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Kurdish separatism in Iran
PJAK fighters.jpg
PJAK fighters in 2012 (VoA image)
Date1918 (1918)–present[1][2]
(main phase 1943[3][4]-present)[3]
LocationIran, Iran-Iraqi Kurdistan border areas


  • Several tribal revolts, including Simko's, suppressed
  • 1946 attempt to establish Republic of Mahabad failed
  • Political crackdown on Kurdish political associations in Iran[5]
  • Cease fire between Iran and PJAK established in September 2011, but fighting resumed in 2013

Iran Imperial state of Iran

Iran Council of the Islamic Revolution

Shikak tribesemen

Republic of Mahabad

  • KDP-I
  • Komalah

supported by:
 Soviet Union

Commanders and leaders

Iran Reza Shah Pahlavi
Iran Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi
Iran Ali Razmara

Iran Ali Khamenei
Iran Mohammad Ali Jafari Iran Mohsen Rezaee
Iran Ali Sayad Shirazi
Iran Sadegh Khalkhali
Iran Qasim Ali Zahir Nejad
Iran Naser kazemi
Iran Mostafa Chamran
Iran Mohammad Boroujerdi
Iran Mahmoud Kaveh
Iran Hamid Bakeri
Iran Mehdi Bakeri
Iran Mohammad Vali Gharani

Iran Ahmad Motevaselian

Simko Shikak

Qazi Muhammad Executed
Mustafa Barzani
Ahmed Barzani
Ja'far Pishevari
Ahmad Kordary #
Soviet Union Salahuddin Kazimov

Haji Ahmadi
Majid Kavian

Murat Karasac
Casualties and losses
4,000 killed (1980-2000)[6]
(According to the KDP-I)

2,000 killed 1946-7
30,000 civilians killed 1980-2000 (according to the KDPI)[6]
456-891 killed 2004-present

Total: 36,500+ casualties

Kurdish separatism in Iran[7] or the Kurdish–Iranian conflict[8][9] is an ongoing,[1][3][7][10] long running, separatist dispute between the Kurdish opposition in Western Iran and the governments of Iran,[7] lasting since the emergence of Pahlavi Reza Shah in 1918.[1]

The earliest Kurdish separatist activities in modern times refer to tribal revolts in today's West Azerbaijan Province of Imperial State of Iran, prompted in between of the two World Wars - the major of those were led by Simko Shikak, Jafar Sultan and Hama Rashid. Many however, put the starting point of the organized Kurdish political-nationalist separatism to 1943,[3] when Komala shortly afterwards KDPI began their political activities in Iran, aiming to gain partial or complete self-rule in Kurdish regions. Transformation from tribal to Kurdish political struggle in Iran took place in the aftermath of World War II, with the bold separatist attempt of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) to establish the Republic of Mahabad during the 1946 Iran crisis.[3] The Soviet supported attempt to establish a Kurdish state in Western Iran failed.[3][11] More than a decade later, peripheral tribal uprisings,[3] launched with KDPI support through 1966–7, Kurdish regions suffered a major blow. In the most violent episode of the conflict, more than 30,000 Kurds died starting with the 1979 rebellion and the consequent KDPI insurgency.[6]

Though KDPI's armed struggle ended in late 1996, another Kurdish armed organization emerged in Iran by early 2000s. Insurrection led by PJAK in Western Iran started in 2004 and is ongoing to this day.[12]

The government of Iran has never employed the same level of brutality against its Kurds as did Turkey or Iraq, but it has always been implacably opposed to any suggestion of Kurdish separatism.[13] Unlike in other Middle Eastern countries with Kurdish populations, there are strong ethnolinguistical and cultural ties between Kurds and Persians as Iranian peoples.[13] According to Kreyenbroek, many Kurds in Iran have shown no interest in Kurdish nationalism,[13] especially Shia Kurds, who even vigorously reject idea of autonomy, preferring direct rule from Tehran.[13][14] Iranian national identity is questioned mainly in the peripheral Kurdish Sunni regions.[15]



Tribalism and early nationalism

Simko's first revolt (1918–1922)

Simko Shikak revolt refers to an armed Turkey-backed[16][17] tribal Kurdish uprising against the Qajar dynasty of Iran from 1918-1922, led by Kurdish chieftain Simko Shikak from Turcophone Shekak tribe.[18] This tribal rebellion is sometimes regarded as first major bid for establishing independent Kurdistan in Iran,[19] but scholars see revolt as attempt by a powerful tribal chief to establish his personal authority vis-à-vis the central government throughout the region.[20] Although elements of Kurdish nationalism were present in this movement, historians agree these were hardly articulate enough to justify a claim that recognition of Kurdish identity was a major issue in Simko's movement, and he had to rely heavily on conventional tribal motives.[20] It lacked any kind of administrative organization and Simko was primary interesting in plunder.[19] Government forces and non-Kurds were not the only ones to suffer in the attacks, the Kurdish population was also robbed and assaulted.[20] Simko's men do not appear to have felt any sense of unity or solidarity with fellow Kurds.[20] Historian Ervand Abrahamian calls Simko as "notorious" for allegedly massacring thousands Assyrians and supposedly "harassing" democrats,[21] and Mehrdad Izady holds him responsible for killing Alevite Kurds.[22] Still, Kurdish ethnicists today revere Simko as a hero of independence.[10]

1926 Simko rebellion in Iran

By 1926, Simko had regained control of his tribe and begun another outright rebellion against the state.[23] When the army engaged him, half of his troops defected to the tribe’s previous leader and Simqu fled to Iraq.[23]

Jafar Sultan revolt

Jafar Sultan of Hewraman region took control of the region between Marivan and north of Halabja and remained independent until 1925. Despite the attempts to subdue him under the central rule, the tribal leader revolted in 1929, but was effectively crushed.

Political separatism

Mahabad crisis

Qazi Muhammad and Mustafa Barzani during the 1946 events

The danger of fragmentation in modern Iran became evident shortly after Second World War when Soviet Union's refused to relinquish occupied North Western Iranian territory.[13] Iran crisis of 1946 included a separatist attempt of KDP-I and communist groups[24] to establish the Soviet puppet government,[25][26][27] and declare the Republic of Mahabad in Iranian Kurdistan (today's southern part of West Azerbaijan Province). It arose along with Azerbaijan People's Government, another Soviet puppet state.[13][28] The state itself encompassed a very small territory, including Mahabad and the adjacent cities, unable to incorporate the southern Iranian Kurdistan, which fell inside the Anglo-American zone, and unable to attract the tribes outside Mahabad itself to the nationalist cause.[13] As a result, when the Soviets withdrew from Iran in December 1946, government forces were able to enter Mahabad unopposed.[13] Some 1,000 died during the crisis.[3]

Iran crisis of 1946 included an attempt of the KDPI to establish an independent Kurdish-dominated Republic of Mahabad in Iranian Kurdistan.[3] Though later several Marxist insurgencies continued for decades, led by KDP-I and Komala, but those two organization have never advocated a separate Kurdish state or greater Kurdistan as did the PKK in Turkey.[14][20][29][30]

1967 Kurdish revolt

In mid-1960s a series of Kurdish tribal disturbances erupted in Western Iran, fed up by the revival of the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I).[1] In 1967-8 Iranian government troops suppressed a Kurdish revolt in Western Iran,[3] consolidating the previous Kurdish uprisings in Mahabad-Urumiya region.

1979 rebellion

1979 Kurdish rebellion in Iran was an insurrection led by the KDPI and its allies in Iranian Kurdistan, which became the most violent rebellion against the new Iranian regime, following the Islamic Revolution. The rebellion ended in December 1982, with 10,000 killed and 200,000 displaced.[3]

KDPI insurgency

Insurrection by the KDPI took place in Iranian Kurdistan through early and mid-90s, initiated by assassination of its [[Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou |leader]] in exile in July 1989. The KDPI insurrection ended in 1996, following a successful Iranian campaign of targeted assassinations of KDPI leaders and crackdown on its support bases in Western Iran. In 1996, KDPI announced a unilateral cease fire, and has since acted at low profile.[citation needed]

PJAK insurrection

Iran–PJAK conflict is an ongoing rebellion of PJAK in which hundreds Kurdish militants and Iranian forces as well as civilians have died, officially lasting since April 2004.[3] PJAK is based in the border area with Iraqi Kurdistan and is affiliated with the Marxist PKK from Turkey,[31] though PJAK themselves tend to neglect this alleged relation. Although sometimes described as organization demanding more human rights for Kurds in Iran, it is regarded as separatist by Iranian media and various Western analysts.[7][31][32] The PJAK goal is an establishment of a Kurdish autonomy and according to Habeeb they do not pose any serious threat to the regime of the Islamic Republic.[7]

In one of the first actions of the Obama administration, PJAK was declared a "terrorist organization".[31][32] PJAK and Iranian government agreed on cease-fire, following the 2011 Iranian offensive on PJAK bases. After the cease fire agreement, a number of clashes between PJAK and IRGC took place in 2012,[10] and by mid-2013, the fighting resumed.

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Benjamin Smith. Land and Rebellion: Kurdish Separatism in Comparative Perspective.P.10. "The Kurds of Iran: Opportunistic and Failed Resistance, 1918‐". [1] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "cornell10" defined multiple times with different content
  2. AYLIN ÜNVER NOI. The Arab Spring - its effects on the Kurds and the approaches of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq on the Kurdish issue. Gloria Center. 1 July 2012. "There is a long history of tension between the Kurds and the government in Iran. This began with Reza Shah Pahlavi recapturing the lands that Kurdish leaders had gained control of between 1918 and 1922."; "Iran fears that the creation of a semi-autonomous state in northern Iraq might motivate its own Kurdish minority to press for greater independence. However, Iran’s concern about Kurdish separatism does not approach the level of Turkey’s concern. Still, there have been repeated clashes between Kurds and Iranian security forces" [2]
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 University of Arkansas. Political Science department. Iran/Kurds (1943-present). Retrieved 09 September 2012. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. Iran: Freedom of Expression and Association in the Kurdish Regions. 2009. "This 42-page report documents how Iranian authorities use security laws, press laws, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Iranian Kurds solely for trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association. The use of these laws to suppress basic rights, while not new, has greatly intensified since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power in August 2005." [5]
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Hicks, Neil. The human rights of Kurds in the Islamic Republic of Iran, April 2000. [6] Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "hicks2000" defined multiple times with different content
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Habeeb, William Mark; Frankel, Rafael D.; Al-Oraibi, Mina (2012). The Middle East in Turmoil: Conflict, Revolution, and Change. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 46. ISBN 9780313339141. OCLC 753913763.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "habeeb" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Bhutani, Surendra (1980). "Contemporary Gulf". Academic Press. p. 32. .
  9. "Near East, North Africa report". 1994. .
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Elling, Rasmus Christian (2013). Minorities in Iran: Nationalism and Ethnicity after Khomeini. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-11584-2. OCLC 714725127.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "elling" defined multiple times with different content
  11. "The Kurdish Warrior Tradition and the Importance of the Peshmerga" (PDF). pp. 27–28. .
  12. Shifrinson, Itzkowitz JR. "The Kurds and Regional Security: An Evaluation of Developments since the Iraq War" (PDF). MIT. "More indicative of the PKK’s growing power was its 2004 establishment of the Party for a Free Life in Iranian Kurdistan (PEJAK or PJAK) as a sister organization with the goal of fomenting Kurdish separatism in Iran by fostering Kurdish nationalism therein." .
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 Kreyenbroek, Philip G.; Sperl, Stefan (1992). The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. London; New York: Routledge. pp. 17–19. ISBN 9780415072656. OCLC 24247652. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Romano, David (2006). The Kurdish Nationalist Movement: Opportunity, Mobilization and Identity. Cambridge Middle East studies, 22.. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 240. ISBN 9780521850414. OCLC 61425259. 
  15. Abrahamian, Ervand (2008). A History of Modern Iran. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 195. ISBN 9780521528917. OCLC 171111098. 
  16. Bruinessen, Martin (2006). "Chapter 5: A Kurdish warlord on the Turkish-Persian frontier in the early Twentieth century: Isma'il Aqa Simko". In Atabaki, Touraj. Iran and the First World War: Battleground of the Great Powers. Library of modern Middle East studies, 43. London; New York: I.B. Tauris. pp. 18–21. ISBN 9781860649646. OCLC 56455579. 
  17. Allen, William Edward David; Muratoff, Paul (1953). Caucasian battlefields: A History of the Wars on the Turco-Caucasian border, 1828-1921. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 296. OCLC 1102813. 
  18. Oberling, Pierre (20 July 2004). "Kurdish Tribes". Encyclopædia Iranica. New York. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Entessar, Nader (2010). Kurdish Politics in the Middle East. Lanham: Lexington Books. p. 17. ISBN 9780739140390. OCLC 430736528. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 Kreyenbroek, Philip G.; Sperl, Stefan (1992). The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. London; New York: Routledge. pp. 138–141. ISBN 9780415072656. OCLC 24247652. 
  21. Abrahamian, Ervand (1982). Iran Between Two Revolutions. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 115. ISBN 9780691053424. OCLC 7975938. 
  22. Izady, Mehrdad (1992). The Kurds: A Concise Handbook. Washington: Crane Russak. p. 58. ISBN 9780844817293. OCLC 25409394. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Smith B. Land and Rebellion: Kurdish Separatism in Comparative Perspective. [7]
  24. Zabih, Sepehr (December 15, 1992). Communism ii.. in Encyclopædia Iranica. New York: Columbia University
  25. Romano, David (2006). The Kurdish Nationalist Movement: Opportunity, Mobilization and Identity. Cambridge Middle East studies, 22.. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press. p. 227. ISBN 9780521850414. OCLC 61425259. 
  26. Chelkowski, Peter J.; Pranger, Robert J. (1988). Ideology and Power in the Middle East: Studies in Honor of George Lenczowski. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 399. ISBN 9780822307815. OCLC 16923212. 
  27. Abrahamian, Ervand (1982). Iran Between Two Revolutions. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. pp. 217–218. ISBN 9780691053424. OCLC 7975938. 
  28. Chubin, Shahram; Zabih, Sepehr (1974). The Foreign Relations of Iran: A Developing State in a Zone of Great-Power Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 39–41, 178. ISBN 9780520026834. OCLC 1219525. 
  29. Abrahamian, Ervand (1982). Iran Between Two Revolutions. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 453. ISBN 9780691053424. OCLC 7975938. 
  30. Yodfat, Aryeh (1984). The Soviet Union and Revolutionary Iran. New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312749101. OCLC 9282694. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Katzman, Kenneth (2009). Iraq: Post-Saddam Governance and Security. New York: Nova Science Publishers. p. 32. ISBN 9781614701163. OCLC 756496931. 
  32. 32.0 32.1 Lovelace, Douglas C. (2009). Terrorism: Documents of International and Local Control. 110. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 445. ISBN 9780195398151. OCLC 693185463. 

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