Iran’s long-oppressed Kurdish inhabitants has been on the forefront of the month-long anti-government rebellion. Now it’s bearing the brunt of the federal government’s intensifying efforts to crush the unrest — a attainable harbinger of what awaits protesters in different components of the nation.
In interviews with The Put up during the last week, three residents of Sanandaj described a military-style occupation of their metropolis, which has been nearly solely minimize off from web and cellphone service since mid-September. The Put up couldn’t independently confirm their accounts, however they had been in step with the findings of rights teams, and with previous crackdowns in Kurdish areas.
“The consolidation of authoritarianism” in Iran “has usually been consummated via the repression of the Kurdish motion,” mentioned Djene Rhys Bajalan, a professor at Missouri State College who makes a speciality of Kurdish historical past. “The highway to tyranny goes via Kurdistan.”
The demonstrations now sweeping the nation first gained velocity in Kurdistan province. It’s the hometown of Mahsa Amini — or Jina Amini in her native Kurdish language — whose demise in police custody final month fanned long-simmering fury over the iron rule of Iran’s clerical leaders.
However for Iranian Kurds, who make up about 10 p.c of the inhabitants, the protests are additionally a part of a protracted custom of resistance in opposition to the Islamic Republic. One of many demonstrators’ key slogans — “Lady, life, freedom” — has its roots within the regional Kurdish battle.
“Women and men of all generations have come collectively right here to battle for his or her rights which have been trampled for 50 years,” the 30-year-old girl advised The Put up. “We might be on the streets till the day we discover some peace from this fixed injustice and oppression.”
The Kurds are one of many world’s largest stateless ethnic teams, with tens of thousands and thousands of individuals in communities spanning Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. In Iran, they’re usually Sunni Muslim, topic to heightened discrimination by Iran’s theocratic Shiite authorities.
Kurds have lengthy struggled for an autonomous area of their very own in northwestern Iran — a motion Iranian authorities have sought to crush.
Tehran responded swiftly and violently to the outbreak of protests right here in September and was fast accountable the unrest on international instigators and dissidents.
For the primary 5 days of protests, all of these killed — seven folks, together with a sixteen-year-old boy — got here from Kurdish communities. One month in, rights teams estimate round thirty Kurds, together with 5 kids, have been killed amongst some 200 deaths nationwide.
Actual figures are practically unimaginable to verify “both due to communication outages or as a result of [people] are too afraid to talk,” mentioned Rebin Rahmani, a member of the board of administrators of the France-based Human Rights Community of Kurdistan.
Iranian authorities have been stepping up assaults on Kurdish sizzling spots like Sanandaj for greater than per week, mentioned Baha Bahreini, an Iran researcher with Amnesty Worldwide.
“They’ve made the town right into a army base,” a 37-year-old businessman advised The Put up. “Sanandaj is totally militarized.”
Residents advised The Put up they’re afraid to go away their houses. But regardless of the hazard, they mentioned, protesters are nonetheless taking to the streets every day, often within the evenings.
The businessman mentioned numerous safety forces, together with the scary Basij unit of the elite Revolutionary Guard, assault folks at random.
“They’ve this look that’s stuffed with hatred and grudge towards us,” he mentioned. “The brutality that you’re seeing on movies is actual.”
In one video circulating on-line, a person reveals how a bullet went via the window of his dwelling in Sanandaj, via a wall and into one other room.
“There have been numerous disturbing reviews about fixed firing of stay ammunition all through the entire night time and reviews of tear gasoline or totally different ammunitions being thrown on the home windows of homes to forestall folks from going to the home windows and searching on the streets,” Bahreini mentioned.
The violence wouldn’t finish “with out pressing motion on the worldwide degree,” Bahreini continued.
“We know how the system is,” she mentioned. “It’s been fixed waves of protests through the years and killing with impunity.”
Kurds make up half of political prisoners held in Iran and a disproportionately excessive variety of these executed, based on a 2019 U.N. report, a part of a historical past of brutality towards the nation’s Kurdish communities.
The Pahlavi monarchy, which dominated Iran from 1925 to 1979, tried to centralize management by assimilating Kurds, typically by pressure, and decreasing the facility of tribal leaders, Bajalan mentioned.
Iranian Kurds joined protests to overthrow Reza Shah Pahlavi — and continued to battle in opposition to Shiite revolutionaries who gained out in 1979.
When the Iran-Iraq warfare broke out in 1980, Iran’s new clerical leaders upped their efforts to crush Kurdish resistance.
“The Iranian state closely militarized the area,” Bajalan mentioned, including that the state “condemns all types of political activism as separatism.”
Armed Kurdish teams in search of autonomy in Iran have periodically fought with authorities safety forces. Many have sought refuge throughout the border in Kurdistan, Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish area.
Iran has retaliated by finishing up strikes throughout the border in Iraq, together with two final month, accusing Kurdish teams there of getting a hand within the protests. Kurdish authorities mentioned strikes on Sept. 28 killed 10 folks, together with at one least one youngster.
Iran’s Inside Minister Ahmad Vahidi, whereas visiting Sanandaj on Oct. 11, blamed the town’s unrest on “terrorist and separatist teams,” with an “ugly and unhealthy historical past” of cooperating with Saddam Hussein, western nations and Israel, the IRGC-affiliated Fars Information reported.
The 37-year-old businessman in Sanandaj denied accusations that protesters are armed. “The individuals are combating with no weapons,” he mentioned, and are being met by safety forces with “army grade weapons.”
That was echoed by a 65-year-old girl who described a scene she witnessed whereas driving round Sanandaj on Oct. 8, when she heard automobiles honking and noticed riot police wearing black with masks over their faces. Police ran after bystanders, she mentioned, and threw tear gasoline at a gaggle of ladies not carrying headscarves. Nearer to her dwelling, she heard steady rounds of gunfire, then noticed a gaggle of younger folks fleeing the scene.
Simply days earlier, she mentioned wistfully, she had seen ladies and ladies with out their hijabs doing a Kurdish dance in an area park at night time, their hair glowing within the moonlight.