Execution to impose terror
Our response to the judicial murder of Kurds should not be to call for the Iranian regime to be hauled before a tribunal for ‘crimes against humanity’, writes Yassamine Mather. It should be to step up our solidarity
Four of the five political prisoners executed by the Islamic government in Iran in the early hours of Sunday May 9 came from Kurdistan and were accused of membership of the left nationalist group, the PJAK (an Iranian version of the PKK). The executed prisoners - Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alamhouli and Mehdi Eslamian - all denied membership of “political organisations” and the PJAK issued a statement clarifying that none of those executed had any organisational links with it. Farzad Kamangar was a teacher and trade unionist who had been accused of “endangering national security” and “enmity against god”.
Although Iran has other major Kurdish nationalist organisations, dissatisfaction with the pro-western policies of the other groups, which have collaborated with US plans for ‘regime change’, has swelled the ranks of the relatively unknown and younger PJAK.
The PJAK claims that half of its members are women and that it supports women’s rights. It has been involved in many military confrontations with Iran’s security forces in Kurdistan. It claims its guerrillas fight inside Iran, and reports suggest that in August 2007 it managed to destroy an Iranian military helicopter that was conducting a forward operation of bombardment by Iranian forces. It has adopted many of the political ideas and military strategies of the PKK.
On April 24 2009, PJAK rebels attacked a police station in Kermanshah province. According to Iranian government sources, a number of policemen and eight rebels were killed in a fierce gun battle. Iran responded a week later by attacking Kurdish villages in the border area of Panjwin inside Iraq using helicopter gunships.
In April 2006, US congressman Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to George W Bush in which he wrote that the US is likely to be supporting and coordinating the PJAK, since it operates and is based in Iraqi territory, under the control of the Kurdistan regional government. In November 2006, journalist Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, supported this claim, stating that the US military and the Israelis are giving the group equipment, training and targeting information in order to create internal pressures in Iran. The accusations seem unlikely, given the PJAK’s membership of the PKK-led Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK). However, even if the accusations are correct, members and supporters of this organisation join it precisely because of its leftwing politics and its claims of opposition to imperialist powers, rather than aligning themselves with the longer established, bourgeois nationalist parties.
The mass protests of 2009 and 2010 were all expressions of the opposition by Iran’s youth to the Islamic regime. However, in Kurdistan province that opposition is even stronger. The region known as Iranian Kurdistan includes the greater parts of the provinces of West Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Ilam, with an estimated population of six to seven million mainly Sunnis. It has a long history of rebellion against the central government, going back to the Sassanid era.
In modern times, Kurds have rebelled on a number of occasions. During World War I, the weakness of the Qajar dynasty encouraged Kurdish tribal chiefs to take control of large sections of the province. In 1922, Reza Khan (the shah’s father and founder of the Pahlavi dynasty), sent his army to quash Kurdish rebellion. During the first years of the Pahlavi rule, Reza Shah pursued a crude policy of forcing Kurdish chiefs into exile, while confiscating their land and property.
At the start of World War II, Reza Shah showed open sympathies to Nazi Germany, prompting an invasion of Iran by Allied troops in September 1941. In the Kurdish regions, the Persian army was defeated and their ammunition seized by Kurds. With support from the Soviet Union, a Kurdish state was created in the city of Mahabad in 1946, but it lasted less than a year - the withdrawal of the occupying Soviet forces allowed the shah’s army to defeat the separatists. However, despite its short history the Mahabad republic played a significant role in radicalisation of Kurdish youth and their dream of a socialist Kurdistan.
Another wave of nationalism followed the fall of the shah in February 1979, and Iran’s first supreme religious leader, ayatollah Khomeini, declared a jihad against ‘Kurdistan’. In the spring of 1980, government forces under the command of president Bani Sadr attacked the cities of Mahabad, Sanandaj, Pawe and Marivan. Entire villages and towns were destroyed to force the Kurds into submission. Ayatollah Khalkhali, also known as the ‘hanging judge’, sentenced thousands of men to execution after summary trials while Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps fought to re-establish government control in the entire region. However, the central government did not fully succeed in the countryside and, as the Islamic state consolidated its power, arresting socialists and communists. Organisations of the Iranian left took refuge in Kurdistan, many spending most of the 1980s in that region.
In February 1999, Kurdish nationalists took to the streets in several cities against the government of president Khatami and in support of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. These protests were violently suppressed by government forces and at least 20 people were killed.
In November 2009 Iran’s Islamic Republic executed Ehsan Fattahian, a Kurdish political activist charged with being an “enemy of god” because of his political activities in support of Kurdish national rights. He was a member of Komala, one of the main political organisations active in Iranian Kurdistan since the 1960s, some of whose founding members had Maoist tendencies. When the Islamic regime took power, Komala participated in the first parliamentary elections. However, fearing Komala or leftwing victories in some of Kurdish seats, the regime cancelled the elections and sent in the military in the summer of 1979 to put down the ‘Kurdish rebellion’. Leftwing Kurdish political organisations, including Komala, were declared illegal.
In 1983, together with an Iranian socialist group, Unity of Communist Militants, Komala formed the Communist Party of Iran. In 1991, political differences with the UCM leadership led to a split, with the latter forming the Worker-communist Party of Iran. In 2004 there was a further split in the Communist Party of Iran, with the more nationalist faction led by Mohtadi deciding to relaunch Komala .
Mohatdi now considers himself a “revolutionary liberal”. He has met American officials over the last few years at the state department and other government agencies and many consider that the group has shifted to the right since the split with the CPI. Komala remains one of four major Kurdish parties organising in Kurdistan. Most activists of the organisation are unaware of the relationship of Mohtadi and other Komala leaders with the US.
Clearly Ehsan Fattahian, who had spent many years in prison, could not be held responsible for Mohtadi’s actions. In the same way Farzad Kamangar, Ali Heydarian, Farhad Vakili, Shirin Alamhouli and Mehdi Eslamian are innocent victims of an Islamic regime that uses execution as a means of imposing terror at a time when protesters are preparing themselves for demonstrations commemorating the events of last summer.
Kurdish and Iranian political groups have called for a one-day general strike in Kurdistan on Thursday May 13 in protest at the executions and students have also showed their outrage, organising a spontaneous protest when Ahmadinejad visited Shahid Beheshti University on May 10. The mild disapproval of the executions expressed by ‘reformist’ leader Mir-Hossein Moussavi, who merely expressed his concern that the Islamic state’s legal procedures may not have been followed, left everyone, including some of his supporters, bewildered. The executions of these young Kurds will only increase the hatred felt towards the central government.
Ironically, earlier this month, no doubt at the urging of a politically correct adviser, Iran’s supreme leader, ayatollah Khamenei, issued an order forbidding the mimicking by Iranians of the accent of Kurds, Turks and other peoples when they speak Persian. It is fitting for our time that the ruler of a government responsible for the death of so many innocent Kurds - victims of air raids, helicopter gunships, military attacks and executions - should claim to be concerned by the hurt they might feel if their accent is mocked.
Following these executions, another call has been made by supporters of the many splinter groups originating from Fedayeen (Minority) for a tribunal of Iran’s leaders for ‘crimes against humanity’. Although I share their outrage, the reality is, we live in a world where major western ‘democracies’ - the US, UK, France, Italy and so on - are themselves guilty of appalling crimes committed in the name of their ‘war on terror’. The execution of political opponents by Israel, the US and its occupation allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention torture, waterboarding and the rest, are the order of the day. In such circumstance any ‘human rights’ tribunal in the west directed against Iran’s Islamic leaders would be grossly hypocritical.
I cannot speak for those executed this week, but I am sure the Fedayeen comrades I knew personally who lost their lives in executions or in the dungeons of the Islamic republic would want all of us to concentrate our efforts on supporting the important struggles of the Iranian working class against the regime and against capitalism rather than calling on the west to put this or that religious politician, judge or executioner on trial. There must be no illusions in western liberal democracy. Pinning our hopes on human rights lawyers and do-gooders will only hinder our activities in support of the ideals for which so many of our comrades lost their lives in Kurdistan and the rest of Iran.