Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with Kurds in Sanandaj (Sinna) province during his election campaign last year. Photo: ISNA.
LOS ANGELES, USA – Kurds stepping to the Halperka beat also featured in the street celebrations across Iran after Tehran signed a landmark nuclear deal with world powers on Tuesday.
But what does the agreement, which lifts decades of crippling international sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program, mean for its Kurds? How will it affect the suffering of a historically marginalized and suppressed minority?
Esmail Ebrahimi, a Vancouver-based political analyst, said that, instead of enhancing the power of the regime, the agreement will cause it to lose support.
“The agreement is an ideological contradiction to what the Islamic Republic of Iran is based on: ‘a holy regime against Western Imperialism.’ Their fans are disappointed and question the regime” Ebrahimi said.
“Iranians will also notice that despite the lifting of sanctions the economy will remain crippled, if not worsened. Hopefully, that will end in a great awakening,” he added.
But he believes it will mean greater neglect of Iran’s estimated 7 million Kurds, who suffer in the country’s most deprived regions.
“Before reaching an agreement Iran had some motivation to reduce suppression,” Ebrahimi said. “But now that they are an ally of the West, their crimes will be swept under the rug.”
Activists believe that decades of crimes against the Kurds in Turkey have gone largely unrecognized in the mainstream media because Ankara remains a NATO member and US ally.
Majid Hakki, founder of the CAPK Academy, a Kurdish civil society NGO in Finland, is more hopeful that Kurds in Iran will benefit from the nuclear deal and lifting of sanctions.
“For the first time, Iran solved a problem through negotiation and not war,” he said. “They are also under pressure to improve the situation of human rights in Iran. This is the best opportunity for the Kurds.”
He added that this is “a critical moment” for Iranian Kurds.
“It’s time for us to become one voice, have strategy and plans and a concrete list of demands to be presented to the Iranian regime. If they refuse those, we can now appeal to the Western world and put pressure on Iran to respect our rights. Iran will not be able to ignore us this time, because if they do, sanctions will be put back.”
Despite promises made by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his election campaign last year, the lot of Kurds in Iran has not improved. Iran has executed several Kurdish activists over the past year.
Shahed Alevi, a writer and activist based in Washington DC, said he was both joyous and cynical over the Iran nuclear deal.
“The good side of the deal is that the increasing economic pressure on Kurds -- who are among the poorest in Iran -- will be reduced,” he said. “This doesn’t mean they will be wealthy now, but the speed with which they were getting poorer will decrease.”
“The bad side of the deal is that Iran has only agreed with the deal out of weakness,” according to Alevi. “To make up for that weakness and to re-establish their power, they will be putting more political pressure on all, especially the Kurds. I am worried about Kurdish prisoners and activists.”
Kurdish-Canadian filmmaker Soran Mardokhi said he believes the lifting of sanctions will mean better economic conditions for everyone in Iran, including the Kurds of Eastern Kurdistan.
“I'm hopeful that this nuclear agreement and lifting of the sanctions will have a positive economic impact. The people of Eastern Kurdistan live within the boundaries of Iran, and any such improvement will definitely have a positive impact on their lives as well,” Mardokhi said.
But he cautioned that, while the Kurds will benefit economically, Tehran’s policy towards its Kurds will not change.
“ I do not believe that there will be any changes in Iranian domestic policy with regards to the Kurds,” he said.
Tuesday’s deal, for Iran to scale back its controversial nuclear enrichment program, follows nine years of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.