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Protests Erupt in Kurdish Areas of Iran


Iranian Kurds are reported to have staged several protest demonstrations in the past several weeks. The protests were met with a crackdown by Iranian security forces, including the arrest of a prominent Kurdish human rights activist. Iranian Kurds have been frustrated about their treatment under the outgoing administration in Tehran and gloomy about their future under the new one.

Intelligence sources and human rights activists say unrest has been mounting in Iran's Kurdish region since the presidential elections in June, in which hard-line conservative candidate Mahmood Ahmadinejad won a landslide victory.

At least one person is believed to have been killed by security forces, and a leading activist has been arrested.

Access to the Kurdish areas in far western Iran is restricted by the central government, but reports of demonstrations and protests have appeared in some Iranian media, which have described the demonstrators as hooligans and anarchists.

The reports are confirmed in greater detail by Kurdish journalists and human rights groups. According to these accounts, security forces in the Kurdish city of Mahabad shot Shovan Ghaderi, a Kurdish youth activist, during a protest on July 9. Human Rights First, a New York-based human rights group, says he was then tied to the back of a military vehicle and dragged around the city.

Neil Hicks, director of International Programs for the group Human Rights First, says the death of Shovan Ghaderi has become a rallying point for Iranian Kurds.

"This case has become something of a cause célèbre," he said. "And there have now been a number of subsequent demonstrations in the major Kurdish population centers calling for an investigation and justice in the killing of Shovan Ghaderi."

Mr. Hicks says he has information that confirms Kurdish reports that Roya Toloui, a leading Kurdish human rights activist, was arrested Monday in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran's Kurdistan province, during a protest over the Ghaderi killing.

Iran's Kurds make up about 10 percent of the population, clustered in western areas of the country. Most are Sunni Muslims in an predominately Shi'ite Muslim country.

Michael Rubin, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former official of the transitional U.S. occupying administration in Iraq, says unrest has sporadically erupted among Iran's Kurds. He says they are jealous over the gains made by their Kurdish brethren in neighboring Iraq, and angry about anti-Sunni discrimination by Iran's Shi'ite dominated government.

"This happens periodically," said Mr. Rubin. "There was a great deal of anti-government rioting back in February and March of 2004 after the Iraqis signed their transitional administrative law which enshrined federal rights for Iraqi Kurdistan. Many Iranian Kurds looked at that and said, why can't we have the same rights? Some of that might be going on now."

Human Rights First international director Neil Hicks says the Iranian Kurds expected their situation to improve under outgoing President Mohammad Khatemi. But it did not, he says, and they now fear their situation will deteriorate under new President Ahmadinejad.

"Unfortunately these aspirations and expectations were not realized under President Khatemi," said Mr. Hicks. "And at the end of his term in office, and with his replacement by President Ahmadinejad, who is much more linked to the clerical establishment, I think there was a realization that Kurdish expectations were not going to be met anytime soon."

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