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Murder at Mykonos: Anatomy of a Political Assassination

3. Political Context

The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (PDKI) is the leading Kurdish political party in Iran1 and one of the most significant political groups opposing the Islamic Republic. Founded on August 16, 1945 in Mahabad, Iran,2 the Party’s declared objective is to win Kurdish autonomy in administrative, legal and educational matters without jeopardizing Iran’s territorial integrity. Its motto is “Democracy for Iran, Autonomy for Kurdistan.”3

Following the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in a 1953 military coup, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi4 disbanded the majority of opposition groups. The PDKI was one of the political parties banned by the Shah and the Kurdish movement was driven underground. The downfall of the Pahlavi regime in January 1979 presented the Kurds with an opportunity to once more press for autonomy and many Kurds enthusiastically joined the revolution.5 The PDKI publicly announced its return to the public stage in March 19796 and immediately set about publicizing the Party's proposal for Kurdish autonomy.7

The new revolutionary government strongly opposed granting greater autonomy to the Kurdish region. The concept of an autonomous minority was particularly anathema to the clerical establishment which was committed to the goal of creating a unified Islamic community. Distrust was further heightened by sectarian tensions between the mostly Sunni Kurds8 and the Shiite leadership in Tehran.9 Armed clashes in Kurdish cities like Sanandaj and Paveh between Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran Enghelab Islami) and PDKI peshmerga militia fueled accusations that the Kurdish aspirations went beyond autonomy and that the PDKI’s true goal was Kurdish independence.10

[1] The Kurdish inhabited land is split between Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. In Iran, the Kurds inhabit a strip on the western border of Iran from the province of Western Azerbaijan to the northern parts of the Province of Ilam, see http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/middle_east_and_asia/kurdish_lands_92.jpg and http://www.kurdistanica.com/english/geography/geography-frame.html.
[2] Khudmukhtari Baray-i Kurd, Dimokrasi Baray-I Iran [Autonomy for the Kurd, Democracy for Iran], AYANDIGAN (Tehran), No. 3306, Esfand 16, 1357 (March 7, 1979).
[3] Id. See also Fereshteh Koohi-Kamali , Nationalism in Iranian Kurdistan, in THE KURDS: A CONTEMPORARY OVERVIEW 183-4(Philip G. Kreyenbroek and Stefan Sperl eds., 1992).
[4] Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was the ruler of Iran from September 16, 1941 until the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979. He was the second monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty.
[6] Kuhni-Parastan Hanuz Meidan Ra Khali Nakardeand [Old Loyalists have yet to leave the stage], AYANDIGAN (Tehran), No.3306, Esfand 16, 1357 (March 7, 1979). DAVID MCDOWALL, A MODERN HISTORY OF THE KURDS 269 (1996)..
[7] The PDKI proposed the creation of a democratic republic in Iran and the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish province within it. Issues of national defense, foreign affairs and trade policy would be solely controlled by the central government. All other government offices in the province would be run locally rather than from the capital. The national army would secure the territorial integrity of the nation, but local government would be responsible for law enforcement in the region. Ma Khudmukhtari Ra Dar Charchubi-i Iran Mikhahim [We want autonomy within boundaries of Iran], KEYHAN (Tehran), No. 10672, Farvardin 12, 1358 (April 1, 1979).
[8] The population of Iranian Kurdistan is 98% Muslim. The remaining 2% is made up of Armenian and Assyrian Christians and some Jews. Most of the Muslims are Sunni (75%); the Shiites are mainly concentrated in Kermanshah and Luristan. GHASSEMLOU ET AL., PEOPLE WITHOUT A COUNTRY 110 (Gerard Chaliand ed., Michael Pallis trans., 1980) (1978).
[10] See for example Shay’iyyih Tajziyyih Talabi Kurdha Tawti’ih Ast [The Kurdish Separatist Rumor is a conspiracy], KAYHAN(Tehran), No. 10625, Bahman 10, 1357 [Januray 30, 1979]; Ittiham-i Tajziyyih Talabi Harbiyyih Zang Zadih-i Shudih Ast[Separatist Accusations Has Become a Rusty Weapon], KAYHAN (Tehran), No. 10628, Bahman 14, 1357 (February 3, 1979); Nabard-i Khunin-i Musalahan-i Dar Sanandaj [The Armed and Bloody Conflict in Sanandaj], KAYHAN (Tehran), No. 10665, Esfand 28, 1357 (March 19, 1979); Tallash Barayih Payan-i Nabardhayih Musalahaniyyih Sanandaj [Efforts for Ending the Armed Conflicts of Sanandaj], KAYHAN (Tehran), No. 10666, Esfand 29, 1357 (March 20, 1979); Buhran-i Paveh U’j Girift [The Paveh Crisis Was Further Heightened], ETTELA'AT (Tehran), No. 15930, Mordad 25, 1358 (August 16, 1979).

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Political Killings, Assassinations, Political Freedom