The renowned Kurdish poet Şêrko Bêkes once wrote:
Tehran does not smile at anyone but death.
Nothing pleases it except death.
Its spouse, its son, its daughter — all bear the name of death, and
what does not originate there is life.
It is the autumn fashion season again, and the fashion consultants of Tehran’s official morality guardians are out doing what they do best: telling females how to wear their headscarves and murdering Kurdish young women who demonstrate independent ideas on this vital, moral issue.
Just over a year has passed since the state-sanctioned murder of Jina Amini in September 2022, a poignant incident that shocked the world and triggered a wave of dissent within Iran. Under the slogan Jin, Jiyan, Azadî (“Woman, Life, Freedom”), this movement ignited in Kurdistan and led to more than 20,000 people thrown in prison and hundreds more killed, including 134 Kurds — 11 of whom lost their lives through torture at the hands of security forces.
In October 2023, another Kurdish schoolgirl from Zagros mountain range, Armita Geravand, aged 17, has fallen victim to the Iranian state’s draconian policies regarding the mandatory hijab. Armita’s ordeal left her in a coma for nearly four weeks, a direct result of the injury inflicted during her assault at the hands of the Iranian morality police. Her struggle is emblematic of the resilience exhibited by Kurdish women in the face of relentless adversity.
Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Iranian regime actively selects its victims for this oppressive agenda, with a particular focus on the Kurdish people.
The “Treaty of Peace with Turkey” — more commonly referred to as the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 — resulted in the prevention of the emergence of Kurdistan as an independent sovereign state. Consequently, the Kurds found themselves arbitrarily distributed among the states of Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and the Soviet Union, often through gerrymandering and geopolitical arrangements that disregarded their national aspirations and their clamour for self-determination.
As outlined in the Anglo-Persian treaty of 9 August 1919, Britain’s commitment to preserving the territorial integrity of Persia — later known as Iran —kept eastern Kurdistan within Iran’s borders. Kurds, comprising approximately 10 to 12 million people, make up more than 10 per cent of Iran’s population. However, prior to the murder of Jina Amini, this fact remained relatively unknown to the global community.
Jina’s death served as a catalyst, prompting a grassroots revolution that has transcended Iran’s borders. It shed light on the harsh realities faced by the Kurdish people and ignited a broader conversation about human rights status of national and ethnic groups in Iran.
The Iranian state’s attempts to control women’s clothing choices are a microcosm of their broader attempts to suppress dissent and control every aspect of life in the country. The struggle for the rights of Kurdish women in eastern Kurdistan is closely intertwined with the broader battle against gender-based oppression, which is compounded by the suppression of their national identity.
The imposition of the hijab, often perceived as a mere dress code issue, serves as a poignant symbol of a much larger and systemic violation of human rights. For Kurdish women, however, the burden of this injustice is exacerbated by the simultaneous suppression of their national identity. The intersectionality of this policy — combining, as it does, gender and nationality — paints a complex and deeply concerning picture of their plight.
When the Kurdish identity is considered within this context, a more intricate and distressing picture emerges. Kurdish women are not only battling gender-based discrimination but are also facing the denial of their national identity. The term “Kurdistan” represents a strong connection to Kurdish culture, language, and heritage — and for the Kurds, it is a fundamental part of their identity. Yet, the Iranian state has consistently sought to suppress this identity, viewing it as a threat to the central authority, Perso-Sh‘ia with Farsi as the imposed official language.
This multi-layered, intersectional policy of gender, religion, language, and nationality amplifies the struggles that Kurdish women endure. It demonstrates the multifaceted nature of their oppression, as they face discrimination on two distinct fronts. The Iranian state’s repressive approach effectively seeks to silence not only their voices as women, but also their aspirations to express and celebrate their Kurdish heritage.
The double-edged sword of gender-based oppression and national identity suppression not only infringes on the rights and dignity of Kurdistani women, it also exacerbates the overall climate of human rights violations under the Iranian regime. It is crucial to recognise that their fight is not isolated; it is a critical component of a larger battle against systemic discrimination and authoritarianism within the geography of country.
The world must acknowledge the unique struggles faced by Kurdish women and stand in solidarity with them in their pursuit of equality, freedom, and the right to express their national identity. Addressing these intersectional challenges requires a multifaceted approach that emphasises both gender equality and the recognition of diverse national identities within Iran. Only through collective efforts can we hope to dismantle the barriers that have kept these women from fully participating in society and expressing their authentic selves.
- Dr Loqman Radpey is a research fellow of the Edinburgh Centre for International and Global Law (ECIGL) in Scotland. Since 2012, he has studied and written extensively on Kurdistan and statehood, self-determination and the Kurds. Loqman completed the PhD in Law at the University of Edinburgh in early 2022. His writings have appeared in leading peer-reviewed journals and international law blogs.