June 8, 2019
Authorities in Iran have shut down a nonprofit high school in the city of Mahabad, northwestern Iran, for holding a mixed-gender traditional Kurdish dance party.
With an estimated population of 200,000, Mahabad is a mainly Sunni Kurd city.
The representative of the city of Urmia, the capital of West Azerbaijan Province, confirmed the closure of the school after a video circulated on social media enraged hard-line Shi’a.
The short clip showed Sunni Kurd teachers and schoolgirls dancing side by side to Kurdish music.
Urmia MP Hadi Bahari, who is also a member of the board supervising nonprofit schools in West Azerbaijan, said on June 7, “In a session held last week, it was decided to close down the school and cancel its license for good.”
However, a local news outlet run by the Kurdish minority in western Iran, KurdPress, reported that the school’s headmaster had not yet received the official order to shut down the school.
Reportedly, the controversial party was initially held on May 1 but first appeared on a Telegram channel on May 15.
That day coincided with the anniversary of the death of the Shi’a’s first imam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, in 661 AD. Shi’a worldwide mourn his death each year.
Following the circulation of the controversial video on Telegram, Mahabad’s Friday Prayer imam, mid-ranking Sunni cleric Mamosta Abdos-Salam Emami, said the clip had nothing to do with the imam’s death anniversary.
Nonetheless, judicial and education authorities of the province declared on May 28 that the headmaster had been fired.
They said the teachers who took part in the dance party were under “thorough review” and the school’s license might be revoked. Kurdish traditional dancing features men and women holding hands in a circle, with one or two dancers in the center.
According to the Encyclopedia of Islam, Kurds sing and dance at birthdays, Norouz (the first day of the Iranian calendar new year), weddings, and other ceremonies and festivals.
Kurds maintain that the traditional mixed-gender dances are a mainstay of their culture.
The row over the dance party at the Mahabad school is reminiscent of similar recent events in the Iranian capital, Tehran.
Amateur video posted early last May online showed Iranian schoolchildren dancing to a song by a U.S.-based Iranian rap singer, and it angered conservatives to the extent that deputy parliament speaker Ali Motahari said school principals should be fired and the education minister held accountable.
Domestic media reported that the dancing appeared to have been part of Teachers’ Day celebrations across the country.
Iran’s official news agency (IRNA) reported on May 6 that Education Minister Mohammad Bat’haei had resigned in order to run parliament in February 2020.
However, analysts believe the recent row over the circulation of the videos showing dancing schoolgirls on social media, as well as numerous teachers’ strikes to protest low wages across the country, are the reasons for Bat’haei’s “forced” resignation.