Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lest we forget
By Shorsh K. Palani

On Nov. 11, Canadians gathered to remember those who have fallen for their country. On the very same day, Kurds in Iran remembered a young political activist whose three-month strike ended when he was hanged without any regard to the due process of law at the death gallows of Sanandaj central prison in the province of Kurdistan in Iran.

Ehsan Fattahian was arrested last summer by security agents for having been affiliated with a Kurdish political party. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison by a revolutionary court in Sanandaj. His verdict was later altered to death by hanging by the same court. There are currently 13 Kurdish political, human rights and social activists on death row in Iranian prisons.

According to Amnesty International, Fattahian was given opportunity by the regime to go on television and renounce his beliefs and confess to his crime. This would have saved his life. He didn’t accept such humiliation.

Fattahian was sentenced to vaguely worded crimes like “enmity with God” and “attempting to overthrow the regime.” His new verdict was never subject to appeal, which is contrary to international law.

A letter sent to his family told of the torture he endured in prison.

This is not new to Kurds in Iran. Kurdish history is shaped by events of ethnic cleansing and forceful assimilation. They have attempted to raise awareness of their struggle in various ways, both within and outside of their land in Iran, but their active political opposition campaigns remain relatively unknown outside of Iran compared to other Iranian opposition groups.

During the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Kurds actively joined the masses to oust the regime of Shah in the hopes of peace and justice for their cause. After the theocratic regime took power, Kurds were brutally subjected to military campaigns as their towns and villages became scenes of carnage. Kurdistan became a military landscape as thousands of Kurdish political prisoners were executed in speedy trials between 1988 and 1990.

The current Iranian government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made arbitrary detentions, shootings, public humiliation and intimidation the norm for Kurdish political opposition members.

Kurds face multiple threats in Iran. They are persecuted not only because they are opposing the regime and demanding legitimate rights, but also because of their ethnic and religious identity. This criminalization of Kurdish ethnicity is sadly witnessed by neighbouring Muslim countries in the region without the slightest backlash.

The politics of difference is defined by irony in the Middle East. In Iran, the regime continues to deprive the rights of Kurds with total impunity. Muslim countries have failed to question the massive human rights violations and the dark records of abuse and ethnic cleansing in their own backyards, but many – including Iran – continually and adamantly condemn Israel for massacring Palestinians.

However, ignoring the abuse of the Kurds in Iran is not limited to the Middle East. The West is also guilty of this. Continually, over-emphasis is placed on Iran’s threat to Western states, while the daily persecution of ethnic groups within the country is forgotten.

Whenever Ahmadinejad visits the United States, North American pundits and analysts, acting on urges of sensationalism and exaggeration, become obsessed with Iranian nuclear ambitions, the Holocaust and Israel. Very rarely do Western governments or the media show concern about the massive human rights violations and the plight of ethnic groups in Iran.

This harkens back to the days before the Iraq war and occupation, when chemical attacks on Kurds by Saddam Hussein were ignored by the international media until years later when his crimes were used as justification for his death.

With the tendency of both Iran’s neighbours and Iran’s critics in the governments of the West to forget about the Kurds and their predicament, it is no wondered that a common saying amongst Kurds is that they do not have friends but instead mountains.

Dr. Qassemlou, one of legendary Kurdish leaders once said that “a nation that seeks freedom, shall also pay its price. We have long promised to not cry in the memory of our freedom fighters, because a loss for the sake of freedom is a gift. What instills hope and empowers our innermost belief in peace, is the continuation of their legitimate and humane struggle”.

Shorsh K. Palani is a politics student at the University of Winnipeg, Canada.