Dec 14, 2015

Iranian Kurdistan: Recognition of Activists on Human Rights Day

Iranian Kurds recognized International Day of Human Rights, celebrated annually on 10 December, as Kurdish human rights activists continue to face imprisonment, harassment and sometimes even arbitrary executions. Currently, 28 Kurds are on death row. Behrouz Alkhani, an Iranian Kurdish activist, was executed on 26 August 2015. Many worry that given Iran’s current geopolitical concerns, such as the rise of ISIS and the recent Nuclear Deal, international attention has shifted and the Kurdish struggle for equality and freedom has lost momentum. 


Below is an article published by Rudaw:

Dec 10, the International Day of Human Rights came and went almost unnoticed. The historic occasion marks the day when in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights following the second World War. It was meant to ensure freedom and protect nations from the ruinous and heinous nature of war and outrageous human rights violations. 

The Declaration was universalist in its approach in defining fundamental freedoms and rights such as equality among all human beings, freedom of language, culture, religion, thought, the right to security, freedom to peaceful assembly, equal access to public services and equality before the law, the right to nationality, and the right to political representation and self-determination. Unfortunately the Universalist orientation of the Declaration has been bent to serve nation states and dominant national identities rather than the general recognition and amelioration of human rights as envisaged in the Declaration. 
The core principles of equality and freedom from oppression have served as a source of aspiration for Kurds from as early as 16th century, long before their advent in Europe. Paradoxically Kurds to this day are still longing and struggling for the most fundamental human rights and freedoms. Not only on this day but everyday they continue to fight for and advocate for these core rights and freedoms for themselves and others in Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq.

It was these fundamental freedoms that inspired the legendary fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) brutality and spectacle of horror in Kobani. Kurds in Syrian Kurdistan or Rojava have created a democratic ground for transition to a secular, inclusive, participatory decentralized federal Syria, free from both the tyranny of Assad’s regime, the exclusionary religious agenda of the Syrian opposition, and the terrorism of ISIS and its affiliates. 

In Turkey the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) has put forth one of the most democratic platforms based on gender equality, inclusion of all religious and ethnic groups including Armenians, Alevis, and gendered minorities while AKP, the Ruling Party unapologetically has imposed draconian restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly, independent judiciary and media, and political dissent.

Hundreds of Kurdish political activists have been detained on terrorism charges and several Kurdish cities are under constant curfew, reminiscent of 1990’s notorious and dark period in which thousands of Kurds were killed and disappeared by the Turkish security forces. State assigned courts with impunity reject the persecution of those involved in the attack of the Turkish Air force and killing of 35 Kurdish villagers in Roboski in 2011 as the perpetrators and collaborators of the suicide bombers in Suruc and Ankara who targeted pro-Kurdish human rights and peace activists have yet to be identified and brought to justice.

The institution of compulsory religious instruction in 2014 with its prescriptive Sunni Islam is yet another blatant affront to religious minorities and secular sectors. 

In Iran in the wake of deteriorating human rights, Kurdish political and human rights activists continue their struggle. According to human rights organizations between January and November 2015, a total of 830 people were executed in Iran. On Aug 26, Behrouz Alkhani, one of the 28 Kurds on death row since 2012 was executed. A 30 year old award winning Kurdish film maker, Keywan Karimi, was also accused of blasphemy by the Islamic Penal Code for making a film about graffiti and condemned to six years of imprisonment and 223 lashes. 

Unfortunately the concern for human rights in Iran lost its prominence in the optimistic rhetoric of the nuclear pact. Nothing encapsulates the religious intolerance of the Islamic Republic more forcefully than the March 2015 report of the UN Special Repertoire in Iran. “Sunnis report that they have not been granted permission for the construction of a Mosque in Tehran since 1979.” (HRC, 12 March 2015, p. 14). The Amnesty International Report issued in the February of 2015 showed that the Islamic Republic had imprisoned at least 33 Sunni men, most of whom were Kurdish. These men were on death row on the familiar charges of “spreading propaganda against the system”.  Amnesty International in its 2015 report points to “pervasive discrimination” against religious minorities such as Yarsan their assembly halls and shrines.

Although Kurds in the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) enjoy the most rights; these rights have been won after a prolonged hard, and ongoing struggle which proved to be a beacon for  a new generation of Kurds in other parts of Kurdistan and region .

Before the genocidal campaign of the Islamic State and the unimaginable suffering that Yzidis, in particular endured, Kurds in Iraq were keen on asserting the right to self-determination and independence; however, this initiative has been abandoned at least temporarily for the sake of Iraqi unity under pressure from the U.S and neighboring countries. Despite the political and economic crisis that has been plaguing KRG, the relative democracy has endured in the wake of the persistent tension between the Kurdish Regional Government and the Iraqi central government on the one hand, and the internal political crisis among political parties which if left unresolved would undermine and threaten the transformation of the democratic vision into reality.

As we celebrate the International Day of Human Rights and the core values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, despite the horrendous and traumatic past, we continue to champion for human rights because these rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights define our values and identity for a hopeful future.