History of Sunni political Islam in Eastern Kurdistan (Iran)

KT Report:

Since 1979 around half a million Kurds have been arrested by the regime

Since 1979 around half a million Kurds have been arrested by the regime

The emergence of Sunni political Islam in Eastern Kurdistan (Western Iran) began in 1964 with the release from prison of Ahmed Mufti-zade (1933-1993) of Sine, who was a religious leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (Iran). Mufti-zade in 1978 established a Sunni educational organisation called the Quran School (Maktabi Quran). Soon after its foundation, the organisation was accused of being involved in politics and perceived as a threat to the new Islamic Republic of Iran. The Quran School leaders were gradually imprisoned, and most of them were later hanged.

Another well-known figure is Nasir Subhani (1951 – 1990) of Kermanshah, who was a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Eastern Kurdistan. Through Nasir Subhani, in 1980 the Muslim Brotherhood established an organisation in the Sunni-populated areas of Eastern Kurdistan called Islamic Reform. It later changed its name to the Dawa and Islam Group, which is now led by Abdul-Rahman Pirani. Leaders of these Islamic organisations were later imprisoned – including Mufti-zade and Subhani, who served ten years. In 1990, Subhani was hanged. Mufti-zade was released in poor health in 1993 and he died three months later.

There is also an Islamic party called the Sazman of Kurdistan Struggle – Iran, which was established in 1980 by Sheikh Jalaldin Hussain (1929 – 2011) of Bane. It has been operating as an opposition party, with offices outside Iran, including in South Kurdistan and Europe. It has held four conferences so far, and its current leader is Babashiekh Hussaini.

Even though Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (founded and led by Qazi Mohammed in 1945), was and still is a nationalistic party, historically it has dealt with Islamic organisations such as the Islamic Union of Kurdistan – Iran, through which it has attracted youth and mobilised them against the Iranian regime.

Furthermore, when the Ansar Al  Islam bases in South Kurdistan were raided by the United States in 2003, some of its leaders escaped to East Kurdistan, where they promoted Salafi Jihad ideology. These included Mullah Abdul-Aziz’s sons, Tahsin and Saman, who became the commanders of this Salafi movement in Iran. Tahsin was later killed in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Saman is currently the sole leader of the Jihadi group. While Saman is thought to be able to travel freely back and forth between Iran and Syria, some of his Salafi Jihadist comrades in Iran are imprisoned and accused of operating against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Islamists of Eastern Kurdistan and Iranian governments

A quick look at the history of the movements in Eastern Kurdistan and the profiles of Kurdish activists, whether religious or political, reveals a continuous campaign of repression by successive Iranian regimes through the intelligence ministry – carrying out mass arrests and executions in an attempt to paralyse opposition.

Over the past four years, and particularly during the period of the Arab Spring, the regime has softened its stance towards both groups of political Islam: the Quran School and Dawa. The Islamic leaders are also thought to have adjusted their position by focusing more on the resolution of local, social issues rather than on national politics and opposing the central government. Furthermore, the Dawa group has had an impressive development recently. It is thought to be currently the largest Kurdish party in Iran, with strong links abroad to its sister organisations which are part of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Iranian regime has lately paid a particular interest in this organisation and is holding regular meetings with its leaders at different levels.

During previous presidential, parliamentary and local elections in Iran, the Islamic parties supported those candidates who were somewhat critical of the regime, namely Mohammed Khatamy, Mahdi Karoubi and Mir Hussain Musawy. During the latest election, however, they supported Hassan Rouhani for stating that he would defend Kurds’ rights. Although there has since been some criticism, for example, of recent wave of executions, the Kurdish Islamic leaders, and particularly the Quran School, led by Hassan Aminy, are holding regular meetings with regime representatives.

Dawa or politics?

Although most of their activities started, naturally, from the mosques, the Islamic groups became involved in politics due to their social engagement and developments in Iran, especially during and after the 1979 Islamic revolution. This became especially apparent when they released statements about local and national politics. By the mid-eighties, it was obvious to the Shiite regime that the Sunni movement was more political than religious and an aggressive clampdown was launched during which most of the Sunni leaders were arrested and executed.

Today, the two main Kurdish Islamic entities in Eastern Kurdistan have concentrated their work in two different directions: the Islamic Dawa organisation, led by Saadi Quraishy, concentrates on social engagement; and the Quran School, led by Hassan Aminy, focuses on politics.

Arrests, indefinite imprisonment and executions

Since the beginning of the Islamic movement in Eastern Kurdistan, thousands of Kurdish youth have been arrested by successive Iranian regimes. Some are serving life terms in prison and others, mainly the leaders, have been hanged. The number of Kurds arrested over the past three decades is thought to be around 500,000, Civil Magazine has reported. Most of them have been accused of ‘opposing god’ – in other words, many of them were politically affiliated to Sunni Islam organisations under a ruling Shiite regime.

From left: Nasir Subhani, Ahmed Mufti-zade, Jalaldin Hussaini

From left: Nasir Subhani, Ahmed Mufti-zade, Jalaldin Hussaini

During the 1980s, some 90,000 people were arrested, including leaders such as Nasir Subhani and Ahmed Mufti-zade. During the 1990s, some 150,000 were arrested: this was the decade in which most executions took place, including that of the famous Mullah Mohammed Rabi’ey. In the past decade, more than 200,000 have been arrested.

According to a report by the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, there are currently 170 Kurdish youth in Rajay Shar prison in Karaj accused of ‘opposing god’. Last year alone 20 Kurds were publicly executed. Most of the political prisoners are in Avin and Qizil Hasar prisons. There are other local prisons filled with political detainees such as Sine, Mahabad, Saqiz and Mariwan prisons.

The main prisons holding Kurd political prisoners in Iran are:

Avin (Awin) Prison:

Situated in the Sa’adat Abad in Tehran, it was created in the 1950s. It sits on 145 hectors of land and is currently known as a temporary prison, which means that those who are waiting to be executed are held here. Some of the best-known people held in this prison are: Kramtalla Danishyan, Ali Asghar Badi’a Zadgan, Irfan Qane Ferd, Abdullah Nuri, Ali Akbar Hashimi Rafsanjani, Masoud Rajoy, Roksana Yabrym and Ahmed Mufti-zade.

Hishmatia Prison:

This is one of the military prisons in Iran, situated in the East of Tehran on the outskirts near the main Sayadi Shirazi Road. Some of the best-known people held in this prison are: Mir Hussain Mussawi, Mahdi Karoubi, and their families.

24 Kurds currently detained by the regime

24 Kurds currently detained by the regime

Rajaye Shar Prison:

This prison, often referred to as ‘Gawhar Dashty’, is one one of the largest in Iran. It is situated in Karaj, near Tehran. Most of the Kurdish political prisoners are currently held here.

Qzil Hasar Prison:

Situated near Karaj, this is the one of the biggest prisons in the Middle East. It currently holds around 15,000 prisoners waiting for their cases to be heard in court; most of them are Kurds.

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