The echo of Rojhelat’s “Jin Jiyan Azadi” slogan reaches Iraqi Kurdistan

While East Kurdistan’s [Rojhelat] and Iran’s protests are gaining worldwide attention and international support, little support has emerged from the Iraqi Kurdish community. In the Iraqi Kurdish region (KRG) intra-Kurdish rivalry between the Kurdistan Union Party (PUK) and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (PDK) as well as these parties’ political dependencies to neighboring States has limited the expressions of support to this struggle by the public of the Kurdistan Region.

Jina Amini, also known by her Persian-imposed name Mahsa Amini (as Iran, in a typical colonial manner, refuses to recognize Kurdish names), was a 22-year-old Kurdish woman from Saqqaz, aspiring to become a lawyer. However, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s regime ended her dream on 16 September 2022 as she was severely beaten while in the custody of morality police for not wearing the compulsory hijab correctly.

Despite the regime’s attempts to hide the cause of death from the public, the story eventually broke out, thanks to journalist Niloofar Hamedi, who was later arrested for breaking the news.

Details of the abuse Jina suffered spread across Iran and beyond, initiating riots in all Kurdish cities in Iran. Later almost all provinces of the country followed suit, from Rojhelat (Kurdistan) to Baluchistan, from Iran’s Azerbaijan province to Khuzestan, not to mention the Persian provinces of Iran, including its capital. All demanded the end of theistic dictatorship, patriarchy, and compulsory hijab. 

Simultaneously, Kurds in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq started organizing protests in support of the people of Iran and, specifically, the Kurdish provinces in Iran that have been facing systematic discrimination, prosecution, and bans on language in official and governmental institutions. 

The KRG’s reaction

Organizing protests in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region is always tricky. The ruling parties have strong ties with the neighboring countries, especially those known for oppressing their own Kurdish minorities inside their borders. These same governments do not hesitate to breach into the Kurdistan Region in order to confront Kurdish oppositional forces taking refuge within KRG’s mountainous borders. 

The political, economic, and sometimes military agreements that the local parties have with these countries make it difficult for the Kurdish communities of KRG to protest the States waging terror on Kurds in other parts of the greater Kurdistan. In this case, PUK, the ruling party in Sulaymaniyah, has been suppressing the demonstrations more than PDK in Erbil. 

The first protest in support of East Kurdistan and Iran’s people broke out in the Kurdistan Region’s capital, Erbil. The demonstration was well received and attended by many Kurdish groups from different parts of Kurdistan. 

Hayv, a feminist-leftist activist invested in the Kurdish national question, attended the protest and said, “the PDK forces were not so violent against the protesters as we would usually expect them to be during demonstrations.” She added, “but this is not shocking, as the PDK has a strong relationship with Turkey against Iran, unlike PUK, which is closer to Iran.” Even with these political ties that favor Turkey over Iran, the Asaiysh in Erbil still did not allow the protestors to march toward the Iranian consulate.

She also noted that one time during the recurring Turkish bombardment of Kurdish areas in the Kurdistan Region, her friends tried to protest in front of the Turkish embassy, and they were arrested immediately. PDK doesn’t allow any opposition against Turkey inside its territories.

Containing the uproar

Hayv believes these protests should be publicly supported and aided. “[B]ut I see a lack of that both politically and in media coverage too.” The activist criticizes the Kurdish media outlets, such as Rudaw, close to PDK, for their way of covering the protests. She believes that they are displaying provocative content such as the burning of hijabs out of context instead of focusing on the brave women and men standing for their rights against tyranny and shouting the slogan ‘Jin, Jiyan, Azadi,’ which translates to Women, Life, Freedom.

The slogan was coined by the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan, and since 2013 these three words have become the symbol of Kurdish feminist resistance against patriarchy, imperialism, and capitalism. The people have adopted it in Rojhelat and other Iranian people resisting the regime, popularizing and bringing worldwide attention to it and the science of Jineology.

Sulaymaniyah also organized a show of solidarity in Azadi Park, with the participation of many women’s political organizations from all four parts of Kurdistan, which was a unique circumstance as usually the Kurdish parties rarely rally together. However, these parties’ women’s rights branches united under the slogan Women, Life, Freedom in support of the women resisting the regime in Eastern Kurdistan and Iran. 

Days later, the people of Sulaymaniyah, this time, tried to organize a broader protest to show solidarity. However, the Asaiysh force did not allow this. “We saw many journalists and reporters coughing with tears in their eyes,” says Sawen Gelas, an International Studies student and a feminist activist who participated in the protest. “We realized that the police force used tear gas against the people even before starting the protests!” she adds.

The protesters were blocked in an alley while trying to break through into the main street, which they had the permit to do, but the police force overwhelmed them and clashed with protesters, Ms. Gelas recalls. 

A protester arrested by the Asaiysh force said he was humiliated, beaten, and cursed at. He recalls being told, “screw you and the Kurdistan you are fighting for” “I was shocked to hear such remarks from a Kurd, but in the end, we have to know these people’s loyalty is not for Kurdistan.”

Upgrading repression

The Islamic Republic of Iran did not satisfy itself by making the parties close to it shut down and arrest protesters. It also started a series of bombardments on the borders and Kurdish villages suspected of hosting headquarters of Kurdish Iranian opposition political parties. 

Ms. Gelas said that her relatives in the village of Zirgwez had to escape the Iranian ballistic missiles and suicide drones that targeted the area wounding and killing tens of civilians and members of the Kurdish opposition, including women and infants.

“When my relatives returned, it was the KDP-I (Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan) that warned them to stay safe and evacuate the area because there might be new attacks,” Ms. Gelas adds, “it was the Eastern Kurdish parties helping us stay safe not the ones in KRG who are supposedly in control of those areas.” 

Turkey and Iran have a history of repeatedly bombing mountains, consulates, headquarters, natural resorts, and automobiles inside KRI’s territories. Along with carrying out assassinations, the latest victim was Nagihan Akarsel, a women’s rights activist and co-founder of Jineoloji Academy Center. She was assassinated by two men on a motorbike in front of her house in Sulaymaniyah on October 4th 2022. 

Later, the two men were caught by PUK while fleeing into KDP-controlled areas. Her friends say that the MIT agency was behind the assassination out of their fear of spreading the Women, Life, Freedom ideology, which trembles their patriarchal power grid.

The protests in Iran have been going on for more than a month now. The regime targets and kidnaps protestors on daily bases. Kurdistan and Balochistan have the highest number of deaths by the regime. 

Regarding the expectation of the people of Eastern Kurdistan, Tofan, a student activist, says, “it is true people of East Kurdistan expect support from the South (Iraqi Kurdistan) specifically; however, we also understand their circumstances and the violence displayed by the parties there against the people.” 

“For instance, we know Iran is pressuring the KRG to force the Kurdish Iranian parties to abandon their headquarters and disarm themselves,” he continues, “we also recognize how the representative of the KRG rejected these demands.” He adds, “and how the people of the villages helped the families in the East-Kurdistan-refugee-camps located in the KRI which Iran shelled; they provided aid and opened their homes for them.”

A few days ago, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani received Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Diplomacy, Mahdi Safar, and Deputy Trade Minister, Ali Fikri, in Erbil. The meeting has been looked at with suspicion because of the timing. Official statements announced that the meeting focused on strengthening the economic relation between Erbil and Tehran. Nevertheless, the people are worried it was for more than that.

Regarding solidarity between militants in Iran, Tofan also says that “all the nations of Iran are uniting against the regime; the Kurds, Baloch, Turks, and Arabs and others are all raising slogans in support of each other.” The slogans are as follows “From Zahedan to Kurdistan, all of Iran is in blood,” and other slogans such as ‘Kurdistan is not alone, Azerbaijan is supporting’ ‘Kurdistan’s honor is Baluchistan’s honor.’ 

One reason for the recurrence of Kurdistan’s name in the slogans is that the protests first started there and spread to other provinces. 

The regime tried for decades to divide these minorities inside Iran and plant the seed of ethnic centrism to put them against each other. However, the widespread protests for the death of Jina Amini proved otherwise and united the different people against the rule of the mullahs. And this is the difference between current protests compared to the previous ones. The people on the streets in various cities are not protesting alone but altogether, suggests Tofan.

VIASwara Sur