In May 2015, the Iranian regime once again came under regional and international attention, when it coercively cracked down on the protest in Mahabad; a city in Kurdistan of Iran (East of Kurdistan known as “Rozhalat” in Kurdish). Following the calamitous suicidal act of a young hotel worker (a girl known as Farinaz in the city, who jumped from the hotel’s fourth floor, fleeing a rape attempt at the hands of an Iranian intelligence agent) the furious public marched in the streets demanding urgent legal action to be taken by the authorities. When it appeared that the Iranian regime was ambiguously reluctant to deal with the situation and instead attempted to clamp down on the dissent, the demonstration escalated to nearby cities such as Sardasht, which faced a violate reaction by the Special Forces, resulting in hundreds of arrests and injuries in the cities of Mahabad, Sanandaj, Oshnavieh and Sardasht and two deaths following them opening fire on the protestors.
The fact that incidents such as this might happen ubiquitously and are mostly considered a criminal act and normally would not trigger a public march, raises the question of why in the case of Farinaz, where the nature of its social characteristics seems to supplant its political dimension, the Kurdistan region witnessed a vast protest which spread quickly to the surrounding cities. And what was behind the aggressive response by the authorities, when they could easily have calmed down the upheaval by addressing the issue properly and fairly? However, looking at situations as such in the socio-political context of Iranian Kurdistan, where coercive power is mostly utilised to enable the illegitimate regime to hold power in one of the most disputed hotspots In Iran; Kurdistan with many political flashpoints in its recent history, would shed light on the above questions and in what follows, I will explain both these issues.
When it comes to human rights, the Islamic Republic of Iran violates not only the internationally respected rights listed in the Human Rights Declaration, but its own constitutional asymmetrically so called “rights of people” laws, where there is a recognition of the right for peaceful assembly of the people. Chapter 3, Article 27 of the current Iranian constitution recognises the freedom of assembly under two conditions: "provided arms are not carried" and the assemblies "are not detrimental to the fundamental principles of Islam.” Mahabad and Sardasht’s protests evidently met the above conditions, yet faced dozens of arrests, incidents of beating and severe injuries with two deaths at the hands of the regime’s forces.
Ethnic minorities such as the Kurds are subject to re-occurring incidents of Iran’s human rights abuse far more than any other citizens, considering the nature of Iran’s ethno-demographical map as one nation-dominated multi-national country, where the Kurds, Azaris, Arabs, Baloches and Turkmans are and have unwillingly been under the rule of the Persians for the last century. During this period, Iranian sequential governments have devoted a considerable part of the national budget to maintaining power in the minority inhabited areas, recruiting numerous security forces and military bases. This approach, which has imposed a huge cost in terms of both humanitarian and financial means, has always been criticised both by minorities, as the main victim of this policy in Iran, as well as the international community. As the special rapporteur of the UN, assessing systematic violations of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ahmad Shahid highlights that allegations such as “being a spy”, “separatist” and “acting against Islam and the Supreme Leader” are used to put Kurdish social and political activists on trial in the Revolutionary Court, where most of them end up with execution or long term imprisonment, the fierce response by the regime to the protestors in Kurdistan in this case raises little surprise.
Securitisation of the Kurdistan region and other ethnic minorities by Iranian central governments therefore is not novel and it is common practice to look at Kurdish inhabited areas through a security lens, hence this brings the long term conflict to the surface and consequently exacerbates the reaction in events such as the Mahabad hotel. The unresolved ethnic conflict in this case significantly alters the characteristics of both the motivation behind the protest as well as the response by the regime. An accumulated anger among the Kurds stemming from long term suppression and discrimination played a major role in the case of Farinaz for the Kurdish nationalist veins to flourish and compelled the public to interpret such crimes against the whole minority and their ethnic identity.
Iranian’s regime on the other hand, seems to continue the securitisation of every single protest no matter the purpose of the protest nor the demands of the protestors. Considering the extremely negative memory the Kurds have of their long term ethno-political struggle in Iran and the intentionally systematic discriminative political and economic treatment of the Kurdish inhabited region by the central governments, there is little wonder that the public interpreted the hotel’s episode as a political one and demanded immediate justice, knowing that the intelligence agents do often manage to get away with their criminal acts in Kurdistan.
Finally, as many in their analysis of Farinaz’s case rightly emphasised Iran’s inappropriate approach to the securitisation of the Kurdistan region, one can ask to what extent will the Iranian regime, which has shown stubborn resistance to its critics, be able to handle such scenes in Kurdistan, where the triggers are so sensitive to even tiny sparks.