Kurds in the ethnic composition of Iran: Current issues

10 m.   |  2019-07-26

Topics related to Kurds are always relevant, as we actually deal with an ethnic community living in the four countries of the Middle East: Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Any kind of problems or developments happening periodically with the Kurds living in these countries, gain an important significance for the above mentioned countries at a common, regional level.

Within that context, Kurds living in Iran are in a special position, as we deal with an Iranian-speaking community, the historical formation of which took place in the territory of Iran. By saying the territory of Iran, we mean the Greater Iran or historical “Iranshahr”, stretching from the contemporary Central Asia to the present-day territory of Iraq.

Now let’s give a general definition of Kurds: Who are they? In which territory do they live? What is Kurdistan? There is, in general, an interesting saying among Kurds, according to which “All the countries in the region have Kurdistan, except Kurds”. This is very interesting and by this way the Kurds are trying to solve their problems.

Kurds have a special place in the ethnic composition of Iran, as I have already mentioned, Kurds are a tribal community, and while generally describing the Kurds, we give them Kurdish ethnic name, but actually we deal with a few tribes, each of which has its name: Kurdish, Soran, Kurmanj and respectively they have their language, used by the tribes: Sorani, Kurmanji and Kurdish.

In the territory of Iran, Kurds live in Kurdistan, Kermanshah, Ilam and Western Atropatene provinces, a part of which are Turkish-speaking Azerbaijani and in recent years, we can say most of the people from Atropatene province are Kurds.

As to the numbers, I think it’s a controversial issue, as in case of Iran, the ethnic groups that face a danger of separatism, there are various publications on their numbers, that is, the power centers working with these ethnic groups in the direction of separatism present other numbers and Iran presents another. Moreover, as the national minority is not identified by the Iranian Constitution, it is very difficult to present them officially in case of census. But we can roughly speak about 5 to 9 million.

Now lets turn to the problems, which periodically arise among Kurds.  In this regard, we can highlight several issues, such as the issue on separatism and religious factor. In the territory of Iran, if not the majority of Kurds, but a considerable part of them are Sunnis. Historically, when during the Safavid Empire, Iran adopted Shiism as an official religion, a feeling of alienation arose over the Shiite population among the Kurds and the majority of them turned to the Ottoman Empire.

As for security issues, there is a danger of separatism both in case of Atropatene and Kurdistan. However, here the problems are different. If in case of Atropatene province we mainly deal with political processes, which coincide with protests from time to time but within the frameworks of political processes, in case of Kurdish-populated areas, the contact between the Iran’s security forces and Kurds happens in the form of armed clashes.

There are 4 main Kurdish organizations, 2 of which “Komele” and “Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran” have been formed  before the Islamic revolution, and the other 2, which are “The Democratic Party of Kurdistan” and “The Kurdistan Free Life Party” which is more famous as “PJAK”. Security forces of Iran call this latter one as terrorist and the armed clashes mainly happen between PJAK and security forces of Iran. According to the Iranian side, those groups receive a financial support from the powers outside Iran, who occasionally penetrate Iran from the territory of Iraq, and here take place armed clashes. 

Hence, in case of Kurds, the separatism problems in Iran are less threatening, than the struggle between Kurdish extremist groups and security forces of Iran.

Referring once again to the contradictions with the authorities caused by the Shia-Sunni factor, we should mention, that the problem is especially aggravated during elections, when Kurds speak out for their rights, language issue, the issue of holding high public offices and so on.

In this regard, we can mention, that during the presidency of Hassan Rouhani serious changes were made in the Kurdish issue, particularly for the first time during the post-revolutionary period in 2015, a Kurdish ambassador was appointed as a high-ranking official, who was a Sunni-Kurd. This was an important fact to record over Kurds, generally, not only over Kurds, but also Hassan Rouhani’s policy over other ethnic  groups. He tried to solve the existing problems through his policy, thus neutralising all the possible external interventions, which could be speculated by external forces.

For instance, a decision was made to produce TV programs in Kurdish, the issues on teaching Kurdish at Universities were solved and so on.

Summing up the issues on Kurds, we should mention that in a great deal, Iran historically passed his experience. In the late 1940s, the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was established in Iran, which lasted about a year. Therefore, Iran does not have separatism problems, first because Kurds are Iranian-speaking people, as there are no contradictions between Kurds and other Iranian-speaking communities and there is the so-called Kurdistan province, which satisfies the demands of Kurds and the other one is the general integration. The problems related to Kurds are almost identical, which we can see in Atropatene, Balochistan and in Arabic-speaking areas. And in the last 40 years the authorities of Iran and the security forces of Iran can take control over the situation in the provinces through their targeted policy and take such steps, which allow the ethnic groups to coexist peacfully. As Hassan Rouhani recently stated “Iran is not a country for Turkish-speaking people, Balouchi, Talish or Kurd, Iran is the country for all the ethnic groups”. Rouhani compared them to a large blossoming place, where each ethnic group is like a flower having its uniqueness and color, but all those flowers adorn the Great Iran, Great Golestan.