Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during on his first visit to the country's Kurdish province. Photo IRNA
LOS ANGELES, USA - In his country’s Kurdish heartland, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani made new promises to his country’s millions of Kurds last week. He promised they would receive long-awaited permission to study in their own language at state universities, and better infrastructure in what are Iran’s most neglected regions.
Speaking in Sanandaj (Sina), the capital city of Iranian Kurdistan on his first visit to the province after two years in office, Rouhani promised 11 dams built over the next two years, and said he would look into building new roads.
But Kurdish commentators note that the new promises came as old ones – made to Kurds during Rouhani’s election campaign -- remain unfulfilled.
“Surprisingly, Rouhani won over 70 percent of the votes in Kurdistan, a sign of naive optimism that people felt but soon realized that these were empty promises,” said Amir Sharifi, a professor at California State University.
He noted that no Kurdish officials were given even local posts, not even as a governor, and recalled the government had added insult to injury by claiming it could find no qualified Kurdish candidates for any of the important posts.
“Even though Kurds in Iran supported Rouhani, ever since he has gained power my people have only seen more executions and terror,” said Golrokh Ghobadi, an Iranian in Sweden who has recently published her memoirs, Poppies on Rocks: Life and Time of a Kurdish woman in Iran.
“For no crime other than demanding their basic human rights, Kurds continue to be arrested, tortured and killed,” she added.
“He is only bribing the Kurds to gain their trust, to distract them from the realities of Kurds’ situation in neighbouring countries,” said Toronto-based activist Minoo Homily.
Kurdish commentators note the history of broken promises and suppresson of the Kurds by successive governments in Iran.
“Given the history of untrustworthiness demonstrated by the Persian regimes toward the Kurds, it will be a full-hearted naiveté by the Kurds to believe in such a promise,” said Ardishir Rashidi, president and founder of Kurdish American Education Society, referring to Rouhani’s newest pledges.
“Any credence to his comment must be viewed from the perspective of the Kurdish-Persian history and relations, and the past and present policies of the Iranian governments toward the Kurds,” he added.
The timing of the Rouhani’s visit – which follows an important nuclear deal Iran signed with world powers last month – is also important, commentators note.
“Choosing Kurdistan province as the first place to visit right after the nuclear deal with the West shows the importance of Kurdistan and its people during the Islamic Revolution and their role in protecting Iran,” Rouhani told the press upon his arrival at Sina airport.
“The trip has internal, regional and international objectives,” said Sharifi, the US-based scholar and human rights activist. “After the nuclear deal, regionally Rouhani is attempting to downplay the role of Kurds in the fight against ISIS and magnify the Islamic Republic’s role as the major force to fight terrorism,” he added.
“Iran feels threatened by the momentum the Kurds have with the relative autonomy they have gained in Iraq and Syria. Rouhani is trying to lure Kurds to trust the Iranian government and not other Kurds,” according to Homily.
“The Iranian regime fears the rise of the Kurdish awakening toward national rights, more than the danger posed by Israel or the United States,” said Rashidi, commenting on the reason Rouhani picked Kurdistan as his first destination since the nuclear deal.
Kurds say they have seen no improvement in their community’s situation since Rouhani became president two years ago. The only change is that Iran is now more aware that Kurds sympathize with other Kurds across the border, they say.
“The Iranian regime is fully aware of the affinity of the Kurdish kinship toward their brethren in other parts of the Greater Kurdistan than their taken-for-granted kinship toward the Persians on the basis of Islamic brotherhood as Mr. Rohani has stated,” Rashidi said.
“If Rouhani really cares about Kurds, he should start by attending to their biggest issues such as unemployment, poverty and substance abuse and not by allowing a few hours of Kurdish literacy in a post-secondary level. The least he could do was to allow it in kindergarten and elementary school, not university,” Ghobadi told Rudaw.
Besides a history of suppression, Iran’s Kurds have other reason’s to mistrust governments in Tehran.
In July 1989, Iranian Kurdish leader Abdulrahman Ghassemlou was assassinated in Vienna during secret negotiations with Iranian government agents. Three years later his successor, Sadegh Sharafkandi, was assassinated in a Berlin restaurant by suspected agents of the Iranian regime.
The piece was originally published in Rudaw