ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A Kurdish Iranian official on Thursday criticized the current political climate in Iran, stating there are no democratic opposition forces paying attention to the rights of the Kurds and other minorities, contrasted with renewed US interest in the Iranian issue.
“We [the Kurdish Iranian (Rojhelat) parties] do not see any democratic opposition parties in Iran with whom we can cooperate,” said Mustafa Hijri, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI). “Still, we are attempting… with those who think democratically and speak of the rights of the Kurds and other minorities, to establish relations,” Hijri told Kurdistan 24.
Hijri, who was recently in the US on “an official invitation from the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC,” a nonprofit think tank specializing in US foreign policy and international affairs, raised concerns about growing discontent in Iran, notably among minorities.
He participated in two meetings with US State Department officials, one with the Iranian section and the other with the Deputy Director of Democracy and Human Rights.
Hijri and Abdullah Mohtadi, the head of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, completed their extended visit to Washington last week.
Speaking from his experience and past visits, Hijri said “my understanding is that they are more receptive to our words” and that the US is more willing to consider “our suggestions, especially those regarding [Iranian] Kurdistan.”
He said that the conference that the Council on Foreign Relations had organized was the first ever on the issue of Iranian Kurds (Rojhelat) and their future.
At the tail end of their meetings, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a series of tweets on Wednesday and Thursday describing growing unrest in Iran, lambasting Tehran on its human rights track record.
However, Mohtadi and Hijri believe a regime change is the people’s task.
“We are in discussions with the Persian [opposition] parties, and are exchanging ideas.”
Regarding division among Rojhelat parties, Hijri claimed they are not scattered.
“We have a center for cooperation and are discussing events that are taking place in Iran.”
Kurds are the third largest ethnic population in Iran, sitting at 10 percent, after the Azeris, and with limited rights.
The Iranian government regularly targets Rojhelat parties, which they view as a risk to national security, even breaching international borders. Three were killed in March alone.
The previous Sunday, KDPI Central Command released a statement in which they clarified that their Peshmerga forces had killed nine and injured 18 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in clashes on June 8 near an Iran-Iraq border town.
Founded in 1945 by iconic Kurdish leader and President of the short-lived Kurdistan Republic of Mahabad, Qazi Muhammad, the KDPI, a secular and social democratic party, has been fighting for Kurdish autonomy and rights in Iran for decades.
The PDKI reignited a conflict with the Islamic Republic in June 2016, 20 years after laying down their weapons in 1996 to prevent jeopardizing Kurdish gains made in northern Iraq.
Tehran is even engaged in a crackdown against unarmed Kurdish Iranian couriers (Kulbars) who carry goods between the Kurdistan Region and Iranian Kurdistan, killing and wounding at least six last week.
Israeli-Kurdish relations should be open, bold: Kurdish author
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – Relations between Israel and the Kurdistan Region should be open for the sake of the long-standing political, cultural, and economic ties between the two countries, according to Kurdish author and translator Shafiq Haji Kheder.
“If the state of Israel and the Kurds developed and deepened extensive ties, it would count as a significant step,” said Kheder in an exclusive interview with Kurdistan24 on April 11.
He has been following Israeli affairs for over two decades and translated several books about the country and its leaders.
Kheder fervently advocates stronger ties between the Kurds and the Jewish state, a taboo topic in Kurdish politics and diplomacy due to the risks of alienation by other Middle Eastern countries.
“Kurds are afraid of Arabs, Muslims, and neighboring countries,” Kheder puts it rather bluntly.
Discreet relations have never materialized into officialdom thus far despite willingness from both sides.
“Establishing ties between the Kurds and Israel is not a crime, especially since many Arab countries already have links with the Jewish state,” Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani previously said in a 2005 interview with the Saudi daily al-Hayat.
Kheder insists a good start requires a bold decision from politicians at the top.
“Now, and in the future, there should be no more fear to be transparent regarding the exchanges that exist between the two nations,” Kheder states.
“These relations must exist beyond the sharing of information at the intelligence services level,” he continues.
Kheder mentions one of the early examples of Kurdish-Israeli clandestine cooperation in the region: In 1966, Mossad launched Operation Diamond, a mission aiming to acquire a Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter jet for technical evaluation purposes.
Iraqi pilot Munir Redfa, “who was fed up with bombing the Kurds,” was bribed into flying his aircraft to Israel.
Later, Kurds provided vital assistance in safely smuggling Redfa’s Christian family from Iraq to Israel, Kheder reminds.
There have been setbacks in Israeli-Kurdish relations in the past years, such as Israel’s contentious role in the capture of fugitive leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan in early 1999 in Kenya by the Turkish state.
The subsequent killing of three Kurds who, in protest, attempted to occupy the Israeli Consulate in Berlin exacerbated the situation.
“At a time when Kurds are taking steps to establish their own state, securing the backing of a powerful country like Israel is what matters most,” Kheder notes.
Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the late President Shimon Peres, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have all on different occasions, since 2014, expressed their support for Kurdish aspirations to form their state and gain independence from Iraq.
Kheder argues that politically, Kurdistan stands as a bulwark for democracy against political Islam and its fundamentalist manifestations, be it Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS).
Kheder underscores Kurdish forces in Iraq and Syria have been the most efficient US allies in combating the Islamist groups.
“Now, Kurds and Israel are even closer thanks to the Rojava corridor,” Kheder points out. He views Syrian Kurdistan as the future gateway for Kurds to the rest of the world, using the Mediterranean Sea as a launchpad.
Kheder adds a prospective merger between Iraqi and Syrian Kurds, despite prevalent partisan politics on both sides, could bring Kurdistan even closer to Israel both in economic and geographic terms.
He suggests there are many economic opportunities as well which should be explored.
“From a geo-strategic point of view, Kurdistan is a key player thanks to its natural resources, oil, gas, water, and other yet untapped commodities,” Kheder says.
He also mentions how Kurdish oil already travels to Israeli ports via a pipeline through Turkey.
In his translated work, evidently popular in Kurdistan as they have sold tens of thousands of copies of his books, Kheder reveals he aims to break prejudices against Israel and the Jewish people.
Some of the books added to the Kurdish library by Kheder include: Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad by Welsh author Gordon Thomas; The Revolt: Inside Story of the Irgun by the sixth Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin; Ben-Gurion: Builder of Israel by the American journalist Robert St. John; and My Life, the autobiography of the first female Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir.
“Until now, the information and books on Israel and Jewish history available to Kurds of my generation were written by Arabic, Persian, or Turkish authors,” he reveals.
“They were not positive with regards to the state of Israel. For this reason, I wanted to paint a different picture,” Kheder continues.
“All these publications were anti-Israel. I remember a particular school book in the sixth-grade curriculum during the Ba’ath regime,” Kheder recalls, “which portrayed Jewish people as evildoers and wicked creatures.”
One of the characters introduced during his childhood was Shylock, the greedy, revenge-seeking loan shark in William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice.
Another was Fagin, the miser and villainous leader of a group of children in Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, he recalls.
“The goal of the Ba’ath party was to depict Jewish people as hideous, tarnishing their identity in the eyes of students. Unfortunately, we developed this point of view through Arabic books we were given to read,” he states.
Kheder likes to draw comparisons between the Kurds and Jews.
“The Jewish and Kurdish people share many similarities. Jews were dispersed for over 2,000 years. They were denied a place in their ancestral homeland. Their language was eliminated,” Kheder says.
“Wherever [the Jews] were present, they were held in lower esteem as underdogs,” he goes on before mentioning the similar oppression Kurds face in their respective states.
Both Jewish and Kurdish populations were encouraged in their ambitions by promises presented in the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) and Balfour Declaration (1917) respectively by large powers.
However, only the Jewish nation succeeded in creating a state, an achievement Kheder attributes to having a firmer belief in the right to self-determination.
“They rewrote history and the geography of the Middle East forever in 1948,” Kheder stresses.
“What they achieved is nothing short of a miracle. Kurds should follow this example. There are many lessons to be learned,” he concludes.