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PJAK, the Kurds and Iranian elections

During the last weeks much has been said about Iran, because of the rageful demonstrations and riots that followed the contested results of the presidential elections, seriously challenging the establishment and government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But few or nothing has been said, in western media, on the effects of this electoral process on the Iranian Kurdish population, amounting to an esteemed number of 5 millions people (on a total Iranian population of about 70 millions), and mostly concentrated in the north-eastern regions of the country, the ones bordering Turkey and Iraq. Moreover, it should be kept in mind that the Iranian Kurdish region still holds a special symbolic value for the whole of Kurdish population: it was here, in the city of Mahabad, that the first Kurdish republic was established between 1945 and 1946, with the support of Soviet Union.

After that short experience, both during the decades of Shah’s rule and the ones of Islamic Republic, the government has been heavily repressing the Iranian Kurdish movement, hindering it from producing effective forms of resistance and opposition. But since the end of the 1990’s, something started to change: the wide protests and demonstrations taking place in the main cities (Mahabad, Sanandaj, Urmiye) of the Iranian Kurdish region, following the arrest of Ocalan in February 1999, are commonly considered as the turning point in the recent history of Iranian Kurdish movement.The new consciousness of the young generation, and the strong admiration for the model of struggle and society proposed by PKK and its leader Ocalan, brought in April 2004 to the creation of PJAK (Parti Jiyani Azadi Kürdistan – Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan), a formation aimed to claim the rights of Kurdish people of Iran with both political tools and guerilla warfare. The newly founded formation was very fast in acquiring a notable visibility, because of its strategic capabilities and the several deadly attacks staged against Iranian army.

The PJAK, similarly to the PKK, has established its bases on the Iranian side of the large and articulated mountain range extending between the shared borders of Turkey, Iraq and Iran. The affinity with PKK, apart from being logistic and formalized by the common participation to the KCK (Koma Civaken Kurdistan – Democratic Communities of Kurdistan), a confederation inluding also PYD (based in Syria) and PCDK (Iraq), is in first instance ideological. The PJAK, in fact, is based on the same principles that have confirmed PKK as the most advanced and long-lasting reference point of the Kurdish transnational movement: opposition to the feudal and patriarchal conceptions of society (“our hardest struggle is the struggle against ourselves”), creation of a political model based on radical and assembleary democracy, claiming of cultural rights and linguistic expression, laicism (http://www.pjak.org/eng/about.php). Representing a pivotal active element of its promoted idea of society, in PJAK, as much as in PKK, women play a fundamental role, being as well an important share of its guerrilla component, and taking part in all warfare activities.

During its first years of existence, despite of the several deadly attacks staged against soldiers of Iranian army, PJAK had not gained any special attention within the so-called international community: this was probably due to the fact that its activities were damaging a country described by Western media as a “rough state”, since the famous definition given of it by George W.Bush. However, in February 2009, one of the first decisions of the new Obama administration was to provide the PJAK with the status of terrorist organization. This is to be interpreted both as a sign of the new diplomatic policy to be carried out by USA towards the Middle-Eastern big powers, and as the effect of the pressures of Turkey, a key country within this new diplomatic policy, that since one year (when Ahmedinejad officially visited Ankara and Istanbul in August 2008) has been gradually getting closer to Iran, outlining common agreements in order to oppose the activities of both PKK and PJAK in their countries.

In April 2009, following the remarkable results achieved by DTP (the only official party representing Kurdish population in Turkey) in local election, the leadership of PKK joined the one of DTP in its persisting request to the Turkish government for giving way to an institutional and political process capable to reach a common and shared solution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey. In order to grant the most favourable condition to such a process, since the 15th of April PKK has been making a series of ceasefire announcements (the last one prolonged until 1st of September), that nonetheless have kept one-sided, because of the lack of a similar approach by the Turkish government and army. Because of the historical opportunity to start a peace process, and with the aim of granting the best possible peaceful conditions to the whole region, at the end of April PKK asked PJAK to stop its military activities against Iranian army. PJAK decided to welcome this invitation and, given the approaching of Iranian presidential elections, to exploit this opportunity by presenting to the public and media a political proposal on the Kurdish issue in Iran, that ended up fostering some debates, thus granting PJAK some further visibility.

However, these last developments probably caused some serious annoyance within the government establishment, because since then the Kurdish region has been the focus of a permanent campaign of provocations, aggressions and intimidations, addressing both the PJAK and the civil population. To be carrying out this campaigns are mostly the Basij, the paramilitary volunteer militia founded by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, that recently acquired lots of visibility during the repression of the demonstrations following the Iranian elections.

Although the strong will of PJAK to keep the ceasefire, in the last weeks Basij’s provocations against Kurdish population have increased, bringing the North-Eastern regions of Iran to a level of dangerous tension. Last week, the killing of a man and his 6 years old son in their house in Urmiye has caused a strong reaction of the population, who considered the event as an evident provocation. Whatever the responsibility of the government in the event, a violent degeneration of the mobilitations could not but help it managing this new and unexpected political situation. The Iranian establishment is indeed certainly scared by this newly emerging Kurdish scenario, now including also PJAK, as it’s bringing forth an innovative political language and requests that are radically democratic.

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International Magazine Issue#8

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