Update to IRN20072.E of 14 March 1995 on the situation of Kurds (January 1999 - June 2000) [IRN34660.E]

The following section on Kurds is included in the I.N.D.'s Iran Assessment of April 2000:

The Kurds are believed to number about 6 million and live in the northwest of the country, principally in the province of Kurdistan, along the borders with Iraq and Turkey. The Islamic regime deals harshly with rebellious Kurdish leaders seeking autonomy - notably those of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Marxist Komaleh - and their militant supporters. Iranian troops are permanently stationed in Kurdish areas and also monitor the activities of members of the Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party in the areas. However, ethnic Kurds can be found in all walks of life in Iran both in the private and public economic sectors as well as in Iran's military and civilian establishments. ...
The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) was originally formed as an illegal organisation after World War II during the Shah's reign, to seek cultural and local autonomy. The regime deals harshly with its leaders and their militant supporters. There are reports of extrajudicial killings and questionable detentions of Kurdish militant activists. In November 1998 a former member of the KDPI was sentenced to death following his forcible return to Iran from Turkey.

In addition to the reports in IRB databases there have been numerous other accounts related to the situation of Kurds in Iran since March 1995. What follows is a brief chronology that begins in January 1999 of events involving Kurds and Iran.

Various sources reported on demonstrations that occurred in February 1999 in different towns in western Iran in reaction to the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) (AFP 21 Feb 1999; ibid. 23 Feb. 1999; ibid.24 Feb. 1999; RFE/RL Iran Report 10 Jan. 2000). The different sources cited by AFP each claimed different numbers of persons killed and arrested, ranging from three to "dozens" of persons killed and up to 270 persons arrested (21 Feb 1999; ibid. 23 Feb. 1999; ibid.24 Feb. 1999; DPIK 31 May 2000). The demonstrators were also reported to have attacked the Turkish consulate (AFP 23 Feb. 1999).

On 24 February 1999 AFP reported that, according to the Tehran Times, the Kurd MP, Adab, had criticized the provincial government's handling of the demonstrations. He spoke out again in October 1999, reportedly saying in talks with the Interior Minister that "it is always the Kurds who are victims of injustice" (ibid. 9 Oct. 1999). However, the Minister responded that the police were justified in intervening in the demonstrations that had included members of the opposition. According to the Minister, at Sanandaj those arrested included "'members of the (banned) Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, or of the Kumuleh,' the outlawed Iranian Kurdish communist party" (ibid.). AFP stated that "it was the first time the government has mentioned the presence of the two opposition groups among the demonstrators" (ibid.).

A 10 January 2000 RFE/RL Iran Report on ethnic problems in Iran refers to discussions in the media regarding the "suppression" of the demonstrators:

Shokrollah Javan, writing in "Iran-i Farda" in October, wanted to know why nothing was done about the suppression of Kurdish demonstrators, while there was such an uproar about the suppression of the July demonstrations in Tehran. Javan asked President Mohammad Khatami if Kurds are not equal before the law: "Were not the Kurdish people and the Kurdish youth worth anything that you did not condemn the inhumane action [in Sanandaj] in the way that you condemned the events at Tehran University dormitory? ... Is the promise of civil society and political development only for those who live in Tehran?"
Salah al-Din Abbasi, writing in an earlier issue of "Iran-i Farda,"was also underwhelmed by so-called "civil society" and what he sees as "Pan-Shiism." He wrote that the predominantly-Sunni Kurdish people are frustrated that there are no local Sunni governors, deputy governors, judicial officials, or religious officials, although there is one Kurdish governor. What Abbasi sees as "Pan-Shiism" effectively excludes a substantial number of people from the "united body of Iran," with the result that the Iranian Sunni community's trust is "weakened."
Parliamentary representative Abdolrahim Nurbakhsh gave other examples of factors that undermine the Kurdish population's trust in the central government. "Chronic unemployment" and no local factories, "the lack of job-generating centers," and the "unkind approach of central hiring officials" has forced alienated youth to leave the country illegally to find jobs. Others "have been forced to join the PKK."

In a November 1999 television interview with Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran Network the commander of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) claimed that, with regard to security in Kordestan and West Azarbayjan, the IRGC and the basij had ensured that people there "enjoy security, tranquillity and welfare in these areas" (11 Nov. 1999).

On 9 December 1999 the Political Bureau of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK) [please consult IRN29178.E of 1 April 1998 for information on the different names this organization is known by] released a statement concerning the approaching legislative elections in Iran. In the statement the party encourages Kurdish people, given the emergence of "various trends within the regime," to participate in the elections as candidates and to vote (ibid.). Kurdish groups boycotted the 1997 elections (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat 24 June 2000). On 29 April 2000 the bureau issued a statement on the second ballot for the elections that were to be held on 5 May 2000, which expressed the party's conviction that there would be a high voter turnout in Kurdistan "and that the voters will elect the candidates of their choice and worthy of their trust." It expressed concern with the power of the "conservative faction" but was confident that the "will of the peoples of Iran" would still prevail and again called on Kurds "to take part actively and massively in the second ballot" (ibid.). On 5 May 2000 25 Kurds were elected to the Majlis (Kurdistan Satellite TV 8 May 2000). The editor of the Sanandaj weekly Awyar commented on the role to be played by the reformist majority vis-à-vis the Kurds:

Internally, and with regards to the Kurdish issue in Iran, it is obvious that our issue is linked to the internal situation of Iran. This means that if the reforms had a positive impact, we, the Kurds, will benefit from that. I think that with electing of 25 representatives of the Kurds, provided that there is no division between them and they understand the protocols and political system of this country, they can create an influential block and present people and officials with new concepts of the Kurdish issue. Through the Iranian constitution and the reforms, they can achieve the aspirations of their people (ibid.).

A 10 January 2000 article from RFE/RL Iran Report on the run-up to the February Majlis elections discusses the ethnic dimensions involving Kurds and Turkmen. It refers to "long-standing ethnic problems" involving Kurds and provides examples such as the strike by students at Arbeil's Medical Science University in December over poor food and educational facilities, and the campaign by students at Azad University in November asking for Kurdish-language teaching in Kermanshah universities (ibid.). These students also were reported to have protested in February "with the result that Tehran's Shahid Beheshti University promised to open a Kurdish Studies department" (ibid.).

Ozgur Politika reported on 22 May 2000 that:

A department providing instruction in Kurdish langauge and literature has been opened in the Islamic Free University in the city of Sanandaj, in Eastern (Iranian) Kurdistan. It has been learned that although there are a great many applicants for the classes, university officials have only been able to register between 350 and 400 students. After the enthusiastic reception of the Kurdish classes in Sanandaj, the capital of Iran's Kurdistan province, Kurdish teachers have begun efforts to provide similar instruction in other Kurdish cities as well.

The Chairman of the Kurdish Language and Literature Department said that Iranian authorities had assisted university officials in setting up the program (ibid.).

The Kurdistan Observer carried a speech given on 31 May 2000 by the Deputy Secretary-General of the DPIK, to Green Party deputies in the French National Assembly. The DPIK representative criticized the "repression" of the Kurds by various countries in the region and claimed that, in the past, the party had tried to negotiate with the Iranian government only to have the authorities use the time to reorganize their military strategies (ibid.). He claimed that despite promising statements on "the rights of Kurds" in his presidential campaign, President Khatami had not said anything "concrete" since (ibid.). He also criticized "the bloody repression" of the February 1999 Kurdish demonstrations in western Iran but recognized that, in general "Mr. Khatami has taken a few steps forward" (ibid.).

In June 2000 "the president's advisor on Sunni affairs" at a conference in Sanandja underlined the historical importance of Iranian Kurds defending the nation's borders and said that:

Kurdistan is an inseparable part of Iran and will never distance itself from the homeland and for this reason, Kurds are Iranians first, Kurds second and Muslims [last].
Referring to the need for the creation of an environment in which the Kurdish elite can participate in the reconstruction and development of Iran, the president's advisor said: The government's approach in respect of the Kurdish people must be cordial, brotherly and with sincerity because the Kurds are noble and honourable people and they are in line with reforms (IRNA 7 June 2000).

In an interview with "an unidentified correspondent in Terhan" the following comments were made by the first Kurdish Governor of Iranian Kurdistan, Dr. Abdallah Ramadan Zadeh.:

because I was the only Kurd to work in Khatami's electoral center, I was appointed governor of Kurdistan after the presidential elections in 1997. ...
In one of the speeches Khatami gave during his campaign in the province, he said, "the national Kurdish involvement in higher posts in the country is very low. This is one of the issues that needs proper attention."
We do not have skilled and experienced manpower in the region. We, therefore, pursued a certain policy. We started to hire Sunni Kurds in lower posts. Shiite Kurds were hired elsewhere. We appointed a number of Sunni Kurds as district managers and assistant governors in the Sunni populated areas. We also appointed a Sunni ruler in one of the cities. Before Khatami's government took power, it was prohibited to appoint Sunni Kurds as managers in government departments or as governors. But we actually started to do that. Sunni Kurds now occupy over 45 percent of the managerial positions in Kurdistan. They are working very hard.
When it comes to the cultural aspect, Article 15 of the Constitution states that the Kurdish language is one of the important languages that should be used officially in the region. Unfortunately that article was not enforced due to a series of problems.

We actually took preliminary measures in that concern. I believe the problems can be summed up in the following:

First, there was no actual political will to enforce that article in the same way the other language-related articles of the Constitution are enforced. Now that we have the political will, we have other problems. We do not have teachers or books.
We started to take the initial steps in this concern as well. But we thought it was better if private institutions taught the Kurdish language until the necessary measures were completed in government schools and until the cultural council made the necessary decision in that regard.
Cultural and literary societies were limited in numbers. They all were supported by the Ministry of Culture and Guidance. We now have 10 new cultural societies.
When it comes to newspapers and magazines, no independent newspaper was issued regularly in Kurdistan unless it was affiliated with the central government. We now have two newspapers and a number of monthly magazines, which are run by the people of the governorate. Half of these are issued in Kurdish and there are no prohibitions on their work.
Kurdish books were censored heavily. But the freedom of publication is guaranteed under Khatami's government and we have no problem when it comes to publishing in Kurdish.
On the other hand, the local elections that were held in our cities and villages represented a positive step toward public involvement. Even the Kurdish Democratic Party that boycotted all previous elections urged the people to take part in these elections. It also declared its plan to take part in the parliamentary elections. When Party Leader Abdallah Hasan Zadeh was asked why he decided to take part in the elections, he said, "because the people will take part in the elections, whether we like it or not." We, therefore, believe that action actually started in Kurdistan. The question is whether or not that action would forge ahead at the same pace that reforms are taking in all other areas. Of course not. This is due to various reasons. The citizens are still afraid of indulging in political activity in Kurdistan, because the security agencies are still more active here than they are in any other region.
[Correspondent] Autonomy is the principal slogan political groups raise in Kurdistan. Being specialized in Ethnology, do you think the Kurds of Iranian Kurdistan view themselves as primarily Iranians and secondly Kurds? Furthermore, the Kurdish Democratic Party raised the slogan "autonomy for Kurds and democracy for Iran." Is that slogan still in force in the Kurdish community? Did developments in the political structure in Iran change these left-inspired slogans, or did they remain as they had been? Has there been any change in the Kurdish mentality similar to that which affected the Iranian community?
[Zadeh] Naturally, we have to examine the political aspect of the ethnic question at two levels: The level of political leaders and the level of citizens in general. ...
Southern Kurdistan includes Sinendeg and its suburbs, the stronghold of Cumalah Party (the KurdishCommunist Party), and Northern Kurdistan includes the city of Sahabad, the Democratic Party's center of activity. The historical antagonists of the Democratic Party never cooperated with that party. They were always loyal to the central government in Tehran. So, there are differences and disparities within that ethnic community, which always refused to have one political leadership.
We have to convince Kurds of the benefits they stand to gain if they remained Iranian citizens. But the Kurdish citizen is asking: If I am an Iranian citizen, why is my governorate the most underdeveloped economically? Kurdistan is one of the three or four most underdeveloped regions in Iran.
This question is being raised in Kurdistan. But Kurds proved on more than one national occasion that they are holding on to their Iranian identity. At the various elections - presidential, legislative and municipal - Kurds get involved widely, just like all other Iranians, when conditions are favorable. This shows that national solidarity is demonstrated more powerfully in a free climate.
The Democratic Party recently announced that it was prepared to operate in the national Iranian framework and that it has departed from the Marxist notion of autonomy. It declared its willingness to contract its demands once circumstances allow that. I believe that some kind of political development is materializing in the Democratic Party's vision of autonomy and Kurdish rights. ...
[Correspondent] Did the Guardians of the Constitution exclude the autonomy zealots?
[Zadeh] No candidate was ruled out or deprived of taking part in the recent elections in Kurdistan.
[Correspondent] Did autonomy zealots run in these elections?
[Zadeh] Looking at the slogans the candidates raised in some cities, any observer could see that they were more extremist than those the opposition groups raised. For instance, candidates in the cities of Meriwan and Sinendeg raised extremist slogans on political matters. The citizens rejected them and denied them their votes, although they were very active and mounted wide media campaigns. The candidates who supported the reform-oriented powers and raised their slogans won the elections, although they did not belong to the reformative movement itself. ...
The political leadership of the Kurdish opposition in Iranian Kurdistan did not participate in the Netherlands conference. They believe that "greater Kurdistan" is nothing but an illusion - a mirage (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat 24 June 2000).

He also spoke about the Sunni minority and its relation to the "Kurdish ethnic problem" (ibid.).

There have been many reports of Iran supporting the PKK. These include providing recreational facilities and bases for PKK members in Iran, allowing fighters passage through the countries' border, and allowing the party to hold its congresses in Iran (The Middle East Feb. 1999; Reuters 17 May 2000; AP 26 Mar. 2000; ibid. 18 July 1999; RFE/RL Iran Report 26 July 1999; Anatolia 27 Oct. 1999). Iran has denied the charges (ibid.; AP 18 July 1999; The Middle East Oct. 1999). A 27 October 1999 report from the Turkish news agency Anatolia, claims that the PKK was planning to hold its 7th congress in Iran.

Iran has also been accused of providing support to the Turkish Hizbullah, whose goal has been the creation of a Kurdish-Islamic state (Milliyet 29 Jan. 2000; RFE/RL Iran Report 31 Jan. 2000; Jane's Intelligence Review 1 Aug. 1999). Jane's Intelligence Review states that "while many Hizbullah members have gone to Afghanistan and received 'US military training', the major centres for training are Qom and Tehran" (1 Aug. 1999). Other sources also refer to Hizbullah bases in Iran (Milliyet 29 Jan. 2000; RFE/RL Iran Report 31 Jan. 2000).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Agence France Presse (AFP). 9 October 1999. "Iran MP Defends Iranian Kurds Against Governement Crackdown." (NEXIS)

_____. 24 February 1999. "Three Killed in Protests in Iranian Kurdistan: Tehran Times." (NEXIS)

_____. 23 February 1999. "18 Slain in Kurdish Protests in Iran: Rebels." (NEXIS)

_____. 21 February 1999. "Anti-Turkish Demonstrations Erupt Across Western Iran." (NEXIS)

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. 24 June 2000. "Iranian Kurdistan Governor Zadeh: Kurds Prefer Democracy Over Autonomy." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/29-6-00-Sharq-interview-kurdistan-irn.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

Anatolia News Agency [Ankara, in Turkish]. 27 October 1999. "Iran Agrees to Host Rebel Kurd Congress." (NEXIS)

Associated Press (AP). 26 March 2000. "Report: Turkish Troops Along Iraqi Border for Anti-Kurdish Rebel Operation." (NEXIS)

_____. 18 July 1999. "Iran Accuses Turkish Jets of Bombing a Base and Village, Killing One." (NEXIS)

Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK). 31 May 2000. "Speech by Mr. Mustafa Hejri, Deputy Secretary-general of the D.P.I.K. at the Symposium: 'The Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria : Realities and Perspectives'; Organized by the Green Deputies." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/4-6-00-KDPI-speech-france-green.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

_____. 29 April 2000. "Iran: General Shutdown of Reformer Press on the Eve of the Second Ballot." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/7-5-00-KDPI-elections-irn.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

_____. 9 December 1999. "Standpoint of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan on the Coming Legislative Elections in Iran." http://homepages.go.com/~heyvaheft1999/14-3-00-PKDI-iran-elections.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

_____. 3 April 2000. "KDP-I Denies Secret Negotiations With Iranian Government." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/10-4-00-KDPI-denies-negotiation.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

Home Office, Immigration and Nationality Directorate, London, UK. April 2000. Country Assessment on Iran. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/ind/asylum/asylum_Iran.htm#thisdecade [Accessed 5 July 2000]

The Independent [London]. 27 January 2000. "Hizbollah Terror: Writer was Murdered for Being a Feminist; Turkish Fundamentalists Tortured Mother for 'Blasphemous' Belief in Women's Rights." (NEXIS)

International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) (Toronto). 17 June 1999. "Journalist Arrested." http://www.ifex.org [Accessed 18 June 1999]

IRNA. 7 June 2000. "Khatami's Advisor: 'Kurdistan is an Inseparable Part of Iran'." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/29-6-00-irana-kurdistan-inseparable.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

Jane's Intelligence Review [Surrey]. 1 August 1999. "The Hizbullah Movement in Turkey." (NEXIS)

Kurdistan Satellite TV. 8 May 2000. "Election of 25 Kurds to Iran's Majles Viewed." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/24-5-00-KTV-25kurds-majles-irn.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

The Middle East [London]. October 1999. "Kurdistan Current Affairs; The End of the Road?" http://www.dialspace.dial.pipex.com/icpubs/ [Accessed 7 Oct. 1999]

_____. February 1999. "Turkey/Kurdistan Current Affairs; The War Grinds On." http://www.dialspace.dial.pipex.com/icpubs/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 1999]

Milliyet [Ankara, in Turkish]. 29 January 2000. "Turkish Report Says Iran Supporting Hizbullah." (FBIS-WEI-2000-0205 29 Jan. 2000/WNC)

Ozgur Politika. 22 May 2000. "University-Level Kurdish Language Instruction in Iranian Kurdistan." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/22-5-00-OP-university-irn-kurdisatn.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

Reuters. 17 May 2000. "Turkey PM Says Iran Backs Kurd, Islamist Violence." http://www.mnsi.net/~mergan95/17-5-00-zreu-tky-warns-irn.html [Accessed 30 June 2000]

RFE/RL Iran Report [Prague, in English]. 31 January 2000. Vol. 3, No. 5. "Turks Accuse Iran of Ties to Turkish Hizbullah." listmanager@list.rferl.org

_____. 10 January 2000. Vol. 3, No. 2. "Ethnic Problems Resurface Among Turkmen, Kurds." listmanager@list.rferl.org

_____. 26 July 1999. Vol. 2, No. 30. "Iran Accuses Turkey of Air Attack." listmanager@list.rferl.org

Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran [Tehran, in Persian]. 11 November 1999. "Iran: Commander of Revolution Guards Gives Details of His Forces' Activities." (BBC Worldwide Monitoring 12 Nov. 1999/NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

Amnesty International Report 1999..

IRB databases



World News Connection (WNC)

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International.

Human Rights Watch

Kurdistan Web Resources

U.S. Committee for Refugees