When four Kurdish activists, including a woman, were hanged last week in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison, it was almost two decades since the final round of full-scale military confrontation between main Kurdish parties and the Iranian regime had ceased, but the Kurdish tragedy has remained as a major case of human rights abuse since the fall of the oppressive regime of the Shah in 1979. As an immediate reaction to this unexpected event, throughout the globe, the human rights organizations and freedom lovers condemned this mass execution of the four political prisoners; Kurdish activists and their allies attacked Iranian embassies in several European countries, and martial law reportedly was declared in the Kurdish region of Iran. In addition, Amnesty International condemned the hanging, saying in a statement that five activists, including four Kurdish political prisoners, were tortured and forced to confess under duress and were denied fair trials. Moreover, all the Kurdish parties, their lawyers, and even Green Movement leader Mir Hussein Mousavi, rejected that these five political activists who were hanged for the so called "anti-revolutionary activities" were involved in terrorism, as the authority in Iran claimed. There is strong evidence that all of them were human rights activists who had not been involved in any sort of violence or terrorist activities. Throughout the last three decades, in order to justify its policy toward political incidents, the Iranian regime often accused Western governments, especially the U.S., of backing the separatist groups among the country’s ethnic minorities, especially in the Kurdish region. It is also crucial to mention that Amnesty International has reported that Iran carried out the highest number of executions in 2009 after China.
The Kurdish dilemma has remained unresolved under the regimes of the Shah and the Islamic Republic, and has cost a huge amount of human and material damages to this country. More importantly, it has appeared as a major obstacle to the process of peace and democratization in Iran. When almost two decades ago the military confrontation between the Kurds and Iranian regimes ceased, there was great hope that elites inside the regime had learned from the past and eventually would find a peaceful and humane way to ease a several-decades-old burden on the Kurdish people. The emergence of the reform movement in Iran (mid-1990s) formed that illusion when the main reformist leaders claimed that they aimed to create an image that would restore democratic and political rights of Iran’s people–and all of these only could be achieved through ballot boxes. The main reformist leader at the time, Mohammad Khatami, attracted Iranian attention during his first election to the presidency when, as a little known elite, he received almost 70 percent of the vote in 1997. He ran on a platform of liberalization and reform, and during his two terms as president, advocated freedom of expression, tolerance, and civil society. There can be no doubt that the rise of the reform movement during the early stage of President Khatemi’s administration had its momentum and brought some degree of hope among the Kurds in Iran for greater cultural and political rights.
As a multi-ethnic country, Iran’s early reformist leaders confronted their most sensitive and crucial issues as is seen in growing demands of over 50 percent of non-Persian ethnic groups (especially the Kurds) inside Iran who were asking for greater rights. Since the early stage of the reform, there was a tendency among some segments of these ethnic minorities to mobilize their powers, and through their collective efforts this might help them to achieve some basic cultural and political rights within the existing Islamic Constitution of Iran. These basic and even somehow legal demands within the framework of the present regime could create a nonviolent and peaceful atmosphere for the expression of minority rights in Iran. The Kurdish region had played a major role in this so-called reform period in Iran–the emergence of verities of human rights, civil rights, literature associations, ecological and green activists, and children and women advocates are strong evidence that Kurds were hoping to achieve their rights through nonviolent ways. The primary Kurds’ demands were greatly increased economic development in their region, a bigger share of the profits from natural resources, and the unfettered use of their language in education and politics. However, even these primary and basic demands of the Kurds had been out of reach, and during the two-term presidency of Mohammad Khatami, the Kurdish statues didn’t change. By doing that, the reform movement failed to expand its populist base among them.
It came as no surprise to anyone when the Kurds almost stayed away from the second round of the reform movement and had no tendency to participate in the Green Movement following Iran’s disputed presidential election in June 2009. At the early stages of campaigning for Iran’s presidential election, both the ostensible leaders of the reform movement, Mir Hussein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, promised greater cultural rights for ethnic minorities, which has been a legal demand even under the existing constitution since the early years of the Islamic government in Iran. Both the reform movement’s leaders, the same as the previous reformist president, Mohammad Khatemi, who also promised the same degree of greater rights for Kurds and other minorities almost 10 years earlier, were fully aware of Iran’s ethnic minority demands. However, very soon it become clear that resolving the Kurdish national question within the boundaries of the existing Iranian Constitution would not be possible and indeed was not compatible at all. It is also crucial to add that throughout the modern history of Iran, the mentality of the government’s elites who have been occupied with the old myth of "Kurdish separatism" has played a major role in suppression of the Kurdish struggle and by large in continuation of the Kurdish tragedy in Iran. As a final thought, at this point it is unclear whether the mass execution of the four Kurdish activists were planned to deter opposition groups in the run-up to next month’s anniversary of last years’ presidential election, or it is the beginning of a new round of Kurdish suppression in Iran. If the second option is the case regarding the Kurds in Iran, the international community and human rights organizations shouldn’t allow this tragedy to continue, because at this point 17 other Kurdish activists remain on death row in Iran.