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Haunted Memories: The Islamic Republic’s Executions of Kurds in 1979

Sheikh Ezzedin Hosseini (1922-2011) was a Kurdish spiritual leader and the Friday Prayer leader in Mahabad. Before the 1979 revolution, he led protests against the Shah’s government. In the early years after the revolution, Sheikh Ezzedin was a principal Kurdish negotiator and enjoyed the support of Komala. He died in February 2011 in Sweden where he had spent the prior 20 years living in exile

In a radio broadcast on August 20, Khomeini urged Kurds to hunt down and turn in members of the KDPI. The radio also broadcast the sounds of demonstrators shouting for the executions of Dr. Ghassemlou and Sheikh Hosseini at Tehran funerals for pasdaran killed in Kurdistan.55 Khomeini’s worried government expelled three foreign correspondents the following day and expelled many more foreign journalists over the course of the next month, closing the Associated Press office on September 5.56 Demonstrators in the Kurdish regions called for the release of all prisoners.57

On August 22, Khomeini offered a pardon to members of the KDPI who agreed to “follow the path of Islam” and give up their weapons, and included in the offer one day of oil revenue (about US$70 million) to the Kurds for development.58 The Kurds declined and government forces continued to pour into the region. They took control of the towns of Sanandaj and Saqqez by the end of August, and Mahabad and Sardasht (a city on the Iran-Iraq border) by early September.59 There were reportedly 110,000 troops in the Kurdish regions at that point.60 National newspapers, including Kayhan and Ettelaat, reported on an almost daily basis on the bombings of Kurdish towns, killing of civilians, and executions. Foreign journalists were banned from the area.61

The army reported on August 24 that it had taken control of the town of Saqqez.62 In Tehran, Ayatollah Taleghani, generally considered moderate, in a speech to mark the end of Ramadan, announced the central government’s position that the Kurds must be punished, that there was no place for them as “the revolution is an Islamic one and everybody who chooses another path must be suppressed.” At that point, it was estimated that 600 people had been killed and 80 executed in the Kurdish regions.63

On August 26, a Kurdish delegation met Khomeini representatives and offered a five-point plan: (1) immediate removal of Ayatollah Khalkhali from the Kurdish regions; (2) an end to executions of Kurdish militants and activists; (3) replacement of non-Kurdish pasdaran with Kurds; (4) a ceasefire; and (5) a conference to discuss Kurdish autonomy within the Islamic state. Khomeini rejected the demands, refused to negotiate and sent Hojjatoleslam Hosseini Kermani to lead the crushing of the Kurds.64 He was quoted as warning the Kurdish leaders that “We will bury you if you do not disappear.” He proclaimed that “[t]he criminal rebels of Kurdistan must be annihilated. If the enemy is not crushed soon, I will personally go to Kurdistan and end the rebellion.”65


[55] Iran's Leaders Move in to Crush Opposition Press and Parties, GUARDIAN, Aug. 21, 1979 (reporting that authorities shut down opposition newspapers and ordered opposition parties to turn in weapons seized during February), available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[56] Thurgood, Iranian Forces Pursue Retreating Kurds, GUARDIAN, Sept. 6, 1979, at 7; Iranians Expel Three Journalists, GUARDIAN, Aug. 22, 1979, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[57] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 80; Khomeini Offers Oil Revenue to Kurds, GUARDIAN, Aug. 23, 1979, at 6, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[58] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 81.
[59] ENTESSAR, supra note 6, at 37.
[60] HIRO, supra note 20, at 130.
[61] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 75.
[62] Kurds Lose Mountain Stronghold, GUARDIAN, Aug. 25, 1979, at 5, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[63] Nassir Shirkhani, Iran Pounds Rebel Stronghold in Air Attack, GUARDIAN, Aug. 24, 1979, at 4, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[64] ENTESSAR, supra note 6, at 37; PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 82; Khomeini Kills Hopes for Peace in Kurdestan, GUARDIAN, Aug. 29, 1979, at 8, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[65] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 82 (quoting Le Monde, Aug. 30, 1979). See also Khomeini Kills Hopes for Peace in Kurdestan, GUARDIAN, Aug. 29, 1979, at 8, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.

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