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

The next day, Saturday, Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against the Kurds was published in Kayhan newspaper, a paper with national circulation. The fatwa ordered the armed forces to advance toward Paveh with canons, tanks, and fully armed ground forces within 24 hours. Khomeini further ominously warned that if anyone were to disobey his order he would “deal with them in a revolutionary way.” The fatwa, dated August 18, read in full:

In the name of god, the compassionate the merciful,
Requests have been made on behalf of different groups in the armed forces and the Pasdaran and honorable people for me to order [the forces] to go towards Paveh and end the clashes. I thank them and warn the government, the armed forces and the Police that, if within the next 24 hours, a move towards Paveh is not made with canons, tanks, and equipped forces, I consider all responsible.
As the head of the armed forces, I order the head of the army headquarter to dispatch to the region immediately, fully equipped, and I order all the bases of the military and Police to not waste time and not wait for another order and dispatch to Paveh with full equipments. I order the government to immediately provide for the dispatching of the pasdaran. Until further notice, I consider the armed forces responsible for this violent killing and if they disobey my order I will deal with them in a revolutionary manner. Repeated messages from the region say that the government and the armed forced are not taking any actions so [I announce] that if a positive action does not take place within the next 24 hours I will hold the heads of the military and police responsible.49

The Revolutionary Court was created by Khomeini in February 1979 to try “such acts that benefit foreign agents and the detested Pahlavi regime, … having a major role in looting and wasting the public fund and disrupting the economy of the country, and attempting an armed attack or murdering or injuring or imprisoning the people as of late, or having relations against national interest with foreigners or any form of forced assault on the virtue of the people.” He appointed Ayatollah Khalkhali as the head of the Court. The Initial code of Formation and Procedure of the Revolutionary Court, ratified by the Islamic Revolutionary Council on April 1, 1979, anticipated that the Court would be dissolved once it performed its duties.
However, the Court became permanent on May 1, 1983 (the Law to Determine the Jurisdiction of the Revolutionary Prosecutor Offices and Courts) under the supervision of the Judiciary. Its jurisdiction was expanded to include crimes related to “internal and external security, muharibih and sowing corruption on earth,” “assassination attempts on political officials,” “all crimes pertaining to narcotics and smuggling,” “murder, imprisonment, and torture with the intention of strengthening the Pahlavi regime and crushing the combating of the Iranian masses,” “stealing from the coffers.” The Revolutionary Court continues to crush dissent in Iran.

The fatwa shocked many in Iran’s Kurdish regions. A Kurdish resident of Mariwan recalls: “Khomeini did not issue a fatwa for Jihad (Holy War) against the monarchist government. Nor did he issue one during the eight long years his regime fought Saddam’s Ba’athist regime. But he issued a fatwa for Jihad against his own Kurdish, Muslim countrymen.”50

There was reliable evidence that reports of unrest in Sanandaj were false51 but Khomeini’s fatwa initiated three weeks of an intense government campaign to take control of the Kurdish regions. Defense Minister Mustafa Chamran led the assault.52 The military, under the command of General Valiollah Falahi, and the pasdaran, immediately surrounded Paveh and attacked it with heavy artillery, fighter jets and helicopters. They took control of the town on Sunday, August 19. Hundreds of people were killed and the victorious troops systematically seized houses and arrested people.53 Khomeini banned the KDPI and declared that Dr. Ghassemlou and Sheik Ezzedin Hosseini were corrupters on earth.54

The U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture have consistently noted that rape in prison is torture.50 For example, the first Rapporteur included rape as a method of physical torture in his 1986 report51 and reiterated his position in 1992:


[49] Farman-i Imam bih Unvan-i Ra’is-i Kull-i Quva darbarihyih Havadis-i Paveh [Order of Imam as Commander in Chief Regarding the Events in Paveh], KAYHAN, [Aug. 18, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[50] IHRDC Interview with Abdullah Mostafa Soltani (Feb. 10, 2011) (on file with IHRDC) [hereinafter Abdullah Soltani Interview].
[51] MENASHRI, supra note 19, at 90 (citing newspaper reports). Then-Prime Minister Mir–Hossein Mousavi reportedly later admitted that the campaign was based on false reports. Id. (citing KAYHAN, [May 7, 1983]), available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[52] Chamran Juziyat-i Havadis-i Paveh ra Tashrih Kard [Chamran Explained the Details of Paveh Incident], KAYHAN, [Aug. 20, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[53] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 77-79; See JOMHOURI-E ESLAMI, [Aug. 19, 1979] (reporting that about 180 soldiers were deployed from Tehran and Isfahan, and that 150 people were injured, killed or captured).
[54] ENTESSAR, supra note 6, at 34; PRUNHUBER supra note 21, at 80.

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