Kurds continue efforts to realize unfulfilled international promises for the creation of a Kurdish state. Geographically straddled among the borders of countries created in the 20th century whose regions collectively form the historic land of Kurdistan, Kurds have and continue to operate political groups and resistance movements with the goal of achieving recognition of their ethnic uniqueness and their right to self-determination. Iran is one of the four main Middle Eastern countries in which the Kurdish people are found.
The majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, and since the 1979 Islamic Revolution brought a Shiite regime to power in Iran, Kurds have experienced religious exclusion and oppression. During the 1990s, a fleeting amicable relationship between the Kurds and Iranian government existed, but the relationship soured after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in 2005. Ahmadinejad’s detention, torture, and execution of Kurds provoked mass riots and protests. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), that same year, Iran executed ninety-five Kurds. The UNHCR reported 117 Kurds executed in 2006, 317 in 2007, and approximately 370 in 2008.
Kurds’ struggle to attain independence in Iran raises questions about the state’s right of sovereignty. Simultaneously, the Iranian government’s oppression and mistreatment of Kurds undermines the government’s legitimacy. Although states are legally the sovereign of their territory, it is arguable that all affected parties in Iran would benefit from a similar setup to that in Iraq. Operating as an autonomous region in Northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) seems to be an ideal compromise for Kurds seeking independence and a federal government wanting to protect its sovereignty. In this model, the KRG manages the domestic affairs of its territory. The Iraqi Government controls all aspects of international affairs. Although the answer to Iran’s Kurdish quandary may not mirror the Iraqi model, it is imperative for the Iranian government to realize that the solution to its Kurdish issue is not jailing, torturing and/or condemning opposition to death.
Currently, there are at least twenty-one Kurdish political prisoners on death row. The mid-March transfer of one of Iran’s Kurdish death-row inmates to Semnan Prison provoked Amnesty International to report a fear for the prisoner’s imminent execution. Arrested in September 2009, Habibollah Golparipour was sentenced to death in March 2010 after being convicted of moharebeh, translated to mean enmity against God, a capital offense in the Islamic Republic. Golparipour’s arrest and subsequent conviction resulted from his alleged membership in and activities with the Party For Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), a banned Kurdish resistance group.
Despite protests and petitions to free Golparipour after his arrest and sentencing more than two years ago, the international community has not stirred in response to recent news. Just shy of 4,000 “likes” on Facebook, the petition to save Golparipour from death has not been updated in two years. A YouTube video of a surprised kitten, uploaded one month after Golparipour’s arrest, has more than 250,000 “likes” and continues to garner daily comments. It is indeed a sad commentary on our world’s priorities.