The Kurds’ ongoing struggle for more cultural and political rights in Iran is more isolated and fragile than ever before, with countless splits occurring in the Iranian Kurdish parties and often ferocious in-fighting.
Due to bans imposed on these political groups by the Islamic Republic of Iran, they are mostly now officially stationed well within the borders of the neighboring semiautonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, as political refugees hosted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
To this day, the groups are still armed – not adequately enough to counter Iran’s military might, but with more than enough firepower to fight each other, as some of them did in recent years, when several party splits led to inter-party armed conflict.
With sectarianism now seemingly more important among these exiled Iranian Kurds than the struggle for their rights, the unity of the Kurdish resistance is weakening in Iran, and there is the ever-present possibility of further armed conflict or even civil war among the groups, which would further weaken the Kurdish cause in Iran.
Currently, five major Iranian Kurdish political groups outlawed by Iran have their bases within Iraqi Kurdistan. The groups, co-existing in an ideologically uneasy relationship, comprise the Democratic Party of Kurdistan-Iran (PDKI), the Komala-Communist Party of Iran (Komala-CPI), and their splinter parties.
Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist government allowed the groups to be in Iraq after the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution, due to their opposition to a common enemy: the Iranian government.
During the Kurdish uprising against Hussein in 1991, the groups were allowed to establish bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, and they have been here ever since. The KRG supplies them with power, water and land.
Iran claims the Kurdish groups are terrorists, although the groups themselves renounced armed struggle in 2003, as the Iraqi Constitution does not allow armed political activities to be operated from Iraqi soil. The groups do not allow Iraqi Kurds as members, so as to avoid upsetting the KRG’s foreign relations.
Rudaw recently visited the two most prominent camps of these Iranian Kurdish parties and observed the daily life of their peshmarga fighters, which is no longer limited to military duties alone. With their guns put to one side, Rudaw saw both male and female peshmargas – still in their military fatigues – building, planting trees and armed with microphones and computer keyboards in their media studios, from where they broadcast to Iran and the rest of the world, via television, radio and the internet.
“We support civil struggle, and cultural and political representation of the Kurdish nation, and we also believe in a political solution for the Kurdish question in Iran,” said Mohammad Nazifi, member of the PDKI’s Secretariat, at the democratic party’s camp nestled under the Haibasultan Mountains, just 10 minutes’ drive from the town center of Koya in Erbil province.
Hassan Rahmanpanah, spokesman and Central Committee member of the Komala-CPI, said the communist group did not believe in armed struggle, but that it still had weapons and military camps to defend itself from “the Islamic regime’s attacks.”
“If we did not have our guns we couldn’t have our media, our publications and the [clandestine] civil struggle we are operating in Iran against the Islamic regime,” he told Rudaw at the Komala-CPI camp in the craggy mountains of Zirgwez, about 45 minutes’ drive south from Sulaimani city.
During the 1990s, prominent members of both groups were often assassinated by Iranian secret service members when they were en route to and from their camps and while in Iraqi Kurdish towns. Although there have not been any deadly attacks since security increased in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003, the groups remain ever-vigilant.