Monday, January 02, 2006

Iran Kurds Form Reformist Front

Thousands of ethnic Kurds in Iran, headed by a prominent former MP, have created a movement aimed at obtaining rights they say have been "neglected" by the Islamic Republic during the past 26 years.

"A large number of prominent Kurdish activists and NGOs have come together in an independent front to peacefully demand the rights that the Kurds have been denied," the founder of the reformist Kurdish United Front, Bahaeddin Adab told reporters Monday.

One of the group's aims was "to raise awareness among Kurds of their rights and help them choose the right representatives in town councils and the parliament as these are the only ways they can get through to the authority," Adab said. READ MORE

Adab, an outspoken former MP who was barred from running again in 2004 when the Guardians Council disqualified him and thousands of other candidates, said the group had attracted around 3,000 supporters.

He insisted that the front was not a formal political party or NGO, which need to be authorized by the state if they are to advertise, hold meetings and take new members.

Rights activists including the Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi have complained of obstruction by the interior ministry that is in charge of issuing permits for such organizations.

"The Kurds have had very little say in the decisions made about them and they have been denied their rights mentioned in the constitution," Adab said, citing the soaring unemployment and addiction rates in Kurdish populated provinces and the restrictions on Kurdish language press.

One of the largest ethnic groups in Iran, more than 6 mln Kurds live in the western border provinces, which are among the most underdeveloped in Iran.

Adab said the Front would not pursue separatist goals, unlike most Kurdish opposition parties which seek autonomy and self-determination in a region which has large Kurdish populations in neighboring Iraq and Turkey.

"We insist on working within the framework of law and avoiding violence," he said, adding that the decision was hastened by August 2005 clashes with authorities in at least two western provinces with a substantial Kurdish population.

Several Kurdish rights activists and journalists have been arrested and jailed in past years, with a number of them given long jail sentences following the recent clashes.

The Kurds had a high turnout at the presidential elections that swept reformist Mohammad Khatami to office in 1997 and 2001.

But according to Adab, "the government did not do enough to meet the Kurds' demands and they showed their dissatisfaction by not taking part at the (recent) election".

He hoped the government would accept the newly formed "peaceful" group and not try to widen the gap by taking security measures in the region, "as it will cost both the authority and the people".

"You cannot keep a country together by bullying. If there is freedom and equality, separatist movements die," he added.

Among the Kurdish parties which are banned in Iran are The Kurdistan Organization of Communist Party of Iran (Komala) and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, which are based abroad but have sympathizers in Iran.

Iranian authorities say a Kurdish rebel group known as Pejak is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Turkey.