Trouble in Northwestern Iran

Kurdish separatists have once again revived armed struggle in Iran too. Who are they?

October 21, 2016

Kurdish separatists have once again revived armed struggle in Iran too. Who are they?

1. Iran’s four million Kurds populate a mountainous northwestern region of the country.

2. Accounting for 10% of Iran’s population, they have long harbored separatist tendencies like their peers in the other three countries (Turkey, Iraq and Syria) nearby.

3. In 1946, the Soviet Union tried to establish ethno-nationalist puppet states in northwest Iran, including a Kurdish state.

4. The Soviets had occupied the area in 1941 to block Germany from capturing Iran’s oilfields.

5. Unlike in the case of Eastern Europe, this early Cold War partition proved short-lived.

6. The leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 viewed Kurdish ethnic separatism as a serious threat to their ideology of unity through religion.

7. Kurdish separatists, who had helped overthrow the Shah, viewed 1979 as the time for independence and began seizing control of their communities.

8. However, Iran’s revolutionary armed forces focused on crushing this major Kurdish rebellion as early as 1980, even in the face of Saddam Hussein’s invasion into Iran’s Khuzestan province.

9. Violence between the Iranian state and Kurdish separatists continues intermittently, nearly four decades later.

10. The Kurds’ integration into Iranian society has also been limited.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, World Factbook, United Nations, A Modern History of the Kurds

Takeaways

Iran's Kurds account for 10% of Iran's population and have long harbored separatist tendencies.

Leaders of Iran’s Islamic Revolution viewed Kurdish ethnic separatism as a threat to their ideology of unity through religion.

Iran’s revolutionary armed forces focused on crushing major Kurdish rebellion as early as 1980.