Eastern Kurdistan - Land of Popular Uprisings

An assessment of the Kurdish Centre for Public Relations (Civaka Azad) on the current political developments in Eastern Kurdistan and Iran after the brutal killing of Jina Mahsa Amini.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, "discipline and order" must be strictly observed. To implement this, there is a separate Islamic religious police force, also known as the morality police, which pays particular attention to ensuring that "dress codes" are observed in the country. Recently, the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva noted that these morality police have expanded their patrols in recent months, targeting women who do not wear the Islamic headscarf, the so-called hijab, "according to the rules". This policy has caused society in Rojhilat [the main settlement areas of the Kurds in Iran, which lie in western Iran according to today's nation-state borders and are the epicentre of the nationwide protests] and Iran to boil over since 13 September.

The woman with two names: Jina Amini

Jina Amini was a 22-year-old young Kurdish woman from the eastern Kurdish city of Seqiz (Saqqez). However, in social media and in most reports currently appearing on the situation in Iran, she is referred to as "Mahsa Amini". It is a sign of the anti-Kurdish policy that Iran has been pursuing for decades. "Jina" is Kurdish and stands for woman; however, the Kurdish name is forbidden, which is why her parents were forced to give her another official name at the time. Therefore, Jina was called "Mahsa" at the offices, which comes from ancient Persian and means something like "like the moon" or "the moonlike one".

On Tuesday last week, 13 September, Jina and her brother were on their way from their hometown to Tehran when they were stopped by the morality police. They wanted to arrest Jina because of her "un-Islamic" outfit. Her "un-Islamic" outfit was characterised by the fact that part of her hair was visible under the hijab. She was therefore taken to a police station. After a few hours, Jina fell into a coma and was then taken to hospital, where she ultimately died on 16 September. While the official authorities spoke of "sudden heart problems" or later also of pre-existing conditions, it was clear to the public relatively quickly what must have happened. Jina had already been beaten and tortured by several police officers on the way to the police station and this continued at the station. People knew because thousands of others had been beaten in this way before, because Jina's brother had to witness the first beating himself, and because a few days later a hacker group through "Iran International", a medium of the Iranian opposition in exile, leaked the hospital records with CT scans of Jina, which clearly showed that she had died from massive violence to the head.

The Iranian government immediately tried to cover up what had happened. The police authorities demanded that Jina's parents bury their daughter's body that same night in camera. However, they refused and did not bury her until the next morning in Seqiz, which was the starting point of the popular uprisings in Iran.

Start of the popular uprisings

On 17 September, the uprisings began in Seqiz, which quickly spread to other towns of Eastern Kurdistan such as Ûrmiye (Urmia), Serdeşt (Sardasht) and Sine (Sanandaj). Young women have dominated these uprisings from the beginning. The two central slogans that have been echoing on the streets of almost all cities in Iran for days are "Jin, Jiyan, Azadî" (Women, Life, Freedom) and "Bimre dîktator" (Death to the Dictator). At first, the Iranian state desperately tried to sell its version of Jina's death as the truth. They tried to force Jina's father to explain that his daughter was indeed suffering from pre-existing conditions. However, he did not give in to the pressure of the Iranian authorities. The doctors who treated her were also muzzled. They were not allowed to reveal a word about the circumstances of the death to the public. Then those responsible in the state put out the usual fairy tale that the popular uprisings are being directed from abroad. But the people in the country no longer buy that either. Too many people are sentenced to the death penalty in prisons, mostly because they think politically differently from Iran's rulers; too many people disappear without a trace, too many women are tortured daily and the oppression of minorities in Iran is too great.

Several political parties and civil society organisations in Eastern Kurdistan came together in the next step and called for mass protests and a general strike on 19 September. On this day, almost all shops in Eastern Kurdistan remained closed. Most universities and schools also remained empty. Instead, the masses gathered in the streets.  With this moment, popular uprisings finally spread throughout the country. In the capital Tehran, as in many other metropolises and smaller cities, people are taking to the streets. The uprisings started in the Kurdish areas of Iran, but today they are carried out in all parts of the country and by different ethnic groups. Led by women, Kurds, Persians, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and Baluchis are currently fighting side by side against the repressive regime in Tehran.

Fighting is the right keyword here, because the Iranian state allowed the demonstrations to escalate within a very short time, resulting in real street battles in many places. After attempts to ban the demonstrations failed, they tried to beat people off the streets. The "morality police", "riot control police" and sometimes even the military were sent in to bring the situation under control. But the people drove the security forces back. Women tore their hijabs off their heads in public spaces and burned them, as the Yazidis did when they were liberated from the "Islamic State" (ISIS). The Iranian state flag was taken down from poles in many places and pictures of the Iranian leadership were burnt.

Three central demands of the protesters seem to be emerging in the ongoing popular uprisings:

- An investigation into the murder of Amini and conviction of the killers

- An end to femicidal policies in Iran

- An end to the Islamic regime in Iran

In recent years, there have been repeated protests in Iran. But the size and spread of the current uprisings seems much broader. The same is true of the anger of the masses against the regime. International solidarity is also very large. Especially on social media, hundreds of thousands of people are exerting pressure and have ensured that the uprising of women and the people of Iran in general also finds its place in the mainstream press. Solidarity actions with the protests in Iran have taken place and continue to take place around the world. Most recently, even the online activists of "Anonymous" got involved and started "Operation Iran". According to their own information, they were able to take several state websites, the central news platform, the website of the central bank and over 300 surveillance cameras off the net.

Developments in the last few days

Shortly before Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi gave his speech at the United Nations in New York on 21 September, in which he kept quiet about the developments in his own country, the internet was cut off in large parts of Iran and especially in Eastern Kurdistan. First, social media platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp were blocked, then the entire internet was shut down. In this way, the Iranian regime is not only trying to stop communication among the protesters, but also to prevent information about the events from reaching the outside world. People fear a total escalation on the part of the regime. There are various figures on those killed and wounded. For example, the Hengaw Organisation for Human Rights published the following figures on 22 September: 15 people killed, 733 injured, dozens abducted and several thousand arrests with an upward trend. According to the information, the following people have been killed by the Iranian security forces so far (almost all the cities mentioned are Eastern Kurdish cities and most of those killed are Kurds):

In Ûrmiye: Farjad Darwishi, Abdulla Mohammadpour, Matin Abdullapour, Dansh Rahnima, Amin Marafat, Milan Haqiqi and Sadruddin Litani.

In Dîwandere: Foad Qadimi and Mohsen Mohammadi

In Seqiz: Faridoun Mahmoudi

In Kirmaşan (Kermanshah): Mino Majidi

In Şahabad (Islamabad-e-gharb): Saeid Mohammadi

In Îlam: Mohsen Qaisari

In Dêgûlan (Dehgolan): Reza Lotfi

Pîranşar (Piranschahr): Zakarya Khayal

As things stand, various statements and rumours are spreading on social media. For example, a state of emergency is said to have been declared in Seqiz and other cities, and the military is said to have marched into the cities with tanks. Elsewhere, it was repeatedly reported that soldiers and police were shooting at civilians with live ammunition.

But despite the escalating violence by the Iranian regime, it can already be said that the uprisings will bring profound changes. The mullahs' regime has so far used fear and violence to silence the people. The wall of silence has now been broken. The people - especially women - have now risen up and once again become aware of themselves and their power.