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Iran tries to deflect protests over Mahsa Amini by focusing on Kurds

<img src='!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_460/1243470821.jpg' alt='1243470821' width='460' title='Women chant slogans and hold up signs depicting the image of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died while in the custody of Iranian authorities, during a demonstration denouncing her death by Iraqi and Iranian Kurds outside the UN offices in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on September 24, 2022. - Angry demonstrators have taken to the streets of major cities across Iran, including the capital Tehran, for eight straight nights since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. The Kurdish woman was pronounced dead after spending three days in a coma following her arrest by Iran's feared morality police for wearing the hijab headscarf in an "improper" way. ' height='259' /> <p>Facing their biggest challenge in years, Iran's religious leaders are trying to portray the angry protests over the death of Mahsa Amini as a breakaway uprising by her fellow Kurds threatening the nation's unity rather than its clerical rule.</p>

Facing their biggest challenge in years, Iran’s religious leaders are trying to portray the angry protests over the death of Mahsa Amini as a breakaway uprising by her fellow Kurds threatening the nation’s unity rather than its clerical rule.

Amini, a 22-year-old from Kurdistan province in northwest Iran, died in the custody of the Islamic Republic’s morality police after she was detained for violating strict codes requiring women to dress modestly in public.

Protests that started at Amini’s funeral in her Kurdish hometown of Saqez spread rapidly across the country, to the capital Tehran, cities in central Iran, and the southwest and southeast where Arab and Baluch minorities are concentrated.

Across the country, including at universities and high schools, the rallying cry “Women, Life, Freedom” and the same calls for the downfall of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were heard, yet much of the crackdown by security forces focused on the northwest where most of Iran’s estimated 10 million Kurds live.

Riot police and Basij paramilitary forces have been transferred to the area from other provinces, according to witnesses, and tanks were sent to Kurdish areas where tensions have been particularly high.

Iran has also attacked Iranian Kurdish armed groups in neighbouring Iraq it says are involved in the unrest. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards fired missiles and drones at militant targets in northern Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, where authorities said 13 people were killed.

Smoke rises from the Iraqi Kurdistan headquarters of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), after a strike by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq, on Sept. 28. (Ako Rasheed/Reuters)

Iranian state media have called the nationwide protests a “political plot” ignited by Kurdish separatist groups, particularly the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI).

‘Separatist threat’

“Since the very start of the uprising the regime has tried to portray it as a Kurdish ethnic issue rather than a national one, invoking a separatist threat emerging from the Kurdish region,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, a political scientist at the American University of Beirut.

Those efforts by authorities had been undermined, Fathollah-Nejad said, by significant solidarity between Iran’s different ethnic groups during the nationwide protests.

Still, looking across their border to Iraq, and further west to Syria, Iranian authorities can point to Kurdish ambitions for self-rule taking root when central government was challenged.

In Iraq, Kurds who for years fought Saddam Hussein won enough Western military protection after the 1991 Gulf War to establish a degree of autonomy, which was strengthened when Saddam was toppled 12 years later in a U.S.-led invasion.

Syrian Kurdish forces also exploited the tumult of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, allying with the United States against Islamic State and carving out a swath of northeast Syria under their control.

In Turkey, where around a fifth of the 85 million-strong population is Kurdish, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants have fought an armed insurgency against the state since 1984 in which tens of thousands of people have died.

WATCH | Mahsa Amini art amplifies calls for change in Iran: 

Mahsa Amini art amplifies calls for change in Iran

5 days ago

Duration 4:15

In Iraq and Syria, Kurds have demonstrated in solidarity with the protesters in Iran. In Turkey, a deputy leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party told Reuters the party “salutes the women in Iran” calling for their rights.

“As in Turkey, Iraq and Syria, in Iran it is the Kurds who seek democracy, the Kurds who seek freedom,” said Tuncer Bakirhan, a former mayor who was removed from his post and jailed over alleged militant ties.

Reuters could not immediately reach Iranian officials for comment, but the government routinely denies allegations that it discriminates against any ethnic groups in its population and says all citizens regardless of ethnicity are treated equally.

Iran’s constitution grants equal rights to all ethnic minorities and says minority languages may be used in the media and schools. But rights groups and activists say Kurds face discrimination along with other religious and ethnic minorities under the country’s Shia Muslim clerical establishment.

Amnesty International has reported that “scores if not hundreds” of political prisoners affiliated to the Kurdish group KDPI and other proscribed political parties are in jail after being convicted in unfair trials.


Newzcap Staff