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

3. After the February 1979 Islamic Revolution

Iranian Kurds largely supported the Islamic Revolution. Upon the victorious return to Iran of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in February 1979, many ethnic minorities throughout the country, to varying degrees, armed and unarmed, struggled for some form of autonomy.19 There were between three and five million Iranian Kurds; a third lived in Kurdistan Province and most of the remaining two thirds lived in West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah Provinces. 20

In the Kurdish regions, the long-suppressed political parties, including Komala and KDPI, moved quickly to advocate for some form of local secular autonomy. In mid-February, newly-appointed Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan sent a delegation to Mahabad, the site of the old Mahabad Republic, to discuss the demands of Kurdish leaders. Headed by Dariush Forouhar, the delegation met with a delegation of five Kurds including Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, a KDPI leader. The two sides reportedly signed an eight-point agreement that included the creation of a regional Kurdish government that would have control over local matters, and use of Kurdish peshmerga as the local security force.21 But, in response to Forouhar’s report, the central government in Tehran/Qom indicated that it would not make any decisions regarding the Kurds until a constituent assembly was created.22 It reportedly later said that an independent Kurdistan was “out of the question.”23 Kurds took control of the Mahabad military base and skirmishes between government forces and Kurds broke out in Mahabad and Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan Province.24

On March 18, during the Persian New Year, Nowruz, a fierce battle broke out in Sanandaj between peshmerga and government forces, which used helicopter gunships.25 It was reported that at least 200 people were killed and many more injured.26 Kurds throughout Kurdistan demonstrated their support of the people in Sanandaj by participating in public protests. After the Sanandaj battle, known as Bloody Nowruz, few Kurds who supported Khomeini before the Revolution remained supporters of his new regime. 27


Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI or KDPI) was founded in Mahabad on August 16, 1945. Four months later, in January 1946, the Party established the short-lived “Republic of Kurdistan,” also known as the “Republic of Mahabad.” The Iranian army destroyed the Republic 11 months later after the Soviet army withdrew from the region.

The PDKI supported the 1979 revolution against the Shah, and declared its presence in February 1979, but soon ran afoul of the Islamic Republic. Led by Dr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, the party unsuccessfully sought some form of autonomy within the Islamic state. Its leaders eventually fled the country to Iraq and Western Europe.


[18] See, e.g., IHRDC Interview with Azad Saqqezi (Feb. 1, 2011) (on file with IHRDC) [hereinafter Saqqezi Interview] (explaining how he was expelled from high school for wearing traditional Kurdish dress and relating that at the time of the Islamic Revolution, two of his brothers were political prisoners in Qasr and Evin prisons (one was sentenced to death and the other to eight years in prison), and that he and his sister had case files pending due to their political associations)).
[19] DAVID MENASHRI, IRAN: A DECADE OF WAR AND REVOLUTION 89-92 (1990).
[20] Id. at 89; DILIP HIRO, IRAN UNDER THE AYATOLLAHS 111 (1987).
[21] ENTESSAR, supra note 6, at 35; CAROL PRUNHUBER, THE PASSION AND DEATH OF RAHMAN THE KURD, DREAMING KURDISTAN 50-51 (2009).
[22] PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 54 (citing Le Monde, Mar. 23, 1979).
[23] Thurgood, , GUARDIAN, Feb. 21, 1979, at 8, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[24] ENTESSAR, supra note 6, at 35; PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 51-54.
[25] HIRO, supra note 20, at 111; PRUNHUBER, supra note 21, at 54-55.
[26] Kurdish Rebels Tighten Hold on Iranian City, BALT. SUN, Mar. 22, 1979, available at http://www.iranhrdc.org/english/human-rights-documents/3507-1979-newspapers.html.
[27] IHRDC Interview with Rauf Kaabi (Feb. 21, 2011) (on file with IHRDC) [hereinafter Kaabi Interview].

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