As one of the four main states (Turkey, Iraq, and Syria are the other three) in which historical Kurdistan lies, Iran and its predecessor the Persian Empire have always played a most prominent role in Kurdish affairs. Much of the competition between the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Safavid dynasty (1502-1736) took place on their Kurdish frontiers. Turkish-Iranian rivalry in Kurdistan continues today for influence over the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.
   In 1880, Sheikh Ubeydullah of Nehri led possibly the most significant Kurdish revolt of the 19th century in the area along the Ottoman-Persian border. Although it was a tribal uprisng, Sheikh Ubeydullah employed ideas of Kurdish national consciousness. From 1918 until 1922, Ismail Agha Simko led another significant Kurdish tribal revolt in Iranian Kurdistan and even established an autonomous government until he was defeated and eventually assassinated by the government. The short-lived Mahabad Republic of Kurdistan (1946) under its famous leader Qazi Muhammad also occurred in Iran. During the 1960s and first half of the 1970s, Iran supported Mulla Mustafa Barzani's rebellions in northern Iraq. Iraq finally prevailed in 1975 when Iran ceased its support for the Iraqi Kurds in return for border concessions from Iraq.
   In the 1920s, the Iranian government began new policies that ended the traditional tribal nomadic economy based on herding. This was largely accomplished by dislocating and resettling Kurdish tribes and exiling their leaders. As the Kurdish society became part of Iran's developing market economy, further changes occurred in the social and political structure. Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi's land reform in 1966 proved very significant in this process. The Kurdish national movement in Iran lost most of its impetus following the defeat of the Mahabad Republic in 1946. Since then, Iraq and Turkey have seen much more Kurdish national activity. Nevertheless, a lesser Kurdish movement has repeatedly risen up in Iran. During the late 1940s and the early 1950s, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) cooperated closely with the Tudeh, or Iranian Communist Party. When the shah returned to power in 1953, however, he was able to close down most of this activity.
   In the 1960s, the Iranian Kurds at first tended to cooperate with the much more successful Kurdish movement in Iraq headed by Mulla Mustafa Barzani. In the late 1960s, some young KDPI members launched a guerrilla war against Tehran but completely failed. Relations between the Iraqi and Iranian Kurds soured because Barzani apparently aided Iran in suppressing the Iranian Kurds, even to the extent of handing some over for execution. In return, Barzani received aid from Iran.
   During the late 1970s period of the Islamic revolution, there were two main Iranian Kurdish parties, the more moderate and flexible KDPI and the more radical, Marxist Komala. Both had explicitly secular programs, and for a while they controlled most of Iranian Kurdistan. The KDPI goal was "autonomy for Kurdistan, democracy for Iran." Sheikh Izziddin Husseini, an unconventional Sunni cleric, also played an important role as a mediator and unifying force. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the new revolutionary Iranian leader, had little patience for the Kurdish demands and declared holy war against them on August 19, 1979. His agent, the Ayatollah Sadiq Khalkhali, sentenced hundreds of Kurds to execution after summary trials. The Iranian Kurds were not united, and their attempt at armed rebellion had completely failed by 1983. Later, fighting broke out between the KDPI and Komala in 1985, and hundreds died.
   During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the Iranian Kurds received logistical aid from Iraq but never cooperated militarily with the Iraqi army. Iran assassinated the much-admired KDPI leader Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou in 1989 and his successor Sadiq Sharaf-kindi in 1992. These assassinations, along with the military defeats in the early 1980s, greatly demoralized the Kurdish nationalists in Iran, guerrilla elements of which now live in exile across the border in the area ruled by the KRG. Mustafa Hejri became the new KDPI leader and remains so. However, his party has recently suffered splits.
   During the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebellion in Turkey (1984-1999), Turkey at times accused Iran of giving aid and sanctuary to the PKK. In 1996, Iran overtly supported the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in its struggle with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) for supremacy in northern Iraq, while Turkey supported the KDP. Since then, Turkey and Iran have varied their support, but always with the purpose of trying to prevent the creation of an actual Kurdish state that might act as a powerful magnet to their own Kurds.
   Many Iranian Kurds supported reformist Mohammad Khatami when he was elected president of Iran in May 1997. While Khatami was president there was a Kurdish list in the Iranian parliament (Majlis), and its members even wore Kurdish clothes. However, Khatami proved too weak to stand up against the hard-liners. The situation continued to deteriorate when over half of the Kurdish members of the Majlis were prevented from participating in the February 2004 elections. Many Kurds boycotted the election of hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was elected president of Iran in June 2005. Ah-madinejad immediately rebuked Kurdish appeals to place qualified Kurds in his new administration. Most Iranian Kurds also boycotted the disputed presidential election held on 12 June 2009. In July 2009, many Iranian Kurds also participated in a general strike to mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, which some accused Ahmadinejad of having played a role in perpetrating. As of September 2009, there were some 18 Kurds among the 290 members of the Majlis, but they were not allowed to form a Kurdish list.
   The creation of the KRG in northern Iraq and its institution-alization after the second Gulf War 2003 have also influenced the neighboring Iranian Kurds to demand changes. In July 2005, thousands of Iranian Kurds protested in Mahabad, the unofficial capital of Iranian Kurdistan, as well as in numerous other cities. The Iranian government responded with a state of de facto martial law and deployed large numbers of security forces. Moreover, during 2005, the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), a new Iranian Kurdish party cooperating with the PKK and based in the Kandil Mountains in Iraq, began operations against the Iranian government along the border.
   Iran has received large numbers of Kurdish refugees from Iraq, especially after the failed Iraqi Kurdish revolts in 1975 and 1991. Unlike the Arabs and the Turks, the Persians are closely related to the Kurds. This ethnic affinity has probably served to moderate Kurdish national demands in Iran. Still, with a few exceptions, Kurds (unlike Azeris) have been barred from high levels of power in Iran, and human rights violations are systematically carried out against ethnic Kurds. In January 2009, for example, Human Rights Watch documented how Iranian authorities use security laws, press laws, and other legislation to arrest and prosecute Iranian Kurds solely for trying to exercise their right to freedom of expression and association. The government has closed Persian- and Kurdish-language newspapers and journals, banned books, and punished publishers, journalists, and writers for opposing and criticizing government policies. In 2009, Amnesty International expressed concern over the treatment of ethnic Kurdish prisoners of conscience. KDPI representatives have testified how ethnic Kurds are denied education in their own language. Kurds are not allowed to give their children certain Kurdish names, Sunni Muslims — which most Kurds are—face discrimination because of their religion, women's rights are denied, and economic opportunities are bleak.
   Iranian Kurds live in the northwestern province of Kordestan, the only province in historical Kurdistan that bears this name. They also live in four other Iranian provinces: Western Azerbaijan, Kir-manshah, Hamadin, and Ilam. In addition, there is a community of Kurds in the northern part of Khorasan province in northeastern Iran that was forcefully relocated there during the 18th century to disperse and thus better control the ethnic and religious composition of the Persian Empire. Finally, in recent decades Kurds have also moved to Tehran to seek better employment and living opportunities. Currently, Iran contains some 6.5 million Kurds, which accounts for approximately 11 percent of its entire population.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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