With the election of conservative former judiciary head, Ebrahim Raisi, as the new Iranian President on June 19, it appears Iranian Kurds are yet to see the worst of their historically marginalized social status.
Sixty-year-old Raisi secured 62 percent of the votes in the presidential election, with a voter turnout of 48.8 percent – the lowest turnout since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Most Iranians, and Iranian Kurds especially (who make up about 10 million or 12 percent of Iran’s total population), boycotted the election. They felt it was predetermined in favor of Raisi and believed free elections do not exist in Iran’s Islamic regime.
Raisi was appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, as Judiciary Chief in 2019. He is accused of being responsible for overseeing death and life sentences against thousands of peaceful Iranian demonstrators and political dissidents. He is also believed to have played a role in the mass execution of political opponents in 1988, including many vulnerable Kurds. On July 1, Khamenei named former Intelligence and Security Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei as head of the judiciary, replacing Raisi.
“As Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiraling crackdown on human rights which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said on June 19.
“Under his watch, the judiciary has also granted blanket impunity to government officials and security forces responsible for unlawfully killing hundreds of men, women, and children and subjecting thousands of protesters to mass arrests and at least hundreds to enforced disappearance, and torture and other ill-treatment during and in the aftermath of the nationwide protests of November 2019,” Callamard continued.
Iranian Kurds supported the 1979 revolution, however, all of their political and cultural demands were denied after it succeeded.
Iranian Kurds supported the 1979 revolution against the Shah’s regime, however, all of their political and cultural demands – including the right of autonomy and education in their mother tongue – were denied after the revolution succeeded. In fact, Ayatollah Khomeini, top leader of the revolution, announced Jihad against the Kurds. Tens of thousands of Kurds have been killed in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ fight against the Kurdish rebels, which has been ongoing since 2004.
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In a July 2019 report, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, said: “Kurdish political prisoners charged with national security offenses represent almost half of the total number of political prisoners in the Islamic Republic of Iran. . . . They constitute a disproportionately high number of those who received the death penalty and are executed.”
Paris-based Kurdistan Human Rights Network (KHRN) founder Rebin Rahmani anticipates matters will only get worse for Iranian Kurds. “Unfortunately, we expect to see a new wave of widespread violation of human rights in Iran as soon as Raisi takes office. Raisi is a hardliner who has been involved in widespread human rights violations and he is supported by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC),” he told Inside Arabia.
“The Iranian regime continues its abuses of human rights in the areas of Iranian Kurdistan, Sistan-Balochistan, as well as in the Arab populated area of Ahwaz. Tehran knows there would be few reactions at the international level since its violations against minorities have never been the top priority of the international media,” Rahmani added.
“At least 2,000 Iranian Kurdish civilians and activists were arrested from March 21, 2019 to March 21, 2020.”
“At least 2,000 Iranian Kurdish civilians and activists were arrested from March 21, 2019 to March 21, 2020, in the provinces of Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan, Ilam and Kermanshah,” KHRN reported in April 2020.
Rahmani said that during Raisi’s tenure as head of judiciary, 12 Kurdish political prisoners were sentenced to death and the sentences were carried out against five of them already.
“The death penalty was increasingly used as a weapon of political repression against protesters, dissidents and members of minority groups,” Amnesty International said in its 2020/21 report on the state of human rights in the world.
Iran is cracking down on Kurdish civil society activists, labor rights advocates, Kolbars, environmentalists, writers, university students, and relatives of imprisoned political activists.
Kolbars are porters who transport untaxed goods on their backs, across the western Iranian borders with the Iraqi Kurdistan region and Turkey, to earn their daily bread. They are forced into the dangerous work due to poverty and a lack of alternative employment in Iranian Kurdistan. Regularly targeted by Iranian and Turkish border guards, Kolbars are constant victims of social injustice.
“Iran’s border guards continued to unlawfully shoot scores of unarmed Kurdish kulbars [Kolbars] who work, under cruel and inhumane conditions, as cross-border porters between the Kurdistan regions of Iran and Iraq, killing at least 40 men and injuring dozens of others,” Amnesty also stated in its 2020/21 annual report.
Raisi’s hardline leadership would not only worsen the lives of Iranian Kurds, but it would also negatively impact peace and stability across the Middle East.
Raisi’s hardline leadership would not only worsen the lives of Iranian Kurds, but it would also negatively impact peace and stability across the Middle East. Iran’s proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria are involved in grave human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Any tolerance by the West to such offenses would further encourage Iran and its Shiite Muslim proxies to commit more crimes and create further chaos in the region.
President Joe Biden’s administration, which pledged to make human rights a priority, has a moral duty to press the Iranian regime to respect human rights and recognize the political and cultural rights of its Kurdish minority.
The US State Department is expected to resume talks with Iran under President Raisi’s government and to push for a return to the July 2015 nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord in 2018. In retaliation, Tehran has alarmingly increased its nuclear activities.
Biden has said the US will return to the JCPOA if Iran comes back into compliance with the deal. But Iran’s authorities assert that the US should lift the imposed sanctions on Tehran first and Raisi has vowed that he will take a tougher approach than his predecessor in the nuclear negotiations. He said he has no plan to meet with Biden, even if Washington removed all sanctions against Iran. The Biden administration is also hardening its stance, by adding respect of human rights and minorities’ rights to the list of conditions that Tehran must adhere to—if the US is to lift its sanctions and return to the nuclear deal.
Whatever the outcome of the US-Iran negotiations, it seems Iranian Kurds have a long road ahead under Raisi’s leadership, as they are likely to face marked marginalization—especially without support from the international community.