Iran’s attacks on Iraq’s Kurdistan region this week were exceptionally harsh, inflicting traumas on yet another generation of Kurds. And again, like with every other Iranian attack on Kurds, the outside world is silent and the mass murder is done with impunity. On several other levels, this week’s tragedy laid bare some painful, infuriating Kurdistan truths.
The scenes of the bombings this week that were shared on social media were heart wrenching. Not just the footage, but also the sounds of parents and children sharing their panic and fear and of people screaming about the sudden hell they found themselves in. I was especially struck by the father trying to comfort his child by yelling over all the other sounds that look, it was just fireworks. Trying to save your child from trauma, somehow, as in a reflex to protect it against the odds. So much love in such words.
Photos of children finding shelter at the foot of a mountain, curled up against each other, and some children hiding in caves, were giving me goose bumps. That the Kurds have no friends but the mountains, is not just a metaphor, it’s an everyday reality. These symbolic photos will be doing the rounds for years to come.
The reaction of the political parties in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) were super insightful too. Especially, the reaction of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was telling. This is the party ruling over the southern part of the KRI, with Sulaymaniya as its most important city. It is in general considered to be somewhat more liberal than the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) that reigns in the north (with the capital of Erbil as its center). You would expect the PUK to allow or even support protests of the people against the mass murder of fellow Kurds by a dictatorial regime, but instead, the PUK’s security forces interfered with teargas and violence.
Why? Because PUK areas are highly influenced by Iran. Just as KDP areas are under increasing control of Turkey and depending on it, the PUK can’t survive without Iran’s support. Iran’s intelligence services have a firm presence, just as Turkey’s MİT has in KDP areas.
KDP hasn’t reacted very fiercely either because they are under intensifying pressure from Iran already and don’t want to further ‘escalate’ the situation, as they see it. It’s rather brutal what Iran has been responsible for in KDP areas. Iranian-Kurdish opposition parties have been targeted in the past week as well. Most significantly, the KDP-Iran has suffered multiple casualties. A number of political activists from Rojhilat (Kurdistan in Iran) have been murdered in broad daylight on the streets of Erbil and elsewhere. And Hashd al-Shabi, the Iran-supported militias in Iraq that have an ever-strengthening presence in the areas of Iraq that are disputed between the Kurdistan Region and the central government in Baghdad, have carried out drone attacks on the Erbil Airport and other targets.
It is a painful reality that the government calling itself ‘autonomous’ is in fact fully dependent on Iran and Turkey. In other words: Kurd-murdering dictatorial states define the Kurdistan region’s economic and security situation, and Kurdish leaders let it happen and don’t protect their people because they are more dedicated to protecting their own financial interests.
Then there is the international community. Who has spoken out against this flagrant violation of international humanitarian law? I mean, besides the obligatory written messages of concern and condemnation? Which government leader has made any public statement or done anything meaningful to stop Iran or show real commitment to protecting Kurdish lives? None of them – the result of which was of course that Iran started a new bombardment the next morning. Whatever Iran and Turkey do to the Kurds is done with impunity. That too is once again crystal clear.
Iran is of course an actor in a complicated geopolitical powerplay, and all kinds of analysis can be made about the reasons Iran is bombing Kurds now, and using the Kurdistan Region in Iraq as the territory where it can further assert its position in the region. But while making such analyses, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that the Kurds in Iran are always the ones bearing the brunt and paying a harsher price.
By attacking Kurds and claiming that Iranian-Kurdish parties in exile in the KRI are to blame for the protests, the Iranian regime utilizes anti-Kurdish sentiments, which could drive the united protesters apart. But it’s also a crystal-clear example of the way the regime always punishes Kurds. They are beaten, suppressed and murdered individually, like Jîna Mahsa Amini was, but also collectively. Not just for their decades-long resistance but also just for being who they are: Kurds, meaning not Persians; and Sunnis, meaning not Shias.
The current resistance can help break these decades-old lethal dynamics – if a new way can be found to build a society that is thriving with diversity in which the Kurds, and other minorities like Arabs and Balochis, can live freely and without fear, instead of just the fall of the regime. And if women can live freely, of course. Woman, Life, Freedom – the perfect slogan in which those ideals come together, the perfect slogan to lead the way.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.