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

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989) was the leader of the Islamic Revolution and the first Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He was born into a family of Shi’a scholars, and like his father, became an Islamic jurist and leading Shi’a scholar. The Shah’s government sent him into exile him in the mid-1960s, and he lived in Turkey, Iraq and France until his triumphant return to Iran in February 1979. He won the national referendum in a landslide and became the Supreme Leader, the highest political position in Iran, which he held for the rest of his life. In August 1979, he issued a fatwa ordering the military to crush the Kurds who were advocating for some form of secular autonomy within the Islamic state that Khomeini was in the process of creating.

the Koran and the Prophet’s Sunna in order to better familiarize the masses with the faith.38 Ahmad Moftizadeh and Maktab-e Koran supported Khomeini’s Islamic regime after the revolution.39

On July 16, about 30 people died (including apparently 13 pasdaran) during a skirmish in Mariwan that ended with the Kurds in control of the town. On July 21, Khomeini lifted the ban on the use of military troops against what he termed rebels.40 In July, the central government began sending an increasing number of troops to Kurdistan to take back territory held by Kurds, including the Mahabad military base.41

National elections for the Assembly of Experts of the Constitution, charged with drafting a constitution for the new Islamic Republic, took place at the beginning of August.42 Dr. Ghassemlou, leader of the KDPI, was elected to the Assembly but Khomeini did not allow him to take his seat. 43

In mid-August, Kurds staged a sit-in in Ghuri-Galeh – a village near Paveh, a small town in Kermanshah Province near the Iran-Iraq border - and demanded local control over security and governance.44 The sit-in ended in battle. Ettelaat newspaper reported that in the early morning of August 13, “a group of people attacked Paveh and set siege to the city” and that the fighting between the pasdaran and “invaders” continued. The pasdaran requested assistance from their office in the city of Kermanshah.45

On August 16, following a 48-hour battle, Kurd fighters took control of Paveh.46 The following day, August 17, it was reported that government forces were still under siege. Khomeini angrily condemned what he deemed the government forces’ lack of “revolutionary enthusiasm” in the Kurdish regions. On national radio and television, he angrily designated himself Commander-in-Chief and ordered the armed forces to take action against the “Kurdish conspirators” within 24 hours.47


[38] Darbarih [About], MAKTAB-E KORAN, available at http://maktabquran7.com/درباره/.
[39] MOHAMMAD SAYAR, TANHA SANGAR-I BAZMANDIH AZ QIYAM [THE ONLY STRONGHOLD LEFT FROM THE UPRISING] 3 (2010).
[40]Thurgood, Kurds Seize Border Town in Renewed Iran Fighting, GUARDIAN, July 16, 1979, at 5, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html; HIRO, supra note 20, at 127.

[41] Thurgood, Kurdish Leader Fears Reprisal, GUARDIAN, July 30, 1979, at 5, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[42] KEDDIE, supra note 32, at 247.
[43] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 70, 77.
[44] Mutihasinin dar Farmandariyih Paveh Khastar-i Taqviyat-i Artish Shudand [Those Staging a Sit-in at Paveh’s Governor Office Demanded Strengthening of the Military], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 14, 1979]; Shurish dar Karand [Uprising in Karand], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 16, 1979], available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[45] Buhran-i Paveh Uj Girift [Crisis in Paveh Escalated], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 16, 1979]. The Kurds were not alone is forcefully seeking some form of autonomy. In August, Ayatollah Khomeini sent Hassan Lahuti to Ahvaz to deal with the demands of Khuzestan’s Arab minority, Seyyed Mahmoud Taleghani to Turkmen Sahra to address the Turkmen minority, and other clerics to Tabriz and Orumiyeh to calm the Azeri minority, and send reports back to Khomeini. See Ayatollah Lahuti dar Ahvaz: Bayn-i Arab va Ajam Fasilih Nist [Ayatollah Lahuti in Ahvaz: There Are No Differences Between the Arabs and Persians], ETTELAAT, [May 15, 1979]; Ikhtar-i Ayatollah Taleghani Darbarihyih Amilan-i Vaqayi’i Turkmen Sahra, Kurdistan va Junub [Warning by Ayatollah Taleghani about the Actors of the Incidents in Turkmen Sahra, Kurdistan and the South], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 4, 1979]; Hay’ati az Suyih Dadgah-i Inqilab VarId-i Orumiyeh Shud [A Delegation Sent by the Revolutionary Court Entered Orumiyeh], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 11, 1979]; Ittila’iyih Dadsitan-i Inqilab: Haqayiqi darbarihyih Vaqayi’i Orumiyeh [Announcement of the Revolutionary Prosecutor: Truths about the Incidents in Orumiyeh], ETTLEAAT, [Aug. 11, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[46] HIRO, supra note 20, at 130; PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 77; Dustbin of Death Awaits Left, Warns Khomeini, GUARDIAN, Aug. 17, 1979, at 6, available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[47] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 77-78.

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