Mahabad Amnesia


Declaration of Republic of Mahabad, 1946

By Ata Hariri:

In the modern age it is all too easy to get caught up in what is going on today and tomorrow, and forget what happened yesterday, last week, last decade. At first this may not seem like such a bad thing — after all the future is what is important, right? Well for better or worse the present and the future are determined by what happened in the past; what you do tomorrow is greatly affected by what happened yesterday. This, combined with large humanitarian concerns, is what makes the dearth of reporting and focus on Rojhelat (Eastern Kurdistan) so disturbing, It was in Rojhelat that the first modern independent Kurdish nation state was declared, the Republic of Mahabad in 1946; it was here that resistance fighters of all shades — from the leftist PJAK, to the more conservative PDKI — fought against the oppressors of the Kurds and sheltered fellow Kurds who were fleeing even more tyrannical regimes. But, with the liberation of vast areas of Rojava, with the KRG, even with all its faults, and with the fighting all across south-eastern Turkey, it is easy to forget that the Kurds of Iran are no less Kurds just because the Islamic Republic is currently winning the battle there. It should not be forgotten that, as we speak, PJAK guerrillas are still active and still fighting; true, they may not have the glamour of territory that comes with the YPG, but such resistance in the face of an overwhelming enemy is to be respected.

More worrying is the possibility that as larger and larger parts of Kurdistan move towards statehood, or at least a solid level of autonomy and independence, Rojhelat could become the “Lost province” of Kurdistan, an area that a new Kurdish state would renounce claims to, whose Kurds would have to continue to languish under the jackboot of tyranny and violence. Rojhelat has a rich Kurdish history, and is an area in which Azerbaijanis and Kurds coexisted along with Iranians, and it has produced some fascinating cultural fusions, along with many key Kurdish figures. But more than that, it sends a dangerous message to our enemies if we decide to give up on a core region of Kurdistan simply because it is too difficult to incorporate. What does it say to Turkey? It says that, if they soak their hands in enough Kurdish blood, if they drop enough bombs on Rojava, steal enough KRG oil, then Diyarbakir will never be free, then Cizre will always be “Turkish”. I am sure many Kurds will join me in saying that this is not the kind of idea that we want to give to our enemies. We must show that every Kurd means as much to us as any other no matter where they live, that it is not about the size of the obstacle but our determination.

I know there are those that will say that, as with so many issues, European Kurds cannot understand how difficult it would be to free Rojhelat and this is nothing but unnecessary daydreaming. But I am not saying that the YPG should not be supported nor that the KRG should not go for absolute independence, and I strongly believe that both of those things are true, but we must never forget about Rojhelat just because the Iranians are powerful and their propaganda machine strong. There was a time when people said that it was just a matter of time until Erbil was arabized, but look where it is now! We must not fall into fatalistic thinking about what is and is not possible, especially while there are still Kurdish resistance fighters from PJAK and other groups, who are still resisting the Iranian government. While those who are still under oppressive rule refuse to give up then nor can we.

In 1946 the Republic of Mahabad was betrayed by its erstwhile Soviet allies and had to face Iran alone. It fought a good and brave fight but of course could not win, and Kurds from the rest of Kurdistan did not rally sufficiently to its support. It is a cliché but with good reason: United we stand, divided we fall, and this is the message we must remember and take forward.

Ata Hariri is a Kurdish student living in London, studying political science at the LSE.

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