Four Iranian Kurdish political parties and militant groups have voiced support for antigovernment protests that have engulfed the Islamic Republic over the past week. The groups urged the international community to back the Iranian people’s “legitimate demands.”
The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and the Society of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan (SRTIK) issued a joint statement, calling for international pressure on the Iranian government to release hundreds of protesters arrested by the authorities during the unrest. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) made a similar call for international support in a separate statement. It said the Iranian people “want justice and democracy with empty hands and firm determination.”
The Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), which is designated by the State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, also declared support for the protests and stressed that the only way to solve the country’s problems is to establish democracy.
Comment: Iranian leaders must be deeply troubled that the antigovernment protests are particularly gaining momentum in western provinces. The western provinces such as Kurdistan and Khuzestan are home to sizable Kurdish and Arab communities that have been historically marginalized, both politically and economically. Over the past one year, ISIS has had some success in recruiting among disgruntled young men in these provinces and separatist Kurdish groups have also stepped up attacks against security forces. The four Kurdish groups mentioned above have been involved in armed conflict with the Islamic Republic at various times.
While a majority of Iranian Kurds have rejected violence, they are frustrated over the government’s inattention to their needs. As Iraqi Kurds went to cast their ballots for independence last September, thousands of Iranian Kurds took to the streets to celebrate in support of the vote in a bold defiance of Tehran’s stance on the issue. Next day, however, several Kurds who organized or just participated in the rallies were arrested.
Furthermore, several Iranian Kurdish militant groups are operating from inside Iraqi Kurdistan and Tehran alleges that some regional governments support them to destabilize Iran. The KDPI, headquartered in Iraqi Kurdistan, resumed its armed struggle against the Islamic Republic last year and has mounted several attacks against IRGC forces inside Iran.
Similarly, Khuzestan Province, home to a large Arab minority and Iran’s major oilfields, experienced large protests last year over pollution and economic problems. A jihadist group claimed to have blown up an oil pipeline in the province last week. More unrest in the province will not only result in more repression against the Arab community but will also threaten Iran’s main source of revenue, oil and gas.