Iran (Rojhelat or Eastern Kurdistan)

© Ninara, Flickr

© Ninara, Flickr

The Kurdish region of Iran is a geographical area in western Iran that has been historically and is presently inhabited by a predominantly Kurdish population. This region includes parts of three Iranian provinces; the Kordestan Province, the Kermanshah Province, and the West Azerbaijan Province. These three Iranian provinces share borders with parts of Iraq and Turkey that are also inhabited by the Kurds.

The Kurdish people have inhabited the northwestern region of Iran for centuries – dating back before the Islamic conquests of the 7th century. It is believed that the Kurdish language was derived from Persian dialects in the early centuries AD, and that the Kurdish people represent a diverse range of tribal and ethnic groups from the region.

The establishment of an early Kurdish state resembling modern-day “Kurdistan” occurred when the first Kurdish dynasties emerged in the 10th-12th centuries AD. By the mid 1500’s, however, these early Kurdish principalities became caught between the rise of the Safavid and Ottoman empires and were displaced and marginalized during the ensuing wars between these two empires.

The Republic of Mahabad

During the early 20th century, there was a growing sentiment of Kurdish nationalism and political activism. While Kurdish leaders were unable to secure independence after World War I, a Kurdish state was created with support from the Soviet Union in the city of Mahabad after WWII. However, the so-called Kurdish Republic of Mahabad collapsed after the Soviets pulled out of Iran.

The rule of the Pahlavi dynasty in Iran was particularly brutal for the Kurds, and Kurdish activists were active supporters of a regime change during the 1979 revolution. After the revolution, however, the new Islamic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini viewed the Kurds, with their different language and traditions as outsiders, as dangerous to the new republic. Armed conflict between the new republic and the Kurds broke out as Khomeini tried to establish governmental control in the Kurdish regions.

To this day, the relationship between the Kurds of western Iran and the Iranian government remains tense. As of 2015, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK) is an active political and militant organization, based on the Iraq-Iran border, that is pushing for Kurdish autonomy in the Iranian provinces of Kordestan, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan.

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