurdistan Province.

This act of protest started in Kurdistan but spread promptly throughout other Iranian provinces such as West Azerbaijan, Gilan, Tehran, Qazwin, Isfahan, Mashhad, and Baluchistan. Increasingly, united under the Kurdish slogan “Jin, Jîyan, Azadî” (Woman, Life, Freedom), the Kurdish and Iranian populations’ anti-oppressive and anti-dictatorial protests against the authoritarian Mullah Regime spread beyond Iran to Germany, the UK, France, Sweden, Australia, US, Canada and other Western countries where the Kurdish and Iranian diasporas are well established. Kurdish, Yezidi and Iranian women have been leading these peaceful protests in many creative forms: removing their hijabs, giving talks, cutting their hair, dancing and singing, and giving different performances that are banned by the Mullah Regime in Iran.

In response to the democratic demands of Iranian and Kurdish citizens for freedom and democracy, the Mullah regime has used excessive force against unarmed citizens in Iran and resorted to sophisticated weaponry consisting of missiles and armed drones against Kurdish groups in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, killing and injuring dozens of civilians including infants, children and women. Many claimed that Iran launched these attacks to distract media attention and protestors from their demands.

The author took this picture of the main square in the capital city of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in 2013.

Certainly, the Iranian accusations and subsequent attacks aimed at Kurdish population within and beyond Iran regarding the anti-regime protests are not coincidental. The claims that the Mullah regime releases its aggression against the Kurds to distract the national and international publics from its domestic crisis might be partially accurate. However, it is worth noting that the dynamic organization and mobilization of the Kurdish populations (not just in Iran but also in other neighboring countries as well as in the diaspora) can be perceived as a thorn in the side of the Mullah regime as well as those in other ruling states. The Kurds in Iran have evoked general protests across multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities and become their “eyes, ears and hope” – according to Iranian diaspora members – in the fight to transform the Iranian regime. They demand freedom, equality, and democracy and organise protests against the fossilized Mullah regime that has been spreading terrorism throughout the Middle East.

The author took this image during his fieldwork at the 9th Kurdish Film Festival in Berlin in 2019. This is an image from the film, entitled “Zagros”.

Although the current Kurdish resistance against the Mullah regime seems to be the last straw, the Kurds were also involved in a battle against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and contributed to the demise of his dictatorial dynasty. Moreover, the Kurds in Syria and Iraq played a crucial role in eliminating the radical Islamic terrorist groups such as the ISIS and its branches. The Kurds in Syria have demonstrated that they can pose a serious challenge to the dictatorial Bashar regime to reinstate his authoritarian rule. Additionally, the self-governing Kurds in Syria offer an alternative multi-ethnic and multi-religious model, promoting gender equality and grassroots democracy. Finally, the Kurds in Turkey played a crucial role in triggering and leading Gazi Park demonstrations in 2013 against authoritarian rules of the Turkish regime and for democratic rights. They also constitute a crucial force under the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which will determine, according to the latest polls, the new Turkish president in the 2023 election. So, they are also challenging the authoritarian and ultranationalist regime under Erdogan’s leadership.  Thus, the Kurds constitute a population whose segments have been engaged in political uprising against the Iranian regime and other authoritarian rulers in Turkey, Syria and Iraq for many decades. They have been pioneering in the fierce struggle against Islamic terrorism and repressive policies of states in the Middle East.

The Kurdish people represent one of the largest stateless but heterogeneous societies in the world. Their ancestral homeland is geographically split between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Consequently, they have had to waive their ethno-national identity as a result of forced assimilation and oppression policies by these four states and to accept whichever national identity was assigned to them.  Historically, the Kurdish people have lacked the opportunity to build internal socio-political structures or to take advantage of external political factors to create their own national state. Amongst themselves they failed to generate national unification due to the diverse interests and agendas of heterogeneous tribe structures in the past and political parties in the present, and a lack of written literature to raise a collective consciousness. Externally, they suffered under the intervention of the aforementioned ruling states, as well as colonial European powers. The British and French mandates played a pivotal role in the statelessness of Kurdish people when they remapped the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Since their statelessness, the Kurds have fluctuated between oppression and uprising against repressive regimes ruling the homeland that they shared with Assyrian, Jewish, Yezidi and Durzi communities. While the Jewish community has succeded in establishing their homeland (although it encounters constant threats from their neighbors), the other communities face permanent oppression and dispersion around the world. The Kurds remain the main stateless group of population that has challenged the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. The Kurds, despite the lack of a united political elite and common political agendas, have frequently demonstrated that they can mobilise their potential to transform the nature of these regimes.

The author took this image in a Kurdish diaspora association in Berlin during his fieldwork in 2019. The painting present historical sites in the Kurdish region in the Middle East.

Consequently, the ruling regimes above perceive the Kurds as an existential threat to the status quo of their rules. Consequently, they target the Kurds within and beyond their state borders. In all states above deemed to be ruled by undemocratic, repressive and authoritarian regimes, Kurds are operating to reveal the atrocities and political crisis of these regimes; the grievances of diverse oppressed and disempowered ethnic, social and religious populaces; but also to become the voices and symbols of hope for these communities. Their battle in various forms has already echoed the sentiments of European societies and gained their recognition as they collectively shout “Jin, Jîyan, Azadî” on the streets in Europe and dominate distant social media platforms with these slogans. Thus, the potential of the Kurdish population as a permanently oppressed and displaced community in the Middle East might bring fresh hope of a dynamic change in the status quo of the Middle East in favour of democratic, harmonious, inclusive, and peaceful environments where “Jin, Jîyan, Azadi” prevail amongst people without the fear that has dominated their lives at the hands of authoritarian regimes.

About the Author
The author is a research fellow at the Political Science Department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, working on the governance structures of the Kurdish diaspora community in Berlin and the structures of the Kurdistani Jews in Jerusalem.
Related Topics
Related Posts