Shattered Human Rights

A Brief Examination of the Track Record of Ahmadinejad's First Cabinet (the Ninth Cabinet) in Kurdish Regions by the Kurdistan Committee of Human Rights Activists in Iran

The following report has been published on the occasion of the 30th anniversary that marks the beginning of the conflict in Kurdistan.

INTRODUCTION Thirty years ago (1979) in the name of fighting the counter revolution and reestablishment of security in Kurdish regions, the authorities of the time ordered the deployment of the military to Paveh, Sanandaj, Marivan and other cities in Kurdistan. A war that was supposed to bring about peace and prosperity for the Kurds has thus far only resulted in insecurity, ruthless killings, destruction of countless villages, displacement of hundreds of families and arrests and inhumane torture of civilians. To examine the situation in Kurdish regions, we have divided it into three different time periods: 1. First Phase: Early years of the revolution; 2. Second Phase: Retreat of the Kurdish opposition parties to Iraqi Kurdistan and the rise to power of the reformists; 3. Third Phase: First four years of the Ahmadinejad government (the Ninth Cabinet of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI)) Each period has its own characteristics. The first two periods have already been analyzed in depth many times by independent intellectuals, human rights defenders, media, local authorities and different Kurdish opposition parties. In view of Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s controversial victory in the tenth presidential election and the almost certain likelihood of future violations of human rights in Iran and especially in Kurdistan, the Kurdistan committee of HRA has decided to publish the following report. The goal of the report is to raise awareness and to voice concern over the possibility of increased violence and continuation of repressive policies toward Kurdish Iranians in the tenth Ahmadinejad government. The report will deal in detail with different aspects of the ninth IR government’s track record in Kurdish regions. It is our hope that the authorities of the Islamic republic will reconsider their past policies in light of their negative consequences and will take a right and transparent approach to reestablish the legal and human rights of this group of Iranian citizens. This is a goal that can only be achieved through equal dialogue, rule of law and elimination of security-oriented policies in Kurdistan.

CULTURE
On 24th of July, during a cabinet meeting in Sanandaj, Mohesen Ejeyi, intelligence minister at the time said: “Kurdistan is a cultural province that has been subjected to a security approach” Such statements could have been considered positive and a late admission of cultural demands of Kurds if it were not for the broken promises and contradiction between the statements of the government and its track record. In the past decades, the Kurdish nationalist movement had always fought for the right to self determination as their primary demand. In recent years, a consensus was reached among civil and political Kurdish activists over the heavy price that was paid for the armed struggle and the utopian nature of the “Great Kurdistan plan”. Civil rights, human rights, civil movements, expansion of civil society and the universal declaration of human rights took a more dominant place in the agenda for a peaceful resolution of Kurdish issue. Activists began reconsidering the old methods and demands and reorganized themselves around more democratic values. Kurdish activists realized that the time of liberation wars to establish a separate Kurdish government had come to an end, and such demands did not solve the Kurdish problem but only added to its complexity. They therefore shifted their demands to ask for recognition of Kurdish cultural identity and the right to freely exercise and spread it. The central government not only did not address these democratic demands but responded by implementing an “assimilation” and “white genocide” policy in Kurdistan. The violence in the early years after the revolution resulted in tens of thousands of deaths among Kurds, destruction of countless villages and assassinations of Kurdish dissidents and intellectuals. Today the central government is committing another type of genocide. The “white genocide” has much more far reaching and destructive long term effects since it gradually dissipates all Kurdish cultural identity. Against all legal and moral principles, this policy has targeted all the components of Kurdish identity: their mother tongue, traditional attire and clothing, and local traditions and rituals. The policy of cultural genocide in Kurdish regions is a clear violation of human rights and has multiple facets.

MOTHER TONGUE Sociologists believe that language is the main factor to identify a nation or ethnic group and prove its existence. Article 15 of the Iranian constitution states: “Local and ethnic languages can be used in the press and media and can be taught in schools alongside the official Persian language.” Nevertheless, Kurdish language like many other ethnic languages has always been sidelined and disfavored by the system. By refusing to grant operation permits to language institutions and by refusing to establish Kurdish language chairs in universities, the current establishment is facilitating the gradual melt down of Kurdish language. During the years of the reformist government, the “Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution” agreed to establish a Kurdish language and literature department in the University of Kurdistan. In the last days of the first Ahmadinejad government a bill was passed to allow university courses to be taught in Kurdish. Unfortunately like all the other bills it only remained on the paper and never came to life. Principals of many junior high schools have been summoned by the provincial security authorities to explain the use of local language in classrooms. These incidents clearly show a contradiction between what is said and what is actually done by authorities in regards to cultural matters. 1- Education and continuous existence of the first language (mother tongue) as a fundamental right of ethnic minorities requires implementation of solutions proposed by cultural deans (doyens) of the country. Experts believe that instead of passage of bills that are doomed to remain on paper, the right approach is to take necessary action and allocate financial and moral resources to specialized language institutions and help train staff who have the skills to teach the mother tongue to pupils. The few language schools that attempted to specialize in teaching Kurdish language – Suma Institute is an example – were forced to close as a result of the pressure by the intelligence officials or simply had to shut their doors because they lacked the necessary financial resources. In the absence of national resources, some of these institutions have turned to Iraqi Kurds for theoretical help. Iraqi Kurds have more experience in Kurdish literary activities and have succeeded in advancing the academic Kurdish language by training Kurdish language professors, founding a Kurdish academy of language and establishing a language department in the universities. Regrettably, such cultural exchanges have been seen as unacceptable

by the authorities, and the deans of the institutions who had sought help from Iraqi Kurds have been arrested and imprisoned on political charges. 2- The unavailability of Kurdish literary, history and cultural books has forced those who are interested to pay huge amounts of money to acquire them from Iraqi Kurdistan. It is therefore imperative that the same books be printed inside the country. Kurdish-Iranian authors faced with censorship, various obstacles and high costs of publishing in Iran have turned to Iraqi Kurdish publishers who print their works at reasonable or no cost. 3- “A language can only survive if it can flourish and expand its literary vocations.” In an obvious, engineered strategy, the central government on the one hand preaches the cultural rights of the minorities and on the other hand creates hurdles and obstacles in the way of publication of literary books. Authorities refuse to grant publication permits alleging that the contents are political. Activists of the field worry that such policies will lead to the marginalization of Kurdish literature and degradation of it as a language.

FREE PARTICIPATION IN CULTURAL LIFE
Article 27(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: (1) “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefit.” Nevertheless, minorities in Iran face serious hurdles to practice their customs and traditions, which are fundamental parts of their cultural heritage.

NOWROOZ CELEBRATIONS Nowrooz is one of the oldest celebrations dating back to ancient time. Its origins go back to ancient Persia and to this date people in the Iranian plateau still celebrate it every year. Nowrooz is celebrated on the first day of spring. It has a special place among Kurds who believe Nowrooz is the day Good overcame Evil. For thousands of years they have celebrated it in different rituals and ceremonies. Nowrooz is the most important celebration of the year for Kurds and they celebrate it by dancing and setting up bonfires in the mountains. Unfortunately, the security policies of the authorities have made it difficult for many of these traditions and rituals to take place. In the last few years, Kurdish regions have been under military alert in the days leading to Nowrooz and citizens are warned by the authorities to refrain from celebrating it. Intelligence authorities summon activists and threaten them with harsh consequences if they attempt to organize events related to Nowrooz.

RESTRICTION ON KURDISH TRADITIONAL DANCES Kurdish folklore dance also known as “Ha-Lepeh-Raki” is not a simple traditional dance. It represents a historical symbol that has blended with the Kurdish culture for thousands of years. The order and the harmonious movements of the body of the male and female Ha-Lepeh-Raki dancers who dance side by side have made this dance the winner of many awards in different international dance festivals.

In the first four years of the Ahmadinejad government, local tribunals have used widespread pressure tactics to limit dance performances during national celebrations. The mixing of male and female dancers is banned according to Islamic law.

DESTRUCTION OF HERITAGE AND ANCIENT SITES Kurdistan (by Kurdistan we mean the geographical region that is the habitat of all Kurds) is the birth place for many ancient civilizations such as the Medes and is very rich in ancient sites. Regrettably it has also become a playground for the Mafia that controls the Heritage Ministry in Iran. Kurdish activists believe the negative attitude towards Kurds that exists among the authorities has led to indifference for the safeguarding of Kurdish heritage sites. Multiple reports point to the destruction or looting of these sites. Irresponsible road infrastructure and apartment complex projects and the construction of peripheral highways around Sanandaj, Bisotton and Eslam-Abad-Gharb are some examples.

RESTRICTION ON WEARING TRADITIONAL KURDISH CLOTHES In the last few years, the authorities have been very sensitive from a security standpoint to the issue of Kurdish traditional clothes. Many students have been summoned by university regulatory committees merely for wearing traditional Kurdish clothes. However, the restrictions have not been limited to university campuses. In the cities, security forces harass and threaten citizens because their traditional clothes (ChoKhaneh-Keh) have similar colors to those of uniforms worn by Kurdish guerillas.

PROHIBITION OF KURDISH NAMES Kurdish citizens are finding it more and more difficult to keep their life style intact. Almost every day, new restrictions are being imposed on them. Provincial authorities have instructed local registrar offices not to accept Kurdish names for newborns (names such as Rouge Haleh, Zilan, Argash, Shevin and many other names). Shops or companies that had Kurdish names are reprimanded and were forced by the authorities to change their names.

CIVIL SOCIETY
Intelligence Institutions Hinder the Development of a New Civil Society in Kurdish Regions Following the retreat of Kurdish opposition parties to Iraqi Kurdistan and cessation of their armed activities, civil society and civil movements in Kurdistan found a new life. PASSAGE FROM PARTY ORIENTED MOVEMENT TO CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT The electoral victory of the reformists in 1998 and the spontaneous demonstrations in Kurdish cities following the arrest of Abdollah Ojalan, an influential Kurdish leader, marked the beginning of the civil society and social movements in Kurdistan. Although the victory of the reformists on 1998 did not lead to fundamental changes, it nevertheless created conditions that opened a breathing space for civil society in Kurdistan. Different sectors of the society began organizing themselves around legal demands. The emergence of various associations, although in limited numbers; the publication of Kurdish papers in Iranian universities; the appearance of a number of Kurdish newspapers; the establishment of a number of NGOs active in environmental issues; the establishment of Kurdish language and music schools, etc., were all signs that proved the Kurdish society was willing to solve its problems through peaceful means. This all came to an end with the election of Mahmood Ahmadinejad and his government. Not only did he not facilitate the continuation of this positive development, but under his rule, the limited achievements of the previous years came under threat. A look at the track record of the government in the past four years shows that civil society has become the target of tremendous pressure and repression by the government security forces. It should be noted that despite all the sufferings and security policies, the newly-born civil society in Kurdistan has been able to survive and expand its intellectual and organizational outreach among the general public. In line with general policies of the government, any individual or organizational activity by Kurds outside government approved fields has been viewed as a threat to the state security and has been repressed. During this time, civil society activists who were voicing their democratic demands have been arrested and imprisoned by security forces for a variety of charges including: soft overthrow, acting against national security, or membership in illegal organizations.

The democratic demands of the civil activists included cultural issues, freedom of information, human rights, women’s rights, and workers’, students’ and teachers’ rights. However, civil activists were treated the exact same way Kurdish opposition parties and Kurdish guerilla fighters were treated before them. In his letters from prison, Farzad Kamangar, a detained teacher, talked about various physical and physiological tortures that were inflicted on him by his interrogators as a result of his ethnicity. His letters constitute a good testimonial to the severity with which Kurdish civil activists are being treated.

CENSORSHIP AND JAMMING SATELITE SIGNALS In the past four years there has been a considerable increase in the filtering of different cultural, political and social internet websites. In order to jam satellite signals in Kurdish cities, the government has built a state of the art station that was done with a big budget and is posing serious health hazards for citizens.

THE PROHIBITION OF THE HALABJEH MEMORIAL SERVICES Another example of how the government is putting obstacles in the way of civil activities is its refusal to allow Halabjeh memorial services take place. Different events used to be held annually in universities and elsewhere on the anniversary of the Halabjeh massacre. While the government spends considerable amounts of money every year to hold all kinds of memorials for events unrelated to Iran, it has banned the legitimate commemoration of the Halabjeh massacre that happened during the 8 year war between Iran and Iraq and was commemorated annually by civil activists.

CIVIL, POLITICAL AND ECONOMICAL RIGHTS IN KURDISH REGIONS Thirty years after the revolution, the security approach to the Kurdish regions and Kurdish minority still continues. The presence of large numbers of military personnel and military equipment is still largely visible in Kurdish regions. During the first years of conflict in Kurdistan, the presence of Kurdish opposition parties constituted a good excuse for the authorities of the time who refused to invest in the

economical development of Kurdistan. With the retreat of Kurdish opposition parties to Iraqi Kurdistan and their subsequent change of strategic goals and the cessation of armed conflict, a window of historical opportunity for a peaceful solution opened between the mid-nineties to 2005. Unfortunately this opportunity was not taken advantage of and was lost. • Implementing policies that keep Kurdistan in chronic state of poverty, a lack of scientific approaches to solve social problems, and the refusal of the Interior Ministry to grant permits to political parties who focus on minorities’ rights are the main reasons for the ongoing political and socio-economic crisis in Kurdish regions.

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