By Shahed Alavi
July 16, 2019
News has emerged that a coalition of Kurdish politicians had recently entered into talks with Islamic Republic officials, generating hope that a longstanding dispute and a history of violence could finally reach a resolution.
However, almost as soon as the news was published on a website based in Iraqi Kurdistan on June 7, officials pulled it down to ensure an agreement was met to keep details of the meeting secret.
Attempts to quash the news were unsuccessful, however, because despite the story being removed, details from the Kurdish report had already been shared on Facebook.
According to the original report, four Iranian Kurdish opposition parties working together under an umbrella organization called the Cooperation Center of Iranian Kurdistan’s Political Parties had dispatched a team to Norway to negotiate with Iranian representatives.
In the following days, however, it emerged that the purpose of the meeting was not to negotiate in the strict sense of the word but to come to an agreement on preconditions for future negotiations.
The first round of discussions took place at the invitation of an NGO, the Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution (NOREF), which served as both the mediator and the host to the negotiations. The four-member Kurdish team included the deputies to the secretary generals of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI), Komala Toilers Party of Kurdistan and the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, as well as a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan. (The two Komala parties were once one unified party, until a split in 2007.) The Iranian team was led by the veteran diplomat Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, the former deputy to the permanent Iranian representative at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.
A source close to the Iranian team told IranWire that the Kurdish parties and the Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution had demanded that a well-known diplomat be selected as the head of the Iranian negotiating team out of fear that the dramatic and violent events of 30 years ago, when Abdul Rahman Ghasemlou, the former Secretary-General of Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, was assassinated, might be repeated.
In 1979, the KDPI supported the Iranian revolution. But soon relations between the newly-established central government in Tehran and the Kurds, who wanted autonomy and had occupied military installations in Kurdish areas, turned into an armed conflict, ending in the defeat of Kurdish rebels after nearly four years. Several years later, as the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war came to a close, Islamic Republic officials offered to negotiate with Ghasemlou, who was then based in Paris. After several meetings took place, another meeting was scheduled in Vienna for July 13, 1989. But it turned out to be a trap. The bodyguard for the two members of the Iranian delegation was in fact an assassin sent by Tehran, and he was successful in his mission to kill Ghasemlou.
The preconditions for the new round of talks, says IranWire’s source, forced “the Supreme National Security Council of Iran to put Sajjadpour, known to European diplomatic circles, as the head of the delegation, instead of a military or security figure that the council would have preferred.” The other members of the delegation, the source said, were people in Iran’s security apparatus, “although they have diplomatic passports.”
Satisfactory but Not Enough
According to the same source, the first round of meetings took place on Saturday, June 29, and the parties, including the Norwegian intermediary, found the discussions satisfactory overall. “The Iranian side highlighted that Article 15 and Article 19 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic guarantees the rights of minorities in Iran, including Kurds. But the Kurdish side, while conceding that those two articles do protect certain minority rights, stated that they were not enough and did not satisfy their demands. So we must expect long and difficult negotiations ahead.”
Article 15 of the Iranian constitution declares Persian as the official language of the country, but adds: “The use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian.” Article 19 states: “All people of Iran, whatever the ethnic group or tribe to which they belong, enjoy equal rights; and color, race, language, and the like do not bestow any privilege.”
According to the source, the negotiating teams were to return for consultations with their superiors and would meet again in the near future. However, now that it has emerged that the Kurdish side has not kept the meetings confidential, plans for the next meeting could be delayed or even canceled. “One of the conditions set by the Iranian side and agreed to by the Norwegian mediator was the confidential nature of the meeting,” he said, “but this condition was violated when Omar Ilkhanizadeh, Secretary-General of the leftist Komala Toilers Party of Kurdistan, gave several interviews about the meeting with the representatives of the Islamic Republic” [Persian video].
Nurturing Peace Initiatives
NOREF defines its mission as “working for the peaceful resolution of armed conflicts” through “nurturing informal peace initiatives among actors on the ground” and “supporting more formalized peace negotiations.” NOREF played an important role in the peace agreementbetween the Colombian government and the FARC [The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] insurgents, ending a 50-year armed conflict in the Latin American country that had cost more than 220,000 lives. It also played a key role in the peace negotiations between the government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). NOREF has also tried to play a role in negotiating peace in Syria, but has so far had no better luck than other groups that have tried to rise to the challenge of dealing with one of the deadliest conflicts of our time.
NOREF is perhaps hopeful that its initiative to solve the conflict between Kurdish groups and the Islamic Republic has a better chance of success.
The organization has refused to talk about the negotiations between the Iranian central government and the Kurdish coalition, or even to confirm whether such negotiations are taking place. But, according to IranWire’s Iranian source, in the first meetings, NOREF pursued its method of hosting first-time participating parties in discussions, providing a workshop for conflict-resolution dialogue which, according to one of the participants, was very interesting and informative.
In an interview, Ebrahim Alizadeh, Secretary-General of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, said that efforts to hold the meetings started a year and a half ago, when a team from NOREF met separately with the representative of the Kurdish parties and from the Iranian government [Kurdish video]. According to Alizadeh, the Kurds refused to accept NOREF’s invitation to negotiate with Iran, stating that preconditions be met prior to any discussions taking place. These demands included “ending the suppression and imprisonment of political and civil activists in Iran,” “freedom of political and union activities” and “removing obstacles to the return of civil and political activists who are wanted by Iranian law enforcement.”
A Dark History
Negotiations between Kurdish parties and movements and the Islamic Republic had taken place at two separate historical junctures under two different sets of conditions.
The first coincided with the early days after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with talks taking place on February 19, 1979 after the military garrison in Mahabad in the northwestern province of West Azerbaijan fell to the Kurdish rebels. At the time, Dariush Forouhar, Minister of Labor in Mehdi Bazargan’s interim government, led the team that negotiated with Kurdish representatives, whose prominent members included Abdul Rahman Ghasemlou, the Secretary-General of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Foad Mostafa Soltani from Komala, Kurdish political leader Sheikh Ezzedin Hosseini, Ghani Bolourian and Salah Mohtadi. The Kurdish side read out what became known as the Eight-Point Mahabad Resolution in the square outside the municipality building and handed a copy of the resolution to Forouhar [Persian text].
In late March 1979, after several days of bloody clashes that coincided with the Iranian new year holidays, talks were held again in Sanandaj, the capital of the Iranian province of Kurdistan, between the central government’s team led by Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani and the Kurdish delegation, which generally consisted of the same representatives who were present at the Mahabad negotiations. The talks led to a ceasefire in Sanandaj and the Kurdish side handed the government team another eight-point resolution.
In addition to these talks, during that period a number of representatives from Qom and Tehran visited Kurdistan on a few occasions to hold talks with representatives for Kurdish parties and with other Kurdish figures. One of the best-known visits was by Mostafa Chamran, Deputy Prime Minister for “Revolutionary Affairs” at the time, who met with Foad Mostafa Soltani from Komala and the City Council of Marivan. A few days after the meeting, on July 21, 1979, the people of Marivan vacated the town in protest against the policies of the central government and stayed away for two weeks [Persian link].
The second historical juncture was the assassination of Abdul Rahman Ghasemlou on July 13, 1989.
The Islamic Republic’s failure to stay faithful to its promises in the first historical juncture and its bloody deceit in the second one has naturally made the Kurds pessimistic about negotiations, which was evident in responses to the latest news about meetings between the four Kurdish parties and the central government.
Blood Still Flows
At the same time, limited armed clashes between the Revolutionary Guards and armed fighters affiliated with the Kurdish political parties [Peshmerga] continue. According to the website of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, 20 days before the meeting in Norway, nine members of the Revolutionary Guards were killed and 18 were injured during a clash between the party’s Peshmerga of the party and the Guards in the area of Oshnavieh in West Azerbaijan. According to the Revolutionary Guards, only two days after the meeting, two from each side were killed in a clash in the area of Chaldoran in the same province, although the Kurdish side denied that it had suffered any casualties [Persian link].
On July 9, the Revolutionary Guards announced that three of its members had been shot dead in the western city of Piranshahr. The semi-official Mehr news agency said Kurdish militants had killed the Revolutionary Guards in an ambush in a village near the Iran-Iraq border town of Piranshahr.
On July 12, in retaliation, the Revolutionary Guards bombarded areas in Iraqi Kurdistan, killing at least one young woman and injuring two. “Terrorist camps and training centers were attacked from Wednesday,” using rockets, drones and artillery, the Guards said in a statement published by its official website Sepah News. Iran had warned authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan not to allow “terrorist groups” to set up training camps close to the border with Iran but the warnings “had not been heeded,” the statement said, and claimed the targeted groups had tried to use “villagers as human shields” and asked the “noble people of Iraqi Kurdistan to distance themselves from the terrorist camps.”
Seldom a week goes by without people being killed or injured in these border areas, including civilians. Under such conditions, are there any realistic prospects for a reconciliation between the Kurds and the officials of the Islamic Republic?