Ahmedi of Iran's PDKI discusses Kurdistan's general strike and the democratic future of Iran

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ethnoreligious map of Iran

Unrest in Iran following the 2009 Iranian presidential election has now continued for over a month. Despite the focus of international attention on continued demonstrations against the Ahmedinejad government, an ongoing press blackout means little of the news, which does arrive from Iran, comes from the provinces which are home to 74% of Iran's population.

On July 13, unconfirmed reports began to emerge of a general strike in the four largely-Kurdish provinces in the north-west of Iran which make up Iranian Kurdistan. Videos showed empty, deserted streets and shuttered shops in Mahabad, Saghez and other Kordestani cities. The reports of the strike coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the murder of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (PDKI).

Loghman Ahmedi, a Kurdish exile and the PDKI's representative to the United Kingdom, spoke with Wikinews.


It seems like often, discussion of the politics in Kurdistan, whether in Iran, Iraq or Turkey, is dominated by discussion of communist or guerilla groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or the Communist Party of Iran. Do you think moderate, western-style democratic groups are shut out of the conversation in the international media, and if so, why? What is PDKI's place in the conversation within Iranian Kurdistan?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) Different organisations use different methods to raise awareness about issues they regard as important. Naturally, international media outlets give attention to more militant actions. The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan is the oldest Kurdish political party in all four parts of Kurdistan and the most experienced political organisation in Iranian Kurdistan; we have in the past waged a guerrilla war against the Islamic Republic from 1979 to 1997, and although we are not rejecting armed struggle as a method, we think that there are other opportunities that are less costly in terms of human lives that are worth pursuing.

We have always believed that it is of strategic importance to engage in different forms of political protest that are less costly in terms of human lives; for example, in the form of general strikes and other forms civil disobedience – which we witnessed all over Iranian Kurdistan on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the assassination of the Kurdish leader Dr. Ghassemlou on July 13, 1989, by the Islamic Republic in Vienna.

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Image: Daniella Zalcman.

The PDKI is the leading Kurdish political party in Iranian Kurdistan; in the first rounds of elections to the Majlis after the revolution, our party won an overwhelming majority of the votes in Iranian Kurdistan and our party leader at the time, Dr. Ghassemlou, was elected to the Council of Experts, which had the task of drafting the constitution, as the only secular member. During the past 63 years, and in particular during the past 30 years, we have shown that we act in the interest of our people and as a consequence of that our party is popular and respected by the Kurdish people. Thus, even though we think it is important that international media pays attention to the situation in Iranian Kurdistan, for us it is more important to engage in forms of political activity that are of long-term significance. It should also be mentioned that the general strike on July 13 did not receive any attention by international media for the simple reason that the Islamic Republic has created a North Korea-like situation in Iranian Kurdistan where not only international media cannot gain access to the region, but it is also difficult for the Kurds themselves to inform the outside world about their plight.

((WN)) What's the place of federalist liberal democracy in a post-theocratic Iran? Should it be concerned mostly with relieving ethnic tensions? Is overcentralization a fundamental problem of the Iranian state?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) It is our firm belief that democracy and federalism will solve many of Iran’s internal and external problems. Iran’s destructive foreign policies are a reflection of the nature of the Islamic Republic, that is to say, its undemocratic nature. Iran’s ethnic and national diversity holds the key to democracy in Iran because this diversity can function as the best form of checks and balances to decentralize power in the country for the twin aim of safeguarding liberty and democracy internally and to turn Iran into a constructive regional and international member of the world community. A decentralized, federal and democratic Iran, unlike the Islamic Republic of today, will not export and support fundamentalism and terrorism. Given Iran’s lack of democratic traditions and a host of other factors, it is the country’s diversity that can be conducive to democracy.

((WN)) Why hasn't the PDKI signed onto the Iran Solidarity group that was formed in Europe earlier this week?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) To my knowledge, the organizers of this campaign have not approached our party. But our party has in different statements and actions expressed its solidarity with the brave people that are standing up against the regime. At the same time, I have to underline that it is important for us that our support and solidarity is not interpreted as support for the “reformist” faction of the regime. We support the political struggle for liberty and democracy in Iran. This should be differentiated from taking sides in the regime’s factional infighting between “conservatives” and “reformists”. Whatever their differences, these factions are all defenders of the Islamic system of government, which is antithetical to liberty and democracy.

((WN)) You first left Kurdistan over twenty years ago. Can you comment on how the situation for Iranian Kurds has changed since then?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) During the past 30 years, cultural oppression and discrimination, deliberate state policies to keep Kurdistan in a state of economic underdevelopment, torture, executions, arbitrary imprisonment and “disappearances” of political activists and civilians have been part and parcel of the lives of the Kurds. So it would be more adequate to speak of continuity rather than change. Furthermore, what is new to the picture is the spread of narcotics among the Kurdish youth, which we believe is a deliberate policy by the regime to destroy the fabric of the Kurdish society and, hence, to prevent organized resistance in Kurdistan.

((WN)) How would you characterize the strike that's underway in Iranian Kurdistan now? Is it closely tied to the movement against Ahmedinejad in the Persian cities of Iran, or is it more a purely Kurdish phenomenon?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) The strike was mainly organized to mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of the Kurdish leader and former General-Secretary of the PDKI, Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassmlou. Every year, since the assassination of Dr. Ghassemlou 20 years ago by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the PDKI has called on the Kurdish nation in Iranian Kurdistan to commemorate Dr. Ghassemlou and at the same time condemn the Islamic regime’s policies of assassination.

But it is at the same time an expression of solidarity and support for the people of Iran that stands up against the Islamic Republic and fights for freedom, democracy and equality.

((WN)) What role should the Kurdish exile community take in the Iranian unrest - is it better to return now and join the strike against Ahmedinejad, or to give support from abroad? If the latter, how can the Kurdish diaspora best help the Kurdish people in Iran?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) Returning to take part in protests would make them easy targets for the regime; the Kurdish diaspora should instead work to raise awareness about the situation in Kurdistan and Iran by, for example, demonstrating, writing letters to government officials in the countries they live in, and so on.

((WN)) Given the Iranian leadership's past propensity for assassinations, do you think Mousavi, Karroubi et al are at personal risk in taking part in protests against Ahmedinejad?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) To my knowledge, both Mousavi and Karroubi have indirectly made clear that they will not urge people to take to the streets if they don’t get permission from the regime, hence the possibility that they would take part in future demonstrations is unlikely.

I do not think that the regime will assassinate Mousavi or Karroubi; it would be strategically unwise. It would demonstrate that the regime’s own figures have turned against the Islamic Republic and assassinating any of them would turn them into martyrs and could be used by the peoples of Iran as a pretext to stage violent protests.

((WN)) Finally, what's the best strategy for the uprising against the Ahmedinejad? How can the Kurds win?

((Loghman Ahmedi)) I firmly believe that the uprising is not only targeting Ahmedinejad but rather the regime as a whole. That is not to say that the protesters are homogeneous; different groups have different approaches to what should be done. However, it is imperative that all the different groups that are opposing the regime reach a consensus on a common strategy to bring about real democracy in Iran. For this to be possible, a multinational federal democracy must be recognized as the future model for Iran. Given this, an alliance could be created that can stage protests and other forms of political activity across the country rather than the major cities. In such a scenario, the regime will have greater difficulty to suppress the organized resistance of the peoples of Iran, as it did recently.


This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.