By Christine Jun
Iran isn't a country that seems too concerned with the rights of its people. Or its animals, for that
matter. And what with the country's recent elections and the ousting of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by president-elect Hassan Rouhani, those rights violations have attracted a fair share of international media attention lately. However, there's one issue that the spotlight seems to have missed: that of Iran's ethnic minorities.
Iran's Kurdish community (like most Kurdish communities) has, through the years, suffered some pretty hefty human rights violations, ranging from summary arrests of peaceful political activists to executions without a fair trial. Abdullah Mohtadi is the leader of Komala, the Kurdish branch of the Communist Party of Iran, which is illegal under Sharia law. I called him up to get a perspective of how Iran's most persecuted ethnic minority feels about today's political climate in Iran.
VICE: Hi Mr Mohtadi. So, do you consider Rohani winning the election a step towards democratic progress?
Abdullah Mohtadi: The whole structure of the Iranian constitution and its laws are not favourable to democratic change. Khamenei still has the final word as the Supreme Leader of Iran. The people who voted for Rohani are certainly for change, but whether he can deliver it or not is something else. I greatly doubt it.
Western media portrays Rohani as a "moderate reformist". What do you think of that?
Rohani has never been a reformist, and he has never claimed to be one – never. What he claims to be is moderate. I’m sure Khamenei will oppose any serious and real change because he's not for a genuine rapprochement with the West – he thinks democratic values are corrupt Western values.
What did you think of the Iranian media coverage during the elections?
Iranian media is strictly controlled by the government. Until recently, Iranian media has portrayed Kurds as "enemies of god" – agents of the United States, Israel and cruel terrorists, which is totally wrong. In fact, it was the Iranian regime who first attacked Kurdistan when Kurds demanded their rights. So we need a real change in the attitude of the Iranian media.
So what's the future for Kurds in Iran, currently?
No government can ignore the Kurdish issue – the future of democracy depends on it.
I read that your party, the Komalah, was considered illegal under Sharia law. Is that still the case?
It is, like almost every political party in Kurdish Iran. We were launched in 1969, then during the time of the Shah we stayed underground and took part in the revolution. Shortly afterwards, we and the other main Kurdish party, KDPI, were both made illegal.
What are your party’s priorities?
We're for a democratic, secular and federal Iran. We strongly believe in the separation between state and religion, and we are also for a system where every ethnic group – Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Baluchis – can have self-rule, governing their local and regional affairs through elected bodies. We believe in the importance of social, political and civil movements in a broad coalition to bring about powerful change in Iran, for labour, women’s and students’ movements and ethnic minorities.
Does your party believe in establishing a larger, cross-border Kurdistan?
This isn't part of our program – either to secede from Iran or to make a political entity with any other section of Kurdistan outside Iran. What we ask and fight for is a democratic Iran, where the rights and lives of Kurds and other minorities are respected by the constitution.
How do you feel about Iran’s relationship with Syria and other neighbouring countries?
We are strongly against the Islamic republic’s foreign policies towards its neighbours in exporting the "Islamic Revolution" to the world by harbouring and protecting terrorists in the region. So we are against any intervention in Syria. Syria’s people must decide their own fate and we support them in their fight.
Can you comment on Iran’s nuclear program?
We are really suspicious of it. It's not in the interests of the Iranian people to pursue such programs. In fact, it is harmful. We understand the concerns of the international community. But in terms of exerting political pressure and sanctions, the human rights issues cannot be pushed aside.
A large percentage of Kurds chose to boycott the presidential elections. Why?
It wasn't out of indifference, but a ”protest vote” because they didn’t believe that they could bring about change. Those who voted for Rohani don’t hold him in high regard – he was just the best out of a bad selection.
Did you vote in the recent presidential elections?
No, I didn’t. It's not enough to have the right to vote. You’ve got to be able to produce your own candidates, and right now there is no such opportunity for anyone outside the narrow ruling clique. They even disqualified important figures of their own system. There is no political freedom in Iran, there are no genuine political parties in Iran. There is no freedom of speech. There is no freedom of assembly or press. So how do you expect fair elections in Iran? There is no chance.