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

On August 25, it was reported that Kurdish forces were dug in and controlled the roads into Mahabad. Fighting was reported about 20 miles outside the city.66 The army kept moving closer until on August 30, it was reported that it surrounded the city and that fighting had died down for three days while negotiations took place. The government reported that it had reached an agreement with the Kurds that would allow it to enter Mahabad.67 The Kurds denied that any such agreement had been reached and vowed to fight to the end.68

During Friday prayers on August 31, Ayatollah Taleghani reiterated Khomeini’s call to the seemingly-reluctant army to crush the Kurds. He warned that “if the army is unable to intervene because of weakness, the entire nation will march to Mahabad.” 69 The military attacked Mahabad on Monday, September 3 after two weeks of besieging the city. With heavy artillery, and air power, it took control after only several hours. 70 The fall of Mahabad, the stronghold of Kurdish nationalism, was a major blow to the Kurdish fighters who fled into the mountains. The army left Mahabad to take control of the small mountain town of Baneh.71

A vital component of Khomeini’s campaign to “crush” the Kurds was Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali, head of the newly-created Revolutionary Court.72 Pars News Agency reported on August 20 that Khomeini dispatched Khalkhali from the religious city of Qom to Kermanshah to investigate the tensions in Paveh and the rest of the Kurdish regions.73 For the next several weeks, Khalkhali followed the military and pasdaran as they took control of Kurdish towns, holding summary trials and ordering immediate executions. He sentenced men and boys to execution without fair trials, within days and sometimes only hours after their arrests—for alleged anti-revolutionary activities.74 Mark Kravitz, a French journalist who was in the region at the time, has no doubt that “[t]he military phase was carried out with the terror provoked by Khalkhali and his assassins, and by the massive use of the air force and helicopters.”75


From left to right: Ayatollah Khomeini, his son Seyyed Ahmad Khomeini and Ayatollah Sadegh Khalkhali


[66] Kurds Lose Mountain Stronghold, GUARDIAN, Aug. 25, 1979, at 5, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[67] Thurgood, Tehran Offers Peace to Kurds, GUARDIAN, Aug. 30, 1979, at 6, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[68] Thurgood, Iran Brings in Tanks to Force Kurdish Surrender, GUARDIAN, Aug. 31, 1979, at 8, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[69] Thurgood, Khomeini “will bury” Kurd Rebels, GUARDIAN, Sept. 1, 1979, at, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[70] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 83; Thurgood, Iranians Take Rebel Kurdish Town, GUARDIAN, Sept. 4, 1979, at 6; Iran Says Battle is on for Kurd Rebel Stronghold of Mahabad, GUARDIAN, Sept. 3, 1979, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[71] Thurgood, Iranians Take Rebel Kurdish Town, GUARDIAN, Sept. 4, 1979, at 6, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[72] AYYAM-I INZIVA, KHATIRAT-I AYATOLLAH KHALKHALI [YEARS OF SECLUSION, MEMOIRS OF AYATOLLAH KHALKHALI] 29 (2004); Bih Unvan-i Hakim-i Shar’ Khalkhali bih Kurdistan Raft [Khalkhali Travelled to Kurdistan as Religious Magistrate], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 20, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[73] Bih Unvan-i Hakim-i Shahr’ Khalkhali bih Kurdistan Raft [Khalkhali travelled to Kurdistan as Religious Magistrate], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 20, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[74] Guzarish-i Khalkhali az Vaqayi’i Paveh [Report of Khalkhali from the Incidents of Paveh], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 23, 1979]; Khalkhali Dalayil-i Idam-i Doctor Rashvand ra Ilam Kard [Khalkhali Announced Reasons for Executing Dr. Rashvand], ETTELAAT, [Aug. 25, 1979], available athttp://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[75] MARK KRAVITZ, IRANO NOX (1983), quoted in PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 79. Although foreign journalists were banned from the area, Kravitz, took a bus to Mahabad and reported on events until Sept. 3. Id. at 75.

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