Reform and Liberation Movements: Iranian Kurdish Leader Speaks | 2
by HAMID FAROKHNIA in Tehran
27 Jul 2011 20:02
'This regime will fall,' declares Mostafa Hejri, head of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (DPIK).
[ feature ] I wanted to talk about the issue of democracy and self-determination. It seems that very profound changes are in the works throughout the world right now. We see it in the Arab world, in Iran with the Green Movement, and even in Iraqi Kurdistan with the so-called Goran Movement. Moreover, it seems these changes are not merely [in the struggle] for simple political rights. They are also in the sphere of people's consciousness, about their very identity and their place in the world. The civil, peaceful form of struggle is one manifestation of this development. Is your party adopting itself to these changes and are these the kind of issues that have any currency within your party?
These issues you have mentioned have currency within our party.
Political issues are of course usually in flux. When the political situation changes, when for example there is change occurring in a neighboring country, it will have an impact in your own region. This is quite logical. It happened in Iraqi Kurdistan and we are taking note.
You have not been engaged in armed struggle for some time now. Can I ask you if you are ready to denounce armed struggle in general or is it just a tactical move on your part?
We have always believed in and strived for the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue in Iran, and we have taken up arms in self-defense in the past. We ourselves do not engage in armed struggle but if another group were engaged in it, that's their business and it is up to the Kurdish people to decide. It is not our place to pass judgment on other groups.
Yet isn't it natural that every political party, especially one with your kind of clout and level of popularity, should take positions on matters greatly impacting an area where it operates or wields influence? As you well know, ordinary people are paying a heavy price for what PJAK is doing in Kurdistan today. Each time they attack police headquarters or a NAJA vehicle, aside from some enlisted soldiers who may get killed, repression against the local populace increases drastically. And please bear in mind that I am merely relaying to you what people are saying in Kurdistan.
We are against any act that leads to the intensification of the repressive climate in Iranian Kurdistan or leads to increased pressure against the people or harms ordinary people.
Can I ask you if you are in any kind of contact with [PJAK leader] Haji Ahmadi?
No, we are not.
So can we conclude that although you are against their tactics, you wouldn't condemn them?
No, it is not true that we haven't condemned their tactics before.
We have condemned their individual acts. But it is not the case that we make a wholesale condemnation of everything they do. It goes back to a particular operation they undertake.
There is another related question here. Civil, peaceful forms of struggle, the kind favored by the new democracy movements, are of necessity at odds with any form of armed struggle. For example, had the activists of Iran's Green Movement resorted to armed violence, the movement would have long since been wiped out. This is not an abstract philosophical issue in Iran, it is almost a life-and-death question.
Your peshmergas carry arms when they enter Iran. No doubt that is dictated by considerations of self-defense. But doesn't it open them up to charges of terrorism by the regime? A violence-prone regime like the Iranian government could turn around and justify its brutality under such pretext. Could we, under the circumstances, unequivocally condemn all forms of armed struggle to rob the dictatorship of its justification?
We reject it but not condemn it, because groups like PJAK that do engage in it [armed activities] might do so in future under a set of conditions or guidelines that can not be foreseen in advance. We can not make a categorical statement like that for that reason.
But Kak [Mr.] Hejri, why should ordinary Kurds and even your own party pay a price for the activities of a group most of whose members do not even speak Persian? You also know better than I that in Kurdistan, most everybody is opposed to armed activities now. I happened to be in Sanandaj two years ago when Kamangar and four other Kurdish political prisoners were executed and the entire bazaar of Sanandaj was closed down in protest. The sense of solidarity among ordinary people that day was truly remarkable. That was a major setback for the regime and was not a costly tactic since the few merchants that were arrested had to be released. Was that [not] more effective [than] some attack by PJAK on some traffic cops?
That was indeed an important victory that our party played a role in. We were one of the groups that called for it. But there are still some individuals, especially young people, that still believe in armed struggle and join PJAK. Their numbers may not be great, but they exist.
But you agree that that is a small minority.
Yes, the general trend is for acts of civil protest and disobedience.
Some people in Kurdistan have been saying that the Kurdish political parties are no longer ahead of the public, that they are lagging behind the people instead of leading them -- meaning that they are falling behind the times. Is your party in your opinion a vanguard in the old sense or is it being led by public opinion?
We are changing with the times and are at the forefront of the struggle as before. When armed struggle was required as a logical form of defense, we were at the forefront of the struggle. We organized and trained the most effective peshmerga force. We were quite open and transparent about it too. And when nonviolent forms of struggle are favored, we are again in the very forefront of it.
June 12 is coming up [the anniversary of the 2009 presidential election]. The opposition is calling for a day of nationwide protests throughout Iran. During the early days of protest movement after the election, I remember many people in Kurdistan complained that Kurdish political parties were not organizing any actions in their area. Is your party planning any sort of protest actions for this June 12?
This is a matter of policy and the leadership of the DPIK needs to debate it; I can say that in general we support the struggle for freedom waged by anybody in Iran.
Mr. Hejri, in the report to the seventh plenum of your central committee, you stated that Iranian people made a huge mistake in voting in the [2009 presidential] election. You also said there that subsequent developments proved your party was right in calling for a boycott. What is your position today?
We think it was a mistake to call upon the people to vote for either side, as the mechanism to hold these elections are not democratic. Elections in such an environment will not result in the betterment of people's daily life in Iran, but will benefit the status quo.
But you realize of course that had there not been millions of people voting, there wouldn't be such a thing as a large protest movement in Iran simply because had there not been anyone voting, there would have been no sense of their vote being stolen. So there wouldn't be a protest movement, which according to various regime spokesmen is the single most serious threat to the regime's existence in the last 32 years.
This was not the first time votes were stolen in the Islamic Republic. A predetermined group get regularly elected in sham elections. By voting or calling on the people to vote, we lend legitimacy to it.
But what's more important, one's desire for change or one's hatred of a political process? After all, nothing else other than this protest movement has been able to affect this system, including armed activities.
I am quite against this view according to which the struggle for freedom in Iran has supposedly commenced with the tenth presidential election. It is certainly an affront to the memory of thousands of people who have given their lives for freedom. From the very first day this regime came into being, people have struggled against it, Kurds and non-Kurds. Our position was that first, we hadn't participated in that election to say "Where is my vote?" Secondly, it is true that the struggle that started on June 12 was led by young people who wanted to topple this regime but it quickly came under the influence of Messieurs Karroubi and Mousavi, who have repeatedly called for the maintenance of the regime in the framework of its Constitution. They want to bring about freedom and happiness for the people under this framework. We consider it a big plot and a big lie! It has been 33 years that the government has been deceiving everyone with it.
But Kak Hejri, are you saying you are upset with the claim that the system is in its most serious crisis thanks to the Green Movement?
I am talking about our position in the first few months. We predicted that the movement would be suppressed but those protesting would become stronger. You saw that the slogan "Death to the dictator" became more popular and took the place of "Where is my vote?" In other words, the struggle for freedom will continue to grow and become stronger.
That is fine but whether we like it or not, the Green Movement has an objective reality. It may not have an organization or system of cadres but it has millions of supporters. It may also be true that at the beginning most voters didn't care that much about either Mr. Karroubi or Mr. Mousavi. But the fact that the two have stuck by their principles, even with real danger to their own lives, has brought them a measure of respect among most people. And it is not clear any more if they really believe in the Constitution other than perhaps rhetorically.
No, they do believe in the Constitution, and they have repeatedly stated that they want to bring this regime and its Constitution to its golden era! We even had meetings with their representatives abroad where they have told us in no uncertain terms that the Constitution was a point of departure for them.
Perhaps. But it is debatable whether, outside a tactical gesture, there is any real belief in the Constitution. Nowadays even Ahmadinejad himself does not believe in the Constitution anymore. Be that as it may, do you think you can support the movement without worrying about the persona of Karroubi or Mousavi?
It is important for us who leads a movement, if their intention is to have a hold on power or a share of power at any cost. We can not be expected to support anything that helps the regime. We have had several thousand people killed fighting against it. Of a total of 22 people on death row, 12 are Kurds. We have always opposed this regime, fought against it, and called for its overthrow. So how can we suddenly change our position?
But do you consider your fight something separate from the rest of the country?
I do not think the rest of the country wants to prop up this regime.
Well there have been a dozen major protest actions in Iran for the last two years. Regardless of who leads the movement, the DPIK has not endorsed any of the protests.
We have always supported any movement that seeks to bring about regime change in Iran; furthermore, at times, we have even called upon the people to come out to protest. However, one can not be expected to trust and support the activities of the Green Movement leaders while they have been and want to remain at the helm of this regime.
If that's the case, we shouldn't expect any endorsement for June 12.
As I said, I don't know exactly what the party's leadership is going to say on that, but if it is led by Mousavi and Karroubi within the framework of the Islamic Republic, the answer is no.
Of course, it is a fact that had the two leaders not had regime credentials and had they used slogans other than the ones they did, the movement would have been decimated by now. But, just curious, the DPIK did tell people to vote for the right candidates in the sixth parliamentary election in Kurdistan. What made that a different contest than this one?
The DPIK did not take part in that election per se, but said it was all right for its followers to vote for independent Kurdish candidates. That is not the same as voting for Mr. Mousavi and Mr. Karroubi, who served the system and come from its inner circle. I think that because of who the two men are, except for Tehran and maybe two or three cities, people from other areas rarely participated in the protests.
Why do you think people in Tehran participate but people from Kerman, for example, don't?
Because the reformist movement and movement for total liberation do not match up.
You mean people from Tehran do not seek total liberation?
That is not what I was saying. But tell me, after such a heavy cost and so many people jailed and killed, what tangible results have been wrought by the so-called reform movement in Iran? Has the regime changed any?
That is a good question. For one thing, the new social movements for democracy and civil rights are not all about capturing and smashing old structures. That may happen too. But what is more important is building indigenous forms of democracy, which only come about through daily struggles on the street and workplaces and schools. It is a learning experience for everyone especially since, at least in the case of Iran, it is based on civil nonviolent means and dialogue and discussion. We never had these in Iran at the grassroots before. As long as there is no culture of democracy, there cannot be real democracy.
I have been to Suleimanieh in Iraqi Kurdistan. I mention it because it is supposed to be the safest and most prosperous city in Iraq. Things have improved a great deal since the time of Saddam, but the level of graft and corruption by civil servants or instances of law-breaking by officials who enjoy family or tribal privileges is pretty staggering. That's why we have the Goran Movement in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is targeting the corruption and unaccountability of the officialdom.
Aside from this factor, the protest movement in Iran has been able to corrode the foundations of the system from inside precisely because it is using the slogans and symbolism of the Islamic Republic against itself. You go to their official choreographed rallies in Iran and you see that not only the number of participants is drastically lower compared to just two years ago, but those who do participate have lost their motivation. The Green Movement has deprived them of an easy kind of black-and-white ideology where you are the ultimate source of righteousness and your foes or rivals are all evil incarnate.
First, I totally disagree that the number of participants in their rallies is drastically down. They could bring as many people out as they please through use of threats and inducements. Besides, you cannot weaken a system like the Islamic Republic by trying to preserve it at the same time.
It is simply unconscionable in my opinion, after 32 years of having so many people killed and humiliated, to have another Islamic Republic under the leadership of Mr. Mousavi. I cannot in good conscience give support to this idea.
Even if that's the only game in town?
It is not the only game in town.
All right. Let's move to another topic. An alarming development in Kurdistan and other Sunni-dominated areas in Iran today is the explosive growth of Salafi sects. How do you think this tide might be stopped or can it be stopped?
We too are concerned about the rise of radical Islamism in Kurdistan.
I think whenever privation and oppression prevails in a country, there is more room for violence, stronger tendencies toward separatism, and more radicalism of the sort you mentioned. I was around from the first days of the revolution. There were all sorts of groups active back then, all the way from the radical left to radial right. Still we never saw this kind of phenomenon. Many people are quite devout, in Iran, both Shia and Sunni. So when a group finds its religious beliefs offended or its religious practices violated, it begins to react, sometimes violently. I am not saying it is rational or justifiable, but it must be seen as a reaction against the harmful actions of the central government.
Unfortunately, as long as the Islamic Republic is in power, we are going to see the rise of these movements. I believe we can only stem this tide if there is a democratic government in power that respects the people's rights.
Is your party increasing in strength and in membership or is it, like most other groups in Iran, losing its base?
We are getting stronger, even markedly so. The question that may arise for you is What has happened to all our peshmergas? They are now all redeployed in our camps in Iraqi Kurdistan protecting these camps. Our party, as I said, is under constant threat and the defense of our forces is entirely up to us and not to the Iraqis. So thousands of our peshmergas are away from public view. What is important is that we see rising popularity for our party inside Iran and also outside among the expatriate Kurdish community.
What is your take on the events in Suleimanieh [where demonstrators calling for greater freedom were fired on] and the Goran Movement in particular?
It is hard to make sweeping judgments or generalizations. The local government is not without flaws. What the people have been asking for is quite legitimate: an end to corruption, better living conditions, more jobs, et cetera. But the opposition coalition [the Goran Movement] has serious problems. Of the three groups that make it up, two are Islamic parties. We have seen the dismal record of Islamic parties in Iran and other places and that's why we are quite concerned about the future of that movement. In short, the people's demands are shared by us but the three-party coalition that is trying to capitalize on the discontent plainly leaves us worried.
Another critical issue is the question of the political model for ending dictatorships. We have several models for democratization in front of us to choose from. In the case of the people responsible for human rights violations in Iran, it seems that the South African model, where the henchmen of the apartheid regime were given blanket clemency might be effective in ending the dictatorship sooner and with less bloodshed. There is also the concern over people engaging in acts of terrorism even after the system has been demolished. What is your opinion?
I think for a political party like DPIK, the future cannot be founded on a spirit of vengefulness or vindictiveness. About two years ago, I mentioned at a conference that the DPIK is ready to forgive the crimes of those working for the regime. Now if another government takes over and someone goes to the courts and brings charges against some other individual, that is a different story.
But the future of Iran and the future of Kurdistan will only be determined by forgiveness, equanimity, and lack of vindictiveness. Problems will not be resolved with the application of force. Secondly, there are all kinds of people to be found in any society like Kurdistan. A democratic government should be tolerant of all forms of differences and dissension.
Of course, this works too if one is amenable to acknowledging one's own mistakes and not just attacking the other side for their infractions. Everyone has made mistakes in the last 32 years. For example, some extremist measures were taken by the Kurdish forces in the civil war in the '80s. To cite one example, it is generally acknowledged that in Orumieh [in Western Azerbaijan province], where a radical Islamist, almost proto-fascist, administration has been in power for many years, this was fueled partly because of the policies of the Kurdish forces when they were in power in that area. Is the DPIK ready today to accept some responsibility for these errors?
As far as mistakes made by the party at the beginning of the revolution, yes there were some. You have to realize that when the monarchy fell, many popular forces flocked to our ranks. They were mostly unorganized and unstructured at the beginning. We just had not enough resources to train and administer so many people at that time.
The extremism you mentioned came from these elements. We do acknowledge the problem.
Are you optimistic about the future or are you worried?
I am optimistic about the future of Iran. This doesn't mean that the Islamic Republic will fall tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. But there is no doubt that it is on the decline -- and not just for external reasons, but because of the internal fissures and crises it is facing. Not only is this small minority that is in power unable to resolve the multiple crises it faces, it will find it harder even to keep them under control. This regime will fall. We may not know exactly when, but it will fall sooner rather than later. The time for such regimes is past.
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