Mustafa Hijri: Regime Change Long-Term Solution in Iran
PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri addressed the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC on 11 June, 2018. A transcript of Hijri’s speech follows.
Due to a long tradition of state centralization in combination with the decisive role of the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the political space in contemporary Iran — which is a multinational and multi-religious country — is reserved for the Shiite faith, while other communities and identities are excluded and suppressed.
Exclusionary policies and systematic discrimination of other communities have become legalized in the constitution of the Islamic Republic. For example, according to the constitution, only Shiites can become president of the country. This means that Kurds, who are Sunni or followers of the pre-Islamic Kurdish religion of Yari, cannot become president of the country. However, all Kurds, including those who are Shiite, are oppressed by the Iranian state because of their Kurdish national identity.
National oppression in Iran rests on two pillars. The first is the current political system and existing power relations of domination and subordination. The second is the ideological justification of national oppression by the so-called intellectuals who serve the interests of the Islamic Republic.
Since the revolution of 1979, the so-called intellectuals and officials of the Islamic Republic have used the term “tribal regions” for those regions of Iran populated by the non-Persian nations. Following the revolution, the Islamic Republic once again divided Iran between a “center” and “peripheral regions”. In this respect, there has been continuity in state policy of national oppression following the 1979 revolution —which was a revolution of the peoples of Iran to end dictatorship and national oppression.
National oppression has many aspects that are interrelated. One aspect is the denial of the national identity of the Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis, Balocuh, and Turkmen. Related to this denial is the denial of national rights – such as the right of education in Kurdish, Arabic, Azeri, Balouchi and Turkish, or the right to self-government or autonomy. Another aspect is poverty and economic underdevelopment.
In my talk, I will focus on Iranian Kurdistan.
Iranian Kurdistan is a region that is heavily militarized and securitized by the Iranian state. The cities and towns of Iranian Kurdistan are marked by a large number of checkpoints and military garrisons. This situation has, among other things, created enormous obstacles and problems for investment in Iranian Kurdistan. This is the case even for those Kurds who would like to invest in their region.
During the previous Pahlavi regime as well as under the Islamic Republic, Iranian Kurdistan has been subject to policies of deliberate geographical fragmentation through administrative divisions. The aim has been to prevent the Kurds from forming a unified administrative regional government to protect vital Kurdish national interests — such as the preservation of the Kurdish language, but also social and economic development in Iranian Kurdistan.
As a result of this long-standing policy by the Iranian state towards Iranian Kurdistan, economic underdevelopment and enormous social problems and human suffering have become the hallmark of all the Kurdish provinces in Iran, of which only one is officially called Kurdistan by the state.
Businessmen outside of Kurdistan rather than local businessmen have in most cases established the few factories that exist in Iranian Kurdistan, and their employees are usually non-Kurds. Lack of infrastructure has diminished the geographical reach of such companies. Not only has the Iranian state not made investments in Iranian Kurdistan or created job opportunities for the Kurdish people, but the natural resources of Kurdistan are exported to the central parts of Iran.
Allow me to give you some facts and figures regarding the economic exploitation of Iranian Kurdistan, but also data on economic underdevelopment in the Kurdish provinces, as well as their social consequences.
The gold of Zarashoran in Hawshar, located in the Uremia province, which is estimated to have the largest gold reserves in Iran, is appropriated to the central parts of the country. The precious stones of Khane and the steel of Saqez are similarly appropriated to the central parts of Iran.
Meanwhile, demining in the two important Kurdish provinces of Ilam and Kermashan is still to be done although the Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988. In addition to human casualties, land mines have deprived the population of these two provinces of the opportunity to cultivate their lands.
The province of Kurdistan, which has 18.8 percent of the population of the so-called “peripheral regions”, is one of the most vulnerable provinces in Iranian Kurdistan. The situation in this Kurdish province had become so severe that the World Bank allocated funds for it between 2004 and 2010. In spite of its wealth in natural resources and its potential in terms of industrial development, the province of Kurdistan is one of the most underdeveloped provinces.
Naturally, the economic underdevelopment of Iranian Kurdistan has resulted in popular discontent. Even some measures by the government in recent years have backfired, and have in fact worsened the situation. Consider the following examples. A factory for steel production was set up in Qorwa. The factory was eventually shut down, because its managers and most of the workers had come from outside of Kurdistan, but also because it was mismanaged. The establishment of the petrochemical factory in Mahabad has not only failed to bring any benefits for the inhabitants of the city, but even the lower levels of the staff that have been hired by the government are non-Kurds.
The Iranian state’s deliberate policy of keeping Iranian Kurdistan in a state of economic underdevelopment has forced many Kurds to migrate to the central parts of Iran in search of job opportunities. For example, more than 50 thousand Kurds migrate annually from the province of Kermashan. In the province of Ilam, the migration of the youth has created a demographic imbalance, in that the number of elderly has risen substantially.
Meanwhile, inhabitants of the cities and towns that border Iraqi Kurdistan have in desperation resorted to a practice known as “kolbari” in Kurdish, which means that unemployed Kurds carry goods on their backs from Iraqi Kurdistan to Iranian Kurdistan. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards often either confiscate their goods or shoot the Kurdish porters.
State policy of economic development and long-term economic planning in Iran thus reveal that such policies are based on a center-periphery relationship, which in turn has resulted in systematic discrimination of the non-Persian regions. The marginalization of the Kurdish provinces are consequently a result of the ideology of the Islamic Republic and existing political system in Iran.
The center-periphery relationship has resulted in the concentration of all sources of power in the central parts of Iran. The state’s total control over the so-called peripheral regions have also prevented civil society organizations and the private sector to operate freely in the economic, political and, civic realms. Any kind of activity in civil society has to have the consent of the central government. This kind of centralism and total control over all aspects of society has created obstacles for investment and economic development.
Iranian Kurdistan has a beautiful nature and a great potential to become a hub for tourism in Iran. However, centralization of decision-making as well as the securitization and militarization of Iranian Kurdistan have deprived Iranian Kurdistan of such opportunity. Instead, the Iranian regime has multiplied the number of dams in Kurdistan, not for the purpose of strengthening agriculture and tourism in Kurdistan, but rather for the purpose of transferring Kurdistan’s water resources to the central parts of Iran. Thus, economic development in the central parts of Iran is promoted on the basis of the natural resources of Kurdistan, as well as at the expense of Kurdistan.
This reality of economic exploitation and economic underdevelopment, which are the result of policies of centralization and denial of Kurdish rights, manifests itself in the social problems and human suffering in Kurdistan. Consider, for example, the following data, which have been gathered from government sources:
– Among the 10 cities in Iran with the highest rate of unemployment, 6 of them are in Iranian Kurdistan;
– The Kurdish province of Kermashan has the highest rate of unemployment in Iran; one-fourth of its inhabitants are unemployed;
– Unemployment in the cities of the province of Kurdistan is above 60%;
– Kurdistan has the highest number of unemployed among university graduates;
– Poverty and unemployment have resulted in the rise of divorce rates and the disintegration of families;
– The social consequences of poverty are perhaps most severe in the Kurdish province of Ilam, which has the highest rate of suicide in Iran, as well as the highest rate of self-immolation in the world;
– On average, every month 6 Kurdish porters are killed, while 16 others are wounded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
In addition to the widespread poverty and enormous social problems in Iranian Kurdistan, any kind of dissent or civil resistance is confronted with massive violence by Iranian military and paramilitary forces. There is systematic oppression of the Kurdish people in Iranian Kurdistan by the Iranian state.
Kurdish activists who protest against the militarization and securitization of Kurdistan, or who demand Kurdish rights, such as the right of education in their mother tongue (which is allowed according to the constitution) are charged with “moharab” (which means enmity against God), “separatism”, “collaboration with foreign powers” and so on, and they are sentenced to long prison-terms, tortured or even executed. For example, Kurds are overrepresented among those political prisoners that are executed in Iran
In addition to the oppressive policies of the Islamic Republic inside Iran, the Islamist regime is also a major factor behind the instability, extremism, sectarian violence and wars that plague the Middle East. The regime’s quest for domination of the Middle East, as is evident in its meddling of the internal affairs of many countries in the region as well as in its support for various extremist and terrorist groups, has resulted in the suffering of millions of people across the region, including deliberate attempts to destroy infrastructure and change the demography of some countries. Iran’s efforts to change the demography of Syria have been documented, but Iran has pursued a similar policy in Iraq.
The oppressive and discriminatory policies of the Islamic Republic in Iran and its meddling and destructive role in the Middle East are interlinked and cannot be separated from each other, since its domestic and foreign policies are based on the regime’s ideology and will remain so in the future.
In the past, the international community as well as human rights organizations have criticized the Iranian regime’s policies, and the regime has even faced international sanctions. These sanctions were intended to bring about a change in the policies of the Islamic Republic. However, insofar as change has happened in Iran’s policies, it has been for the worse. As we have witnessed in recent years, Iran’s oppressive policies at home and its destructive behavior in the Middle East have continued unabated and even with vigor.
The reason for this is that the regime not only believes it is doing the right thing in accordance with its ideology of Islamist rule at home and exporting the Islamic revolution abroad, but that it in fact entitled to weaken other governments in the world, in particular governments in the Muslim world that are not submissive to the Islamic Republic or who do not share its ideology.
Therefore, wherever Iran can find an ideological current or groups that share its ideology, it will support them in every way and encourages them to sow discord, instability and sectarian conflict. Lebanese Hezbollah is a case in point.
We as the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, based on our knowledge about and experience in dealing with Islamic Republic, both in the form of armed struggle and negotiations, are convinced that the only way to bring an end to dictatorship in Iran as well as an end to Iran’s destructive behavior in the Middle East, is through regime change.
Other than that, any attempt to persuade or compel the regime to “change its policies” will not only prove futile, but will also be costly in the long term. In this regard, I want to remind you that our former leader, Dr. Ghassemlou, met Iranian officials in good faith to negotiate the terms of self-rule for Iranian Kurdistan on July 13, 1989, in Vienna. However, the Iranian officials assassinated Dr. Ghassemlou and his aides at the negotiation table.
The nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 by the P5+1 clearly shows, contrary to general expectations, that the lifting of international sanctions on the Islamic Republic and the financial means that the Iranian regime acquired thanks to the deal did not result in a moderation of the regime with respect to the violation of human rights; or an improvement in the economic situation of ordinary Iranians; or a moderation in the regime’s destructive policies in the Middle East. On the contrary. Thanks to increased financial means, the Iranian regime increased its support for various extremist and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, increased its meddling in the internal affairs of regional countries, and created more instability and sectarian violence in the region.
This has continued even after the defeat of ISIS. We have all witnessed how Iran in recent weeks is openly attempting to influence the formation of government in Iraq following parliamentary elections in that country. This is a clear violation of the popular will of Iraqi citizens and the democratic process in that country.
Against that backdrop, we believe that the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal for the purpose of containing the Islamic Republic of Iran in a comprehensive manner is warranted and we hope that the rest of the international community will support the United States in that effort. But we also call for further steps in that regard.
Most important from the point of view of liberty and democracy in Iran, we call on the United States and the international community to support the waves of popular discontent and civil resistance to the Islamic Republic across Iran that have gained momentum since last year. The United States in particular has a responsibility not to abandon the Iranian people in the face of the regime’s brutal crackdown on peaceful resistance.
Our party, which enjoys popular support in Iranian Kurdistan and has struggled against two dictatorships for more than 70 years — that is, both the previous Pahlavi regime and the current Islamist regime — has plans to coordinate its struggle with other forces all over Iran to bring about a democratic government.
To this end, we have since 2005 taken part in the creation of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran, and for almost a year we have in a joint effort with other Kurdish organizations established the Cooperation Center of the Kurdish Organizations in Iranian Kurdistan. This will enable us to join forces against the dictatorship in Iran.