Some say social unrests never turns into large scale revolutions. What is your view?
KDPI leader: Iran is ‘afraid’ of Kurdish aspirations
By Omid Barin
It has been two weeks since protests in the Iranian Kurdish city of Mahabad served as a rallying cry for Kurds in Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The incident sparked differing interpretations of its importance from the Kurdish parties outlawed in Iran, such as the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Khalid Azizi, head of the KDP since 2007, spoke with Rudaw’s Omid Barin about the ramifications of the incident and the future of the Kurdish cause in Iran.
Rudaw: Was the protests in Mahabad politically motivated or just social unrest?
Khalid Azizi: The political and social issues are intertwined in Iran. But sometimes, even in democratic countries, social issues become political while different groups make a case for their political demands. Although the Mahabad case was in essence a social issue, it rapidly turned to a political matter. I think the reason for that is the oppression people have been subject to by the regime in Iran.
Is violence justified in social unrest?
The political and social issues are intertwined in Iran.
I never advocate for violence as a solution to any problem, but I think the government in Iran bears the responsibility since it ignores people’s grievances. People resort to violence in despair. Even in most democratic societies violent riots take place, but it’s different there. Riots are short-lived. In Iran, in contrast, there are long and protracted reasons for the unrest that turns violent.
Some say social unrests never turns into large scale revolutions. What is your view?
I really don’t think setting fire on the hotel was a wise thing to do. But the officials in the Islamic Republic could’ve done something to prevent it. Iranian authorities have experience in how to deal with public unrest. I think it was the authorities who provoked the people to attack the hotel through their actions. Security forces wanted to show a violent image of the Kurds and say that they burned down hotel buildings. Authorities were effective in managing and manipulating the unrest so that it did not spread to other Kurdish cities.
After the hotel was burned down, security forces were ordered to retreat. Why do you think they issued such an order?
When they realized that the protests would expand, they ordered the security to withdraw. They wanted to show that authorities were not to blame for what was happening. In other words, they first provoked the unrest and then they withdrew their forces. According to Iran’s constitution, Article 15, the Mahabad protests were lawful. No demonstrator was carrying a gun and the protest was not against Islam. But they violate their own laws and deprive people of their constitutional rights. The reason is indeed the regime is worried about the Kurdish issue in Iran. The achievements of the Kurdish people elsewhere has given hope to people also in Eastern (Iranian) Kurdistan. And the government is afraid of that.
How do you think the protests could have continued without becoming violent as they did?
I think we should not just see protests as a public way of demonstrating discontent. Our Kurdish writers and intellectuals should also be part of the protest. The fact that the government tries to even use religion as a means of suppressing nationalist sentiments in Iranian Kurdistan, I think our Kurdish religious leaders also should be part of the protest. If the protests continue, the government will not be able to do as it wishes. Although I think it is a public right to protest, yet I think we can protest this way too by bringing in our intellectual and clerics.
Some of the media outlets which represent Eastern Kurdistan accused the owner of the hotel for the incident which later turned out to be false accusations. Have such baseless reports damaged your image as a political organization?
Our media capability is limited which means that we sometimes cannon verify reports, I have to admit.
Some of the members and Peshmarga of your organization slammed Kurdish activists in Kurdistan and accused them of collaborating with the Iranian regime. How do you view that?
I really don’t think setting fire on the hotel was a wise thing to do.
I think we should avoid being judgmental, all of us. I do appreciate and value the work of Kurdish activists in Iran. Eastern Kurdistan belongs to all of us. There are a lot of things we can learn from what happened in Mahabad and we work on that. But generally accusing activists of treason and calling them traitors does not help our cause and is beyond the principles of coexistence.
On the social media pages, some suggested that armed struggle should start. But it was never officially supported.
We cannot control the social media pages. Some want to show the events in the way they want to. It’s beyond our power. This is due to the fragmentation of Kurdish political stance, really.
Kurdish activists in Iran are under pressure from two sides. Iran accuses them of having break away tendencies and Kurdish political parties accuse them of treason.
We work for the removal of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the establishment of a democratic government. But I am also worried that the lack of common ground and plans will harm us all in the future in Eastern Kurdistan. I think it’s justified that people and the media are worried too. But I’m still optimistic, since we are learning from what happened in Mahabad. We are away from our own homeland. We only have contact with our members. We should have better connections with people in Eastern Kurdistan but unfortunately it’s not possible for the moment because we are far away and we are only in touch with our own cadres and members. We should have broader relations with our people in Iranian Kurdistan.
If we now for a moment imagine that you are in power in Eastern Kurdistan and then imagine that I would publish a harsh article about you. Can you give me assurances that I won’t be in danger because of that?
What concerns me, I assure you that no such thing will ever happen. But I understand the concerns since politics have been polarized in our country. Political movement is more fragmented than ever in Eastern Kurdistan. Everybody is against everybody and if that’s the case of course, ordinary people are concerned what kind of rule we will have when in power. On a personal level, I will do my best to create the kind of political culture which is the basis for common work. We do not have that culture at the moment. This is not something we can build here while in Iraqi Kurdistan, but we have to build it in our own communities in Iranian Kurdistan.
How do you view the official stance the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) had towards the Mahabad events?
We tried to assist people in various ways. First, we tried to tell people that it is their right to demonstrate and other cities should support it. Second, we wanted to rally support for the riots from other parts of Kurdistan. And finally, we wanted to show it to the international community, which fortunately was possible through the work of many sides.
You have said in the past that you cannot remove the Iranian regime. Isn’t it discouraging?
Seventy years after the creation of KDP and 36 years of conflict with the Iranian regime, we have to review our actions and policies. I still say it frankly that the Kurdish struggle in any part of Kurdistan is not to remove the central governments. Kurds cannot remove central governments and even if they do so, they won’t be able to take control of central governments. It has been destructive to say we remove the central governments for the past 36 years without being able to do so. Our job is to realize our national rights. And we will work with the central governments on this premise. There was a time when the Iranian political parties applauded us and viewed the Iranian Kurdistan as a bastion of freedom. But we should not commit ourselves to something we cannot deliver. Let’s do what we are capable of. Away from the slogans.
But how can you liberate Eastern Kurdistan if you would not defeat and remove the Iranian regime?
We work for the removal of the Islamic Republic in Iran and the establishment of a democratic government.
We have not been able to drive out the Iranian regime from Eastern Kurdistan. We have not been able to take back even one village and declare a government there. We have to reconsider our policies. We have been doing this for 36 years without any results. It’s no shame in reconsideration.
Isn’t it high time for you to distance yourselves from the classic way of running your party? I mean the so called ‘democratic centralism.’
We could revise many things. But the partition of KDP as a single party and lack of cooperation has harmed us all. Whenever anyone speaks of change in Iranian Kurdistan or the needs for it, our own Kurdish rivals within KDP are not willing to address it because of the existing enmities. Having said that, I think there is an opportunity for revision and adjustment in the near future when we celebrate the 70 anniversary of the party.
What alternative do you have?
We may discuss that in the future, but first let our members to think about it on a personal level. We have to rethink our strategy and policy toward the central government. We have been in conflict with the Islamic Republic for the past 36 years. We see the regime as fundamentally evil, but we have had our dark sides as well. We have to be brave enough to discuss that at least in our private meetings. Separations and partitions have marked the last 50 years of KDP history.
So you mean that democracy as a logic and mentality is not rooted within KDP?
This is an interesting topic. From the fourth congress until now, we have been dealing with the Islamic Republic in Iran. We have always said that the congresses were concluded in a spirit of success in the past, but in reality KDP has the most problems and issues among political parties in Iranian Kurdistan. A history of rivalry and partition and different alliances. We should not fear. This will help us reunite the party.
You spoke of reunification of the KDP? There were some articles and even books about reunification recently, some were written by the leadership of the two parties. Were they helpful in bringing together the two sides?
With all due respect, such articles have actually divided us further. They just revived bad memories.
What is new about reunification?
We have been in conflict with the Islamic Republic for the past 36 years. We see the regime as fundamentally evil, but we have had our dark sides as well.
Unfortunately, we have no ongoing meetings. We have only friendly relations and sometime cooperation on security issues.
Are you hoping for a unification?
Not in the short run, but in the long run I’m hopeful.
Don’t you think the lack of a charismatic leader has harmed the political process in Iranian Kurdistan?
Indeed, struggle and movements need leaders. Period. Struggles need actions. You cannot have divisions in a movement. It should be united. Revolutions need powerful actors not parliaments, really.
The Middle East is being transformed, some would say. It is polarized more than ever. What have you done to ensure your people in Eastern Kurdistan benefit?
We should not be indifferent. We don’t want to be part of the Sunni-Shiite rivalry. But we try to make sure our national interests are preserved.
Isn’t it beneficial to choose the Sunni camp?
Not in any way. Neither camps. We are in the camp which struggles against Iran. The Shiite front is unified and is led by Iran. But the Sunni front is fragmented. We will deal with the countries and not the camps. But so far there are no clear results.
The US Consulate in Erbil came to see you recently. What was the purpose?
The Mahabad events were making headlines around the world. They wanted to know our position about these events. They came to see us at their own requests. And we thought the US as a superpower should see what is taking place in Eastern Kurdistan. And we provided them with our facts and knowledge.
Did you talk about armed struggle or financial assistance?
I assure you that no such things happened.
A media outlet that is close to you says that the Eastern Kurdistan Protectors (EKP), which is an armed organization that operates in Iranian Kurdistan, will take military action this year.
EKP are in Eastern Kurdistan where they were established. They are accountable for their own actions and have nothing to do with us.