Prague, 3 January 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A group of Iranian Kurds has formed a movement that aims to "peacefully" demand rights that they say have been neglected or denied Iran's sizable Kurdish minority.
The Kurds account for about 7 percent of Iran's 68 million-strong population, making them one of the country's largest ethnic groups. Most live in Iran's western provinces, amongst the least developed in the country.
The group claims to have the backing of Kurdish activists, NGOs, and several thousand supporters.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Bahaeddin Adab, the founder of the Kurdish United Front, said that democracy and equal rights are key aims of the group.
"There is very little freedom in areas with a Kurdish population, and democracy for all Iranian people -- especially for Kurds -- is a necessity," he said. "The second issue is equal rights," he continued, claiming that "Kurdish areas suffer from discrimination and [official] contempt in all political, economic, social and cultural areas of life. Kurds have no share in the distribution of power or regarding economic development; the four Kurdish provinces of our country are not developed and are deprived. They face limitations in their cultural activities, which is preventing cultural development."
Adab blames inequality and neglect for a "social problems that never before existed in Kurdish areas. Divorce, suicide, and addiction, for example, are widespread now."
Violence And Nonviolence
He also linked these problems to violent clashes with the authorities seen in several Kurdish cities in the summer of 2005. In July, the shooting in Mahabad of a Kurd, Shavaneh Qaderi, by security forces led to demonstrations and dozens of arrests. The unrest spread to other cities -- including Baneh, Sanandaj, and Sardasht -- and reportedly resulted in the deaths of several civilians and police officers.
Adab sees a lack of representation as a major contributory factor in the unrest, which he believes demonstrated the need to create the Kurdish United Front.
"Because such issues are brought up and pursued individually, there are no results. That leads to the use of violence by the government," he contends. "That has a high cost for the nation and that is not, we believe, in the interests of the people or of the government because it widens the gap between the people and the establishment."
Iranian authorities blamed the unrest on "hooligan and criminal elements" and charged that "public and state-owned buildings, including banks, were damaged."
A number of rights activists and journalists were jailed after the killings, some of them for long terms. Human-rights organizations have called for their release and for an investigation into the deaths.
Adab, who said the summer's violence "offended the majority of the people," promised that the Front would work within the framework of law and would eschew violence.
Advancing The Front
The Kurdish United Front says a recent opinion poll in areas with Kurdish population showed that most people supported the creation of a front that would enable them to pursue and assert their legitimate rights.
Adab insists that the movement is not an official party or a nongovernmental organization. Such groups require the state's permission to meet, advertise, and register new members. A number of Kurdish parties are banned in Iran.
The Front plans to help Kurdish representatives gain seats in city councils and in the national parliament, as well as to raise Kurds' awareness of their rights.
In August, the UN’s special rapporteur on housing and land rights Miloon Kothari concluded at the end of a 12-day visit to Iran that minorities in Iran, including the Kurds, face discrimination when it comes to gaining access to housing, civic services, and land.
While Adab is optimistic that his group will be able to achieve positive results, other Kurdish activists in Iran express doubt.
"Our current president [Mahmud Ahmadinejad] also talks about the same issue. He says he wants justice for all Iranians," says Mohammad Sadegh Kabudvand, head of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan. "Mr. Adab also says the same thing, or he talks about democracy. The reformists also spoke of democracy. But do the Kurdish people have democracy and justice? No."
Kabudvand is similarly skeptical about the prospects that Kurds' language rights will be observed. "Mr Adab says we will work within the framework of law. The law says ethnic languages can be taught. These laws have been in place for the past 25 years, but will the government let them be applied? No step has been taken in an issue as basic as this, let alone regarding the other rights that Kurdish people are demanding."
Kabubvand instead sees the formation of the Kurdish United Front as a personal political vehicle for Adab and other members of the movement. "Most activists believe that this front wants to gain a share of power once more. That is all," he says.
Adab, an outspoken former member of parliament, was barred from running again for parliament in 2004 after the Guardians Council, which oversees elections and vets legislation, disqualified him from the race, along with thousands of other independent and reform-minded candidates.