Regional Echoes of the Iranian Uprising: The Kurds
The resilience of the highly disciplined Iranian protesters has not worn, for the fourth week in a row, despite the deadly repression applied by the guards of the Mullah regime. The women-led rallies, which have been sparked by the killing of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a young Iranian Kurdish woman, at the hands of the morality police for not appropriately donning her headscarf, are now turning into a popular uprising that is rocking the entire Islamic Republic.
Exposing the ugly face of the theocratic hardliners is, presumably, the greatest achievement of the ongoing Iranian protests. The youth stand up for restoring their stolen individual freedoms underlines that there is no difference between the Mullah-led regime in Iran and the Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, except the former being a Shiite and the latter being a Sunni. Both regimes are founded on a religious extremist ideology that derives power and legitimacy from systematic discrimination against fragile social groups, particularly women and ethnic and religious minorities.
The diverse layers of Mahsa Amini’s identity as a woman and a Kurd instigated unprecedented regional solidarity with the Iranian protesters, especially in the Levant countries. Kurdish Human rights activists emphasized that Jina and her family were subjected to cruel police treatment mainly because of their ethnicity. The Iranian regime is notorious for practicing systematic targeting of the Kurdish minority in Iran, as well as in Syria and Iraq.
That explains why the assault on Jina echoed loudly in the Kurdish-controlled regions in Syria and Iraq. In northern Syria, hundreds of women took to the streets to protest by setting their headscarves on fire and cutting their hair to show solidarity with the suppressed Iranian sisters. In Iraq’s Kurdistan region, dozens of activists gathered outside the United Nations office to protest the tyranny of the Iranian regime and call for justice. ‘Women, life, freedom’ and ‘death to the regime’ are the slogans chanted the most by Iranian protesters and sympathizers in the levant and worldwide.
Despite being a minority, the Kurds in Iran are a large population of 15 million citizens, about 17% of the Iranian population. More than 45% of the Iranian Kurds are young people. Most of them are well-educated despite their miserable living circumstances, with limited access to governmental services, in purposefully impoverished cities in northwestern territories close to Iran’s borders with Iraq.
The Kurdish culture favors a secular, rather than a religious, way of living. The Iranian Kurds are among the most politically active groups in Iran. They were among the first social groups to form communist political parties in the 1950s and 1960s. For that reason, the Iranian Mullah-led regime saw in them an existential threat to their rule, in both political and ideological terms. Since the foundation of the Islamic Republic in 1979, the Kurds have been growing as steadfast political opposition to the religious state. Ruhollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, had publicly encouraged the ‘elimination’ of the Kurds because of their Marxist / communist beliefs, which he labeled as a threat to Islam.
While failing to repress the internal protests, which have been growing by a snowball effect, Tehran decided to target the sympathizing Kurds in neighboring Iraq with missiles and drones. On September 29th, as Mahsa Amini demonstrations entered the twelfth day, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) launched a missile attack on the Kurdish cities of Koya and Qala in northern Iraq, about 60 km eastern Erbil. The inexcusable Iranian offensive killed seventeen people, including a pregnant woman, and injured other 58 civilians.
The IRGC leadership justified the attack by chasing the Kurdish separatists, who have been leaking into Iran to participate in the protests. The IRGC leadership, then, warned that the missile attacks on northern Iraq “will continue with full determination until the threat is effectively repelled.” The Iranian offensive on the Iraqi Kurdistan region is not the first and will not be the last. Tehran has been regularly attacking Kurdish communities in northern Iraq, since 2016, under the cliché claim of hunting terrorists.
A few days later, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, made a speech to accentuate that the ongoing protests against his regime are part of a western conspiracy against Iran. The next day, the commander of IRGC’s Land Forces claimed that the recent Iranian attacks on northern Iraq struck 40 targets run by Israel and Kurdish separatist groups. He accused Israel of using anti-Revolutionary Guard bases in the northern region of Iraq to its advantage. He, even, argued that despite Iran's repeated pleas to the Iraqi central government, no action was taken, leaving Tehran with little choice but to directly shell the Kurdistan area to push against Israel’s alleged presence there.
Blaming the United States, Israel, and the Kurds in neighboring countries is one of the old tricks the Mullahs use whenever they face angry protests at home. Alleging foreign interference in Iranian affairs has previously succeeded, more than once, in demonizing the political opposition, justifying the regime’s suppression of the demonstrators, and keeping ordinary apolitical citizens in a state of constant fear from an imaginary enemy called the West, in a way that significantly served the interests of the regime and strengthened its grasp on power. However, this deceitful technique is not expected to save the Mullahs, this time, amid this unprecedented street rage.
The current protests are expanding, spatially and politically, beyond the borders of Iran and the perceptions of the Iranians. This special momentum may be the end of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it may also be the end of the Levant as we know it. It could also mark the rebirth of hope and a better future in the most turbulent area in the geography of the Middle East.
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