PJAK co-president Zilan Vejin and a fellow fighter somewhere in the Kurdish mountains. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPSby Karlos Zurutuza (Iran-Iraq border)Friday 4 November 2022Inter Press Service
IRAN-IRAQ BORDER, Nov 04 (IPS) — Iran-Iraq Border — It typically takes hours to drive in an SUV before venturing out on foot through a dense forest. There, under a sea of beech trees, sheltered from the gaze of the drones, the guerrillas of the PJAK (Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan) find us.
We’re somewhere in the mountains across the Iran-Iraq border. We cannot provide our coordinates, nor can we photograph the guerrilla fighters or any spatial references that might provide clues as to their location. That’s the deal.
The PJAK is an organization composed primarily of Kurdish men and women from Iran fighting for the country’s democratization along the lines of “democratic confederalism,” a libertarian-left, culturally progressive ideology and political system founded by Abdullah Öcalan was defined. He is a co-founder and leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) imprisoned since 1999 and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Turkish state.
Two women in their thirties invite us to sit at a table in a modest mountain hut. One of them is Zilan Vejin, the co-president of the PJAK. We ask them about the most pressing issue: the chain of protests in Iran, challenging the Shiite theocracy that has been in power since 1979.
It was on September 16 last year that Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman, was beaten to death by Iran’s “morality police” for wearing the Islamic headscarf incorrectly. Since then, thousands of men and women have taken to the streets shouting “Women, Life, Freedom,” a slogan Vejin recalls being coined by her movement during a 2013 gathering.
“The problem of women’s freedom is an issue whose importance was recognized, analyzed and defined by our leadership 40 years ago. Today all the peoples of Iran face it,” the guerrilla told IPS.
Several international organizations such as Amnesty International have denounced the difficulties faced by ethnic minorities – such as Kurds, Baloch or Arabs – in accessing education, employment or housing.
In addition to socioeconomic discrimination, all women, regardless of ethnicity, appear to have become targets of theocratic government.
In its latest report on the country, Human Rights Watch denounced the marginalization of half the population in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance and child custody. The NGO also notes the lack of options for women in situations such as domestic violence or child marriage.
Could this civil uprising put an end to all this? The PJAK co-leader is optimistic.
“This revolt is very different from any that have taken place in the 43 years that the ayatollahs have been in power. It started in Kurdistan under the leadership of women and from there spread across the country because it brings people of all nationalities together in Iran,” claims the senior guerrilla fighter.
The hijab, she stresses, is “the pretext for a revolt that demands freedom and democracy. People don’t just want reform without trying to change the current policy, system and administration.”
Whether armed struggle can be one of the means to achieve this, Vejin maintains the right to “legitimate defense”.
“The armed struggle is only part of our strength, which also includes civil, social and democratic action. Of course, when the state commits massacres, we don’t remain inactive,” says the Kurd.
The moment Zilan Vejin was elected co-chair of PJAK during a party leadership meeting (Courtesy of PJAK)
On the Iranian board of directors
The women of the PJAK militia are not the only Kurdish women in Iran ready to take up arms. In the ranks of the PDKI (Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan) women fight alongside men, and the PAK (Kurdistan Freedom Party) even has an all-female contingent.
The ultimate goal of the latter is the creation of an independent Kurdish state encompassing the four parts into which it is currently divided (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria).
Hana Hussein Yazdanpana, spokeswoman for the PAK women’s contingent, spoke to IPS by phone from an unspecified location in the mountains. Apparently, their bases in the valley have become a recurring target for Iranian missiles.
PAK fighters carry the body of a fellow combatant after the latest Iranian bombing raid on their bases in Iraq’s Kurdistan region (courtesy of PAK)
“The last one happened on September 28th: we lost ten of us and 21 were injured. Iran has threatened us to do it again if we don’t stop supporting the protests and providing sanctuary to those fleeing the country,” Yazdanpana said.
According to her, the PAK has 3,000 peshmerga fighters (“who face death” in Kurdish). A third are women who were trained, among others, by the American and German contingents of the international coalition against the Islamic State.
They have also fought Tehran-backed Shia militias operating on Iraqi soil. Whether they will use this experience to fight the ayatollahs, Yazdanpana was blunt.
“The fight must be peaceful. The protest will only be successful if the free world openly supports the people and takes action against the Islamic Republic.”
Apart from in the Kurdish mountains, the guerrillas can also be found on the Internet. The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan defines itself on its website as “a social democratic party committed to a free and democratic federal Iran”.
Komala guerrilla fighters somewhere in the mountains between Iran and Iraq (Courtesy of Komala)
With bases in the southeast corner of Iraq’s Kurdish Autonomous Region — very close to the border with Iran — Komala claims to be the first Kurdish organization to field a battalion of women fighters back in 1982.
“When Komala was founded in 1969, gender equality was one of its main pillars, along with socialism and Kurdish self-determination,” Zagros Khosravi, a member of the central committee, told IPS over the phone.
He pointed to a contingent of “a few hundred fighters stationed in the mountains” but stressed that their main strength lies in the “thousands” that could be mobilized in Iran. “Many of them have been trained in civilian resistance tactics,” the guerrillas noted.
One of the recent milestones, he added, is the creation of a cooperation node between Kurdish-Iranian political parties together with the PDKI. “You can see the result in the high participation of the Kurdish nation in these protests,” he added.
Kamal Chomani, an analyst on Kurdish affairs with the Kurdish Peace Institute, told IPS over the phone that coordination between Kurdish-Iranian organizations “will be key” if violence against the protests escalates into open armed conflict with the regime leads .
The differences between the various Kurdish-Iranian organizations, he added, correspond to the diversity of the Kurdish political arc as a whole.
“While in Syria and Turkey the majority of Kurds adhere to a left-wing, progressive and communalist ideology, in Iran and Iraq we encounter a nationalist and traditionalist variable in which tribal codes are also decisive,” explained Chomani.
How these players are deployed on the troubled Iranian chessboard, the expert sees the following scenario:
“Due to its connections to the PKK, the PJAK is the one with the greatest experience in guerrilla warfare and has great organizational capacities. The PDKI and Komala in particular have strong roots in Iran because they have been very active politically and militarily since the 1970s and this will allow them to mobilize fighters in the country.”
Meanwhile, Iranian women continue to take to the streets. According to the HRANA news agency, run by human rights activists, an estimated 300 people have been killed since the protests began. The number of detainees now exceeds 13,000.
© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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