“Dictatorial and corrupted regime” – Kurdish definition of the Iranian regime.
Washington Kurdish Institute
January 6, 2018
On January 4, 2018, the uprising of Iranian people against their regime reached its 8th day. The massive protests first erupted a week after the leak of the austerity plans by the current government headed by Hassan Rouhani. The protesters mainly demand change of the regime and economic reforms in the country due to the high percentage of unemployment, corruption, lack of social freedom and high tax. The sudden protests have received a brutal military reaction from Iran’s Islamic Forces of the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and the Basij Resistance Force, which operates under the IRGC.
Despite the regime’s shut down of social media applications, and in some cases shutting down the internet on the protesting cities, the number of protesters killed climbed to 28, due to the regime’s violent military response. But these tactics of oppression are not new or odd to the Iranian regime.
Since the establishment of the so-called “Islamic Revolution” in 1979, Iran’s regime has suppressed the Iranian people. Thousands of political figures and activists who oppose the regime remain imprisoned. Iran tops the world’s rankings of most civilian executions, and is known for its horrific methods of using crane trucks for public hangings.
The 2018 protests that are taking place are new and sudden. Western experts’ opinions are divided between supporters of the people and defenders of the regime. Some opinions suggest that the people’s uprisings are less about the mullahs and more about the economy, ignoring the fact that it is the mullahs’ regime of corruption that created a poor quality of life in the country.
While there is limited information about what is happening to the protesters, there already emerged several concrete facts:
- More than a thousand people have been arrested and like before, the Iranian regime will use torture and executions as a tool to silence these voices. The Iranian regime overtly threatens the protesters with the death penalty.They also sent text messages terrorizing the citizens that they will face legal cases if they participate in the protests.
- These protests are not limited to a specific persecuted ethnicity. Further, this map shows how widespread the demonstrations are to include all Iranian components.
- Unlike the 2009 protests, today’s protesters demand regime change. Across the different cities many protesters are heard chanting anti-Islamic regime slogans such as “Death to the dictator,” in reference to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
- The Iranian people think domestically and are tired of the regime spending billions of dollars abroad on terror groups in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon. While unemployment can reach 60% in certain areas, the regime continues meddling in the affairs of other states and spends much of its budget on matters irrelevant to the everyday life of Iranians. Despite claims by the Iranian regime, these protests do not have any support by foreign powers.
The Kurdish perspective is a bit different on these protests. They are supportive and helpful as they participate in it but on a lower scale. As the Kurds have been the number one target of the Iranian regime’s guns for decades, the Kurdish cities suffer not only unemployment but discrimination and persecution on a daily basis. The Kurds are estimated at 12-14% of Iran’s population. The Iranian regime’s animosity against the Kurds extends beyond the border of Iran to reach Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, as the Kurds are divided into four states.
Once Kurdish leaders declared the Republic of Kurdistan in 1946 in eastern Iran, the Iranian Dynasty (with help from western powers) then seized the state and executed its leader Qazi Muhammad. Since 1980 the Iranian regime has banned any political activity by any Kurdish party or public figure. Despite their fundamental differences, Iran always cooperated with Turkey to eradicate any Kurdish aspiration of self-rule or independence. The latest Iranian attack against the Kurds was when the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq (KRG) held the Independence Referendum. The Iranian regime, with Turkey, stood against the Kurdish will and helped the Iraqi militias attack the Kurdish areas that are disputed between the KRG and the central government.
Several Iranian Kurdish parties are based on borders with Iraqi Kurdistan alongside their armed groups. All these Kurdish parties have released statements supporting the demonstration as legitimate rights of the people. But to know more about the protests and the Kurdish aspirations the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) spoke to Mr. Mohammad Ghaderi, the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDP-I) Representative to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. KDP-I is the oldest Kurdish organization that was formed by Qazi Mohammad in 1946. The KDP-I has a group of armed men (Peshmerga forces) that are based in the Qandil mountains on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan and Iranian Kurdistan. After many years of silence, on March 21, 2016, the KDP-I decided to relaunch the armed struggle against the Iranian regime.
Here are edited experts from our conversation.
“80% of Iran’s economy is under control of the IRGC”
WKI: How did the whole protest movement start?
Mohammad Ghaderi: The protests’ cause isn’t tied to one matter. There is no surprise of why it did start. There are several reasons for the people to rise like economic, social, and political situations that accumulated inside Iran for decades due to a dictatorial and corrupted regime. The system in Iran produced unemployment, theft of public wealth, and high cost of living. These issues have created poverty in the entire country in addition to social issues, like drug use.The Iranian regime has always worked to distract its internal crises by focusing outside Iran and getting involved in matters that are not a concern of Iranians. The foreign intervention of the Iranian regime is often used and imposed on the people as a tool to avoid any discussion of the domestic issues. For example, for a decade they were involved in Iraq against the U.S. presence and later in Syria to protect the Assad regime,followed by the excuse of fighting ISIS terrorists. All these cases were pretexts of the IRGC to take over Iran’s economy. 80% of Iran’s economy is under control of the IRGC. Despite the partial lift of the economic sanctions of what is known as the Iran Deal and unblocking billions of dollars of Iran in the international banks, the living conditions of Iranian people got worse and poorer. The Iranian regime has snatched those billions of dollars from the people to support Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hashd al Shaabi [armed militias] in Iraq, Assad’s regime in Syria, and the Houthi insurgency in Yemen. Therefore the people of Iran had enough of the empty promises in the past by the regime, whether reformists or hardliners. None of these promises have been delivered to increase the living conditions of the people. These reasons created a large gap between the ruling elite and Iran’s community. The distrust between the people and the corrupted regime have made the people take advantage of any suitable moment to raise and voice their opinion against the injustices. In 31 provinces, 21 have had protests. The slogans chanted by people – like “Freedom or Death,” “Death to the Dictator” and “Down to the Regime” – shows that Iranians have drawn the final line for this regime. People are defending their honor and dignity after decades of persecution. Despite not having leadership or one side to organize the protests, the people have momentum, especially as many intellectual and organization have joined them. These protests remind us of 1979 when the people rose and changed the regime. This can be it as the people had enough of this dictatorship. We might see the regime using brutal measurements like killing protesters and detaining others in attempts to silence the people, but the more casualties among civilians, the bigger the crowd will get against the regime.
“The Iranian regime, whether reformists or hardliners, isn’t capable of solving this crisis”
WKI: Is there a specific type of people that started this? Like the Kurds?
Mohammad Ghaderi: If we look at the map of the protests, we see that it was initiated by the Persian inhabitants. There are a couple of reasons for why the other minorities did not rise in the same spirit as the Persians. First, the minorities in Iran want to be sure that these are the uprising, and are serious. If the minorities like Kurds, Balochis, and Arabs rise up, it will be much easier for the regime to suppress them. Then the regime will tell the rest of Iran that these uprisings are motivated from outside Iran, and it’s for dividing Iran. They will also prevent any other cities to hold protests as a pretext to having a national security matter to deal with it. Secondly, as Kurds, we have experience with protests in the country. In 1979, we were an essential element to change the ruling dynasty of Shah, but there was not any thinking then about the alternatives and the next era. Then suddenly we saw the Iranian revolution was stolen by the Mullahs. That’s why this time we are observing until the uprising will be more extensive and more profound in Tehran and Isfahan. Then the Kurds and other minorities will rise up, as they are ready to stand against the regime. For Kurds, other than the regime change, we have other issues such as national recognition. Therefore the Iranian Kurdish parties have not called for uprising yet, but only we expressed support for the demands of the people. The Kurdish parties are organizing themselves and cooperating with each other to avoid politicizing this critical matter. We just declared a campaign under the name of “Zagros” where all Kurdish parties’ messages are united. Once the protests intensify, we will rise alongside the Baluchestan and Arabs in Ahwaz. Before these protests, the Kurds and other minorities formed what is known as the Iranian National Federal Congress. We have an agreement with the minorities to have a democratic federal Iran in the future. It’s worth mentioning that the Iranian regime, whether reformists or hardliners, isn’t capable of solving this crisis in the country. 52% of Iran is formed of women, yet they can’t go to a stadium to watch a soccer match. The persecution of women reached its peak; that some, to survive, have to sell themselves to provide food for the family. Don’t forget that the Iranian regime’s system does not believe in compromising at any point aforementioned. The regime is based on what is known as Wilayat al-Faqih [central axis of contemporary Shi’a political thought which advocates a guardianship-based political system]. Ali Khamenei considers himself as the guardian of the people. He didn’t come via elections. He is expecting people to take Sharia from him, not political change.
“The IRGC and the military never merged, and they remain two different forces due to distrust in each other”
WKI: Where is the reformists’ role in all this?
Mohammad Ghaderi: After many years of empty promises by the reformists, the Iranian people don’t believe in what was known in 2009 by the green movement. That’s why the reformists are more eager than the hardliners to seize these protests and defend the Islamic regime. They have united with the hardliners under Khamenei to abort the uprisings. They have publicly said that the system in Iran is in jeopardy, therefore, we have to defend it. However these are significant disagreements internally among the regime’s layers. The IRGC, for example, has disputes with the Iranian army that go back 40 years ago. The IRGC and the military never merged, and they remain two different forces due to distrust in each other. They are two separate entities. Within the IRGC some figures disagree with the leadership. Therefore we see a harsh reaction by certain elements of the IRGC against the protests to ensure quickly seizing this movement before other internal issues exacerbate.
It’s important for all sides in Iran to have avoided what is happening in Syria today in case of the regime’s fall. We see how Russia and Iran defend Assad while he is on the verge of falling into the coffin. Iran is a large country with 80 million population and critical geopolitics for Russia and the United States. I think it will be beneficial for the region’s stability if the regime ends in Iran. This will stop aiding many Islamic terror groups which will bring peace to the states in the region.
WKI: What are the differences between these protests and those that took place in 2009?
Mohammad Ghaderi: The difference is that in 2009 the protests was a result of an election between the reformers and the hardliners. Both sides claimed victory in the elections. Then the reformists protested the outcome. The protests were only in Tehran. The demands of protesters were not changed by the regime. It was an internal issue between two sides that each claimed the better protection of this regime.
“The Iranian regime arrests and tortures people claiming they are pushed by the United States, Zionism, imperialism, and Saudis”
WKI: What is the reaction of the Iranian regime toward the protests? The latest Amnesty report suggests the detention of one thousand people.
Mohammad Ghaderi: According to our records and sources, 28 people have been killed, and more than one thousand have been detained. These are still not accurate numbers since in Iran there isn’t such a thing called free media to report the facts. The shut down of the internet and social media by the regime also stopped the flow of information. Sometimes the information delivery takes longer than usual due to impediments placed by the regime. Instead of solving and accepting the demands of the people, the Iranian regime arrests and tortures people claiming they are pushed by the United States, Zionism, imperialism, and Saudis. Those claims give the Mullahs the ability to persecute and sentence people as they like.
“The wrong policies by the United States and the Western countries contributed to more establishment of the regime”
WKI: We repeatedly hear Kurdish officials calling for support of the Iranians. As a Kurdish party of KDP-I what kind of support from outside Iran do you seek?
Mohammad Ghaderi: First of all since the establishment of the Iranian regime almost 40 years ago the wrong policies by the United States and the Western countries contributed to more establishment of the regime. A regime that fights and hates freedom. For example, the Iran Deal made the regime obtain billions of dollars in cash, which they also used to fight the free voices inside Iran and in meddling in the regional states as mentioned before. If the new administration wants to correct the past policies and help the Iranian people, it should not be with tough talk only. Because even during President Obama’s time there was harsh language on Iran but nothing practical. The United States and western powers should pressure more on the regime: For example, (1) legal cases against those kill civilians in the protests; (2) including Iranian security forces in the international terror organizations; (3) supporting the Iranian opposition also should be the case, especially those who seek change by peaceful demonstrations. For communication purposes, the world can help the Iranian people through technical help to let the youth have access to social media. This will help organize more massive uprisings. Assisting the minorities like the Arabs, the Baluchis, and the Kurds is also vital.
“Our goal to change the regime is a bright future for Iran.”
WKI: The American people would not approve a repeat of Iraq if the U.S. intervenes in Iran. How can America intervene in Iran without repeating the Iraq experience?
Mohammad Ghaderi: I think comparing Iraq to Iran is wrong. Not having a proper strategy in the Middle East in the past, led to many failures and losses of the American interest. If the United States tackles dictatorship authorities and leave them, then other regional powers will intervene and try to control the situation. Our goal to change the regime is a bright future for Iran. It’s important the United States has a plan about the alternatives as well. They should support those who have a democratic vision of a future stable Iran. The United States should support the protests and avoid leaving them if Iran shall concede for a few things in Yemen or Syria. Due to wrong strategies, the United States is losing credibility among the people in the region. In Iraqi Kurdistan, the misguided policies that followed the Independence Referendum and America’s support to the Iraqi Government overshadowed the support and the good work that the Americans did for the Kurds since. The United States needs fresh new policies putting their interest first then for the sake of the Middle East second.
” Peshmerga forces there to help to organize and mobilize people “
WKI: Your party of KDP-I has decided to resume armed struggles against the Iranian regime. How is that going? What are your plans?
Mohammad Ghaderi: We did not decide to resume the armed struggle, but it was a decision of a new era in the struggle. We have named our campaign as “The Awakening of Rojhelat [Eastern Kurdistan].” It’s a joint point where mountain and civilian struggles meet. Mountain struggles meaning organization of the Peshmerga forces to have a presence when needed not only for battles. To have our Peshmerga forces there to help to organize and mobilize people with their support to have them side by side the people of Iranian Kurdistan. It’s an excellent way to avoid having a revolution on one shoulder, but rather divided among civilians and Peshmerga forces. Our Peshmerga forces are strong and enjoy people’s support. We have hundreds of males and females joining our forces. For example, our troops warned the Iranian regime not to attack the Kurdish protesters otherwise they will be responsible for our reaction. We lack support yet we manage to survive and have a reasonable force with our high determination.
WKI: How do you describe your relationship with other Kurdish parties?
Mohammad Ghaderi: We are in constant contact with other Kurdish forces and political parties. We have a joint operation room where we exchange information. Although we are divided into several factions, the level of cooperation is notable and gets better as we share one goal. We all agreed not to credit the political parties but focus on one unified message
WKI: Do these Kurdish parties have any cooperation with non-Kurdish parties in Iran? If so, do you have a common ground on future Iran?
Mohammad Ghaderi: This is an important era, and it reminds us of the 1979 uprisings. Therefore from that point of view, we have, as I mentioned, the Iranian National Federal Congress but, to be frank, the Iranian opposition is disorganized and spread. Some of them do not even recognize the national rights of the minorities in Iran. We have sought good relations with all sides, and we will continue to do so. The People’s Mojahedin Organization have accepted a federal Iran and granting the Kurds federal statutes secretly, not in public. But we have tried the Dynasty ruling, and if it were fair ruling, we would not have risen against them in 1979. The Dynasty ruling has hanged and killed many Kurdish leaders, and they have a different definition of Democracy. We also have good relations with the Turkmen despite having land disputes with them.
WKI: Have the protests stopped or have they continued in the past days?
Mohammad Ghaderi: People continued to protest today January 4. As I speak to you, I have received a message that the regime arrested 300 people, most of them are Turkmen (Azeri). The regime might be able to stop the protests for few days, but people will continue this as they are reorganizing. We shall see more in the future, that’s what I think.