Iranian authorities have stepped up security measures in Kurdish regions in the northwest since Iraqi Kurdistan held an independence vote on Monday, the BBC Persian reports. The government has suspended or slowed access to the internet in some western regions, including in Kurdistan Province, which borders Iraqi Kurdistan. Video footages show that the government has dispatched armed forces and riot police as well as tanks and armed vehicles to Kurdish areas. According to Kurdish activists and Iranian human rights websites, several Kurdish Iranians have been arrested in the cities of Sanandij and Marivan in Kurdistan Province and Mahabat in West Azerbaijan Province. Plainclothes agents have reportedly arrested Mozafar Saleh-Nia, a labor activist and a member of the executive committee of the Free Labor Union of Iran.
Comment: One main reason Iranian leaders strongly opposed the Iraqi Kurdish referendum is that they fear an independence Kurdish state in Iraq could empower voices for Kurdish autonomy inside Iran in the immediate or long term. Iran’s eight million Kurdish population has historically been discriminated against and politically marginalized in Iran. While a vast majority of Iranian Kurds remain loyal to the Iranian state and have rejected violence, small Kurdish militant groups have waged low-intensity insurgencies against the Islamic Republic for decades. Several Iranian Kurdish militant groups are operating from inside Iraqi Kurdistan and Tehran alleges that some regional governments support them to destabilize Iran. The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (K.D.P.I.) resumed its armed struggle against the Islamic Republic last year and has mounted several attacks against I.R.G.C. forces inside Iran.
Thousands of Iranian Kurds staged rallies in northwestern Iran late Monday and Tuesday and chanted support for the Iraqi Kurds’ landmark independence vote. While authorities allowed the demonstrations to take place, they arrested a number of organizers and participants of the rallies the next day. The powerful show of support for Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence – in open defiance of Tehran’s strong opposition to the move – must have added to Islamic Republic leaders’ worries about the ripple effect of Iraqi Kurds’ push for independence on Iran’s Kurdish community.