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Iran's Kurds: Autonomy or Else

          THE ECONOMIST APRIL 28, 1979
          THE WORLD International
          Iran's Kurds: autonomy or else
          A Kurd in Iran has been, since time
          immemorial, a second class citizen: a
          ridiculed, ill-educated figure in baggy
          pants, with a pistol in his cummerbund,
          as likely as not employed on a building
          site in Teheran and all but ignored by the
          central government.
          Little has changed with the revolution.
          If anything, the arrogance of the Shia
          Moslem leadership towards this largely
          Sunni minority is resented even more
          than the tight-reined neglect of the Shah.
          Despite some 500 dead in last month's
          clashes in Sanandaj and at least 200
          more in and around the town of Naqa-
          deh over the past week, it is a remark-
          able fact that neither Mr Bazargan's gov-
          ernme t nor the Islamic Revolutionary
          Council is yet giying serious thought to
          the question of regional autonomy for
          Iran's 3 m Kurds.
          The government's contrasting reaction
          to Arab demands is instructive. At the
          height of the latest flare-up in Kurdistan,
          the religious leader of the small Arab
          community in the south-west threatened
          to leave Iran if Arab demands for equal
          rights were not met. Both Ayatollah
          Khomeini and Ayatollah Taleghani
          immediately sent reassuring messages.
          Teheran seems to have a mental blank
          when it comes to rethinking old attitudes
          towards the Kurds. But if it is confirmed
          that the assassination on April 22nd of
          the republic's first armed forces' chief,
          General Qarani, was the work of militant
          Kurds, the Kurdish question will take on
          a new dimension. Leaflets have claimed
          that the Kurds killed Qarani to punish the
          army for its heavy-handed repression of
          the Sanandaj trouble.
          The effect of the latest fighting will be
          to harden attitudes on both sides. It
          should also strengthen support for the
          Kurdistan Democratic party, the longest
          established and best organised political
          group in the region. The KDP, led by an
          intellectual socialist, Abdurrahman Qas-
          Copyright 1979, The Economist Newspaper Limited
          semlou, has come out into the open after
          a 30-year ban under the Shah, and is now
          busy recruiting and, strengthening its
          Its main rivals are the supporters in
          Iran of the late Iraqi Kurdish leader,
          Mullah Mustapha Barzani. These mostly
          conservative, rural and tribal groups in-
          clude followers of the moderate Sunni
          leader from Sanandaj, Ahmad Muftiza-
          deh, and the less numerous Shia Kurds
          from farther south. Left-wing guerrilla
          groups, the Fedayin and the Mujahaddin,
          have their adherents among urban Kur-
          dish youngsters but they count for little in
          Kurdish politics.
          The Kurdish Democratic party is both
          a political and military organisation.
          When its meeting in Naqadeh on April
          20th was attacked by Turkish-speakers
          (who share the region with the Kurds), it
          was quickly able to round up thousands
          of armed supporters. What began as an
          urban battle rapidly developed into sev-
          eral days' communal strife, in which vil-
          lages were burnt and atrocities commit-
          ted on both sides. Attempts to impose a
          ceasefire succeeded only when the army
          was sent in against the Kurds, who then
          withdrew back into their heartland to
          nurse their wounds. On Wednesday, the
          KDP claimed that the army was ignoring
          the ceasefire agreement and that tanks
          and helicopters had again attacked Kur-
          dish villages. The party put the number of
          Kurdish dead over the past six days at
          The fighting will have hardened the
          resolve of all Kurds to capitalise on their
          exclusive control of the guns and the
          municipal councils in the regions where
          they are in the majority. In the aftermath
          of the February revolution, the Kurdish
          Democrats demanded self-rule as the
          price for their support for the anti-Shah
          Don't laugh at us
          Document Reference: ECON-1 979-0428 Date: 28-04-1979
          (Page 1 of 2).
          THE ECONOMIST APRIL2n, 1979
          movement. They were prepared then to
          be flexible and to trust in the good faith
          of the provisional government. Much of
          that trust has n w been dissipated.
          Today their minimum demands are a
          geographically defined Kurdish region,
          embracing much of the western border-
          land, taking in the present provinces of
          11am, Kermanshahan, Kordestan and
          parts of Lorestan and eastern Azerbai-
          jan; a popularly elected regional assem-
          bly; and some voice in the composition of
          the military units stationed in their region
          along the sensitive Iraqi border.
          Kurdish leaders recognise that what is
          granted to them will also have to be
          offered to the Turkomans in the north-
          east, the Baluchis in the south-east, the
          Arabs in the south-west and, probably
          (the biggest and administratively most
          difficult group of all) the urn Turkish-
          speaking Azerbaijanis of the north-west.
          Still, the Kurdish leaders insist, there is
          no other way to preserve the Iranian
          patchwork as a single piece.
          The government's first response was to
          promote Ahmad Muftizadeh as the “sin-
          gle recognised leader” of the Kurds,
          rather than the more radical and more
          representative Sheikh Ezzedin Hosseini
          of Mahabad. Then, after the Sanandaj
          riots it promised to set up local councils
          and to consider wider constitutional is-
          sues in the, now indefinitely postponed,
          constituent assembly.
          For years the Shah played on the
          argument that it was the monarchy alone
          which could transcend Iran's all too obvi-
          ous differences. Buttressed by rigid cen-
          tral control and a basic antipathy to
          decentralisation, the country was held
          together by force, not consent. Anything
          that replaced such a system would, in the
          short term, have to face powerful centri-
          fugal tendencies. The spring is now un-
          coiling fast.
          The Kurds' dilemma is that, unlike the
          Azerbaijanis, they have up to now had
          very little political weight in Teheran.
          Muzzled by Savak, the Shah's secret
          police, and deprived of their guns, they
          were unable even to use their strategic
          location as leverage for better treatment.
          Those few Kurds who have achieved high
          political office had long before lost their
          tribal ties. Teheran governments have
          always found it easy to play on internal
          divisions among the Kurds in Iran and
          also in the wider pan-Kurdish movement.
          involving 12m people in Iran, Iraq and
          Turkey. Unless a more enlightened ap-
          proach is adopted in Teheran, the pros-
          pect is for ever more bitter outbreaks of
          violence. It may take a joining of forces
          by the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey before
          the government of Iran begins to treat the
          Kurdish issue as a political not a military
          Bishop sweeps
          Rhodesia's black electors left no doubt
          about who it was they wanted as head of
          Zimbabwe-Rhodesia's first black-led
          government. They gave Bishop Abel Mu-
          zorewas party, the United African Nat-
          ional Council, 1.2m votes, 67% of those
          cast. This gives the UANC 51 of the 72
          black seats in the 100-seat assembly, a
          slender overall majority.
          In the cabinet, however, Bishop Mu-
          zorewa will command a majority only if
          he, as prime minister, is allowed a casting
          vote. Under the coalition agreement
          signed last year, each party winning five
          or more seats in the assembly is to get
          cabinet posts in proportion to its assem-
          bly seats. So the bishop's party will have
          10 posts, Mr Ian Smith's white Rhodesian
          Front six, and Mr Sithole's Zanu and
          Chief Ndiweni's United National Federal
          party two each. Chief Chirau's party
          failed to win a single assembly seat.
          The UANC swept the board in the
          urban and rural constituencies in
          Mashonaland, where it got 80% of the
          votes. In Matabeleland it was pushed into
          second place by Chief Ndiweni's party.
          The chief, a Ndebele, apparently attract-
          ed support there as a surrogate for the
          popular Ndebele leader, Mr Joshua
          Nkomo. He also got votes from the
          whites and tribal minorities who support
          his party's idea of a federal system that
          would avert Shona domination. But there
          was a low turnout in that region, 97ith
          only 45% of the electorate voting and, in
          one province, nearly 10% of the ballots
          being spoiled.
          There were also relatively low turnouts
          in Manicaland, the Midlands and Vic-
          toria, where the Patriotic Front guerrillas
          were more successful than in Mashona.
          land in keeping voters away from the
          poll. The average turnout in these three
          provinces was 47%, but the bishop came
          out on top in each. An analysis of the
          voting by regions shows that his UANC
          won twice as many votes in MashOnaland
          as it did outside it, partly because of tribal
          loyalties but also because guerrilla mimi.
          dation was more effective outside Ma.
          shonaland and the largest urban areas.
          Bishop Muzorewa will not be sworn in
          as prime minister until the endof May,as
          the electoral process goes on until May23
          when the 30 senators are to be elected: 10
          black chiefs by the council of chiefs, 10
          whites by the 28 white MPs and 10 blacks
          by the 72 black MPs. The bishop would
          not be drawn this week on the size of his
          cabinet or on what post he will offer to
          the present prime minister, Mr Ian
          Smith. Putting Mr Smith into a sensitive
          slot such as defence (known as combined
          operations) or law and order would not
          enhance the prospects of recognition by
          foreign governments, but Mr Smith, who
          remains unrepentantly proud of his past
          record, will certainly bargain hard for a
          powerful cabinet job.
          The future of Mr Sithole also promises
          to cast a shadow. Last week he had
          praised the poll, but this week he claimed
          that there had been “gross irregulari-
          ties”. He alleged that officials had “stage-
          managed” the election to the advantage
          Copyright 1979, The Economist Newspaper Limited

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