• Wednesday 3rd June 2020

Iran’s Kurdish Rebellion By Stephen Schwartz Executive Director, Center For Islamic Pluralism

Mahabad Kurds reacted by demonstrations on May 8 leading to riots and the burning of the hotel.

Iran’s Kurdish Rebellion

by Stephen Schwartz Executive Director, Center for Islamic Pluralism

Violent protests by Iranian Kurds have taken the world by surprise, and mainstream reporting on them is sparse. That is doubtless explained by the general absence of decent journalism under the regime of the Islamic Republic, including restrictions in entry of foreign correspondents. Yet the events in Mahabad, a city of up to 280,000 mainly-Kurdish inhabitants, in the Iranian province of Western Azerbaijan, has fascinating aspects to those who follow Kurdish (and Iranian) affairs.

The demographic profile of Iranian Azerbaijan reveals the ethnic diversity of Iran. The country is not entirely Persian, as many outsiders believe. Turkic, Kurdish, and other non-Farsi languages are spoken by large minorities.

The recent turbulence in Mahabad began as such urban troubles often do, with an alleged abuse of power, a death, and rapid communication through the streets. According to the English-language web portal of the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw, which is professional and reliable, in the first week of May a Kurdish woman, Farinaz Khosrawani, aged 25, died after she fell, jumped, or was pushed from the fourth floor of the Tara Hotel in the city. Ostensibly, the victim, while employed at the hotel, sought to escape a rape attempt by an Iranian state official.

Mahabad Kurds reacted by demonstrations on May 8 leading to riots and the burning of the hotel. Local activists claimed between 25 and 50 protestors, and seven police, were injured in the confrontation, and that police attacked the angry crowds with tear gas and firearms. One participant in the uprising, Akam Talaj, a student also aged 25, suffered serious wounds from gunfire and was taken to a hospital named for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in the major city of Urmia.

A Kurdish advocate, Armin Hassanpour, 19, was arrested and his whereabouts remained unknown two weeks later. Iranian authorities warned they would deal harshly with the protestors, but then said they had not detained anybody related to the movement. A suspect in the death of Khosrowani, however, was purportedly held.

Solidarity actions with Mahabad spread to the nearby Iranian Kurdish-majority city of Sardasht, where hundreds of participants chanted “Mahabad is not alone, Sardasht will stand with Mahabad.” They were attacked by police, which fired on the people, and at least 30 Kurdish militants were rounded up and jailed. Security forces were rushed to other Iranian Kurdish towns to prevent further anti-government mobilizations, and the internet was shut down in Mahabad.

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