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The Kurds Begin To Revolt In Iran, Turkey & Syria - Encouraged By Iraqi Kurdistan.

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NICOSIA - With federalism having become a part of the Bush administration project to democratise the Greater Middle East (GME), a new armed group claiming to represent the seven million-strong Kurdish community in Iran has begun an uprising. The group is allied to separatists claiming to represent the 14 million-strong Kurdish community in Turkey. There are several armed groups claiming to represent the 2.5 million Kurds in Syria. All have been encouraged by what they describe as a "constitutional triumph" which is occurring for the Kurds of Iraq.

The Party for a Free Life in Iranian Kurdistan (Pejak), emboldened by the political gains of Kurds in neighbouring Iraq (see overleaf), is behind recent unrest in the predominantly Kurdish north-west of the country, renewing a separatist armed struggle suspended in the early 1990s. Pejak is believed to be a sub-division of Turkey's outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been branded a terrorist organisation by the US and EU. Pejak's membership mainly comprises Iranian Kurds, but includes some Turkish and Iraqi Kurds.

Of Iran's 70m population, about 10% is Kurdish and the majority now is Azeri. The Persians have become a minority in Iran. Other sizeable minorities in Iran include Baluchis, Turkomans and Arabs. Most of the Shiite religious men and their families in Iran are Azeris, a Turkic community which once belonged to an empire called Turkestan and stretching from the Far East to Europe, from the north to China. But like the various Turkic groups now stretching from Russia to China, the Persians have "cousins" within a Persian family of regional groups, including the Tadjiks of Tadjikistan and Afghanistan, the Pashtouns of Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc.

There has been violent ethnic unrest among the Azeris in Iran's East Azerbaijan province. Activism for autonomy there dates back to the early days of the Khomeini revolution. But calls for "Greater Azerbaijan", to include the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, date to the days of the Safavid empire (see surveys in RIM since Vol. 13, No. 4 of Oct. 13, 2003, and Safavid background in rim6IranJun28-04). Arabs last week were said to be behind bomb blasts which caused oil wells in Khuzistan to be shut in (see omt11QatrExprtSep12-05).

The GME is a land mass with a big number of ethnic and sectarian communities. Within each of these communities there are many different tribes and sub-tribes. What makes the GME uniquely complicated is that there are sectarian cross-sections within the bigger tribes, such as the Shammar confederation which includes a Sunni Arab majority and a Shiite Arab minority. In Iraq, for example, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is a Shiite Arab from the Shammar. Vice President Shaikh Ghazi al-Yawer, who until late June 2004 was interim president of Iraq, is a Sunni Arab from the Shammar's Mosul branch and studied in Saudi Arabia. Yawer has a Saudi nationality and is related to King Abdullah Ibn Abdel Aziz, whose mother was the daughter of a Shammar chieftain.

Iranian Kurds were suppressed during the early days of the Khomeini revolution. The main Kurdish opposition groups in the Shiite theocracy, including the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and Komaleh, abandoned violence in the 1990s and now advocate federalism.

Unrest broke out in July as a Kurd was killed by Iranian police in the north-western town of Mahabad, once a hotbed for Kurdish nationalism. Opposition groups claimed he was tortured to death. Four satellite Kurdish TV channels based in Iraq and Belgium broadcast the claims and fuelled anger in Iran. Human Rights Watch said 17 died in the clashes, but local Kurds say no more than eight were killed.

Nevertheless, in Iranian Kurdistan hundreds of Kurds were arrested during spontaneous protests and two Kurdish newspapers were shut down. Pejak guerrillas joined the protests, killed four policemen and kidnapped another four. The captives were later released.

Tensions in Kurdish areas in Iran, Turkey and Syria began to grow after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave Kurds a powerful voice in Iraq's post-war political process. A bigger boost came earlier this year with the installation of Jalal Talabani, who leads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, as president of Iraq. Iranian Kurds have been watching Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently visited his country's predominantly Kurdish south-east and for the first time admitted wrongdoings by Ankara towards its restive minority.

The Financial Times on Aug. 29 quoted Mohammad Karimian, head of a 10-member Kurdish group in Iran's 280-seat parliament, as saying: "Pejak is a new phenomenon, and their identity and intentions still need to be investigated". Bahram Walad-Beigi, editor of Ashti, the Kurdish language daily in Iran closed during the recent unrest, estimates the number of Pejak guerrillas at about 500. These are based in a mountainous area near the borders of Iran, Turkey and Iraq.

Iranian Kurdish leaders fear that, if the armed struggle gains momentum, it would give the Shiite theocracy of Tehran an excuse to clamp down on Kurdish activists and deepen what ethnic Kurds see as discrimination. The FT quoted Walad-Beigi as saying: "No matter how small the number of Pejak's forces might be, there is the fear that their use of guns can put us back to years of violence and suppression, and this would mean more deprivation for us".
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:Sep 12, 2005
Previous Article:Would Iran Use The Oil Weapon?
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