Unrest in Iran's Kurdish Region Has Left 17 Dead; Hundreds Have Been Wounded
The NY Times:
Unrest has rocked Iran's northwestern region of Kurdistan in recent weeks leading to the deaths of more than a dozen civilians and several members of the country's security forces. READ MOREFinally, the NY Times notices the Kurdish unrest.
The protests are the largest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Kurdish rebels seeking autonomy fought government forces. Last Sunday, shops in more than a dozen Kurdish towns closed their doors to protest what Kurds regard as discrimination by the government in Tehran and hundreds of people were arrested.
Human Rights Watch reported that 17 people had been killed in three weeks of violence in several towns. A Kurdish group, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, posted on Web sites the names of people it said were the victims. It said more than 200 people had been injured. Four members of Iranian security forces were killed near Oroumieh, a northwestern city, the ISNA news agency reported.
Dozens of activists have been arrested, among them Roya Toloui, a prominent advocate for women's rights, several human rights groups said. The authorities reportedly arrested her at her home in Sanandaj on charges of disturbing the peace and "acting against national security." Two Kurdish newspapers were also shut down. The government is very sensitive about hints of ethnic strife in the country. It has refused to release detailed information about the scale of the turmoil except for several random reports about attacks on government buildings during demonstrations.
The unrest erupted after security forces killed Shivan Qaderi on July 9 in the city of Mahabad. Pictures of the young man's body suggested he had been tortured, and were widely distributed and broadcast on satellite television channels. The government said Mr. Qaderi was a hooligan and accused him of moral and financial violations.
The Kurds said he was a political activist. Human Rights Watch, citing reports from Kurdish groups, said Mr. Qaderi was shot in public; the government has not commented on the circumstances surrounding the death. "The incident triggered the unrest but there were other elements to it," said Jalal Jalalizadeh, a former Kurdish member of Iran's Parliament. "Kurdish people have fundamental demands but the government has ignored them. More turmoil can erupt again over other reasons."
Nearly 6 million of Iran's 67 million people are Kurds, most of them Sunni Muslims in a country dominated by Shiites.
According to the Constitution, Sunnis cannot run for president. In protest, many boycotted the presidential election of June 24 and the turnout was less than 20 percent in some cities in Kurdish areas. Many Kurds say they now worry about their future under the new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was supported by conservative parties.
Kurds are also barred from teaching the Kurdish language at schools and face restrictions in publishing Kurdish literature. They say they face discrimination in employment and university admissions. Kurdish cities are among the least developed in the country with the highest levels of unemployment. Kurds have also been discouraged from forming their own political parties.
Iranian Kurds have not sought independence since the 1979 Islamic revolution, which overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi and brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power, but they have demanded greater autonomy, democracy and freedoms.
However gains won by Kurds in neighboring Iraq have brought hope that some of them can be duplicated in Iran.
"Iranian Kurds now believe they have to struggle to have the similar social and cultural freedoms that Kurds of Iraq have," said Mr. Jalalizadeh, the former member of Parliament. After the 1991 Persian Gulf war, when the British and American forces protected Iraq's Kurdish region from Saddam Hussein's government, the Kurds on the two sides of the border increased their contacts.
Furthermore, five Kurdish satellite television channels, whose programs can be received all through the region, are helping to strengthen Kurdish identity.
One satellite channel, ROJ TV, played an instrumental role in mobilizing people in the recent protests. It announced news about the protests and statements by political parties.
The worst violence broke out in the city of Saqqez on Aug. 3, where the Interior Ministry acknowledged two people were killed and 142 people were arrested. A senior official said government buildings and banks were damaged.
Kurdsat, an Iraqi Kurdish satellite channel based in Sulaimaniyah, Iraq, reported that thousands of troops were deployed to put down the protest and as many as 1,200 people were arrested. Human Rights Watch reported that 11 people were killed.
Calm reportedly returned to the Kurdish cities late this week after Kurdish members of Parliament appealed to the protesters.
"The number of casualties and deaths also convinced people that they were paying a high price in the violence," said Khaled Tavakoli, a political activist and journalist in Sanandaj, whose election to Parliament in 2000 was overturned when a conservative watchdog body ruled his votes void. "But people are very proud of the unity that was displayed in different cities."