Thursday, 6 June 2013

Iranian minorities: Kurds

Kurdistan as a region is split across 4 countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The area is mostly mountainous and often underdeveloped in comparison with its neighbours, one exception being modern Iraqi-Kurdistan. There are several different ethnic groups and languages most of which are split into further tribal groups, although this is less prevalent in the urban societies. However, the Kurds consider themselves one group, even if the two main literary languages are, grammatically speaking, almost as different as German and English.

As can be seen here, the northern, Kurmanji speaking group is mostly confined to Turkey and Syria, but there are also some speakers in a small area in the North West of Iran. The yellow area shows the Sorani speakers who are the majority in Iran and Iraq. Their population in Iran numbers about 7 million.

Although Kurds have been one of the most oppressed national groups in the world, their experiences haven't been the same across their enforced states. For example, their existence isn't denied in Iran as it is in Turkey since the Kurds are, linguistically speaking, from the Iranian family, and they haven't been subject to attempts at ethnic cleansing like in Iraq. However, due to their tenacious national identity in modern history, their treatment has always been repressive; the only possible way of holding together a mosaic state like Iran.

Under Reza Shah, as with other tribal groups on the Iranian plateau, such as the Qashqai, the Kurds were forced to settle in one location and thus lose their self-sufficiency based on herding. As the Persian centre of Iran was slowly modernized under the hand of the Pahlavi dictators and their Western sponsors, the Kurds were kept constantly on the side-lines. That was until the Allied occupation of Iran during WWII when the Soviets encouraged Azeri and Kurdish socialist republics before abandoning them to the eventual reconquering retaliation of the UK/US dominated regime.

It was the first fruition of Kurdish independence although it only consisted of the city of Mahabad and the surrounding areas and lasted almost exactly one year.

This was attempted again after the 1979 Iranian revolution, but again was quelled (although resistance lasted a decade in the more mountainous regions) and again the Kurds were excluded from development, this time by the religious leaders who have been getting very rich indeed. There have been no industrial projects in Kurdistan and the people have to make do with low-level farming or textiles. There are many who are unemployed and many who have migrated to other parts of the country to find work, but they can easily be replaced by Persian workers.

The regime does not allow Kurdish to be taught in schools nor to be used in media and their culture is generally looked down upon. To make matters worse, most Kurds in Iran are Sunni whereas the regime is Shia. This didn't help any of the Kurds, on either side of the border, during the Iran-Iraq war when both sides believed, wrongly, that the Kurds were helping the enemy which lead to many atrocities against them, most notably the gassing of Halabja in Iraqi-Kurdistan.

Kurdish activists are often assassinated or executed by the state which often leads to popular uproar and subsequent violent repression [1]. It is unlikely that the situation will improve that much under any form of Iranian state.

As a side note, there is a sizeable group of Kurds, about 1.7 million, who live in Khorasan in North Eastern Iran (as can been seen from the map above). They were forced to move there under the Safavid rulers to defend the country against raiders from further north. They are Kurmanji speakers and mostly Shia.

A Kurdish Sorani song:

1 -
Extra - 'Iran on the Brink: Rising Workers & Threats of War', Andreas Malm & Shora Esmalian, Pluto Press, 2007.

This is part of a series of posts on Iranian minorities, the other posts can be found here: ArabsBaloch

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