Iran’s Transformative Moment: Kurdistan on the Frontline

What role is Eastern Kurdistan (Rojhelat) playing in Iran’s ongoing protest movement? And why are these uprisings transformative for Iran? The formation, demands and direction of these protests show how new and changing relationships between Kurds and Iranian society as a whole are shaping a protest movement with the ability to challenge the Islamic Republic like never before.

State and Society in Iran

[Kurdish Peace Institute]

Taking the establishment of the Iranian nation-state in 1925 as the starting point, one can argue that the social contract between state and society in Iran was born paralyzed and dysfunctional. Iranian society is similar to the societies of other Middle Eastern states that never experienced real freedom and democracy. Modernity was enforced on these societies under authoritarian rule. A top-down form of nationalism was been imposed on their multi-ethnic and multi-religious communities.

In response to these conditions, the struggle for democracy, inclusion and change has been a continuous undertaking in Iran, carried on by different peoples and communities.

Iran is a country of many failed revolutions and uprisings, including the Constitutional Revolution, the 1979 Revolution, and the Green Movement. They can all be described as ‘failed’ because none of them satisfied the popular desire for democratic change—often as a result of state repression and the marginalization of progressive forces. However, they have given the peoples of Iran valuable experience in resistance.

What we observe today is the continuation of a century-long desire and struggle for change and improvement in Iran. A review of the ongoing uprising suggests that it is too early to call the protests truly nation-wide, but they are certainly widespread. People from major cities and provinces, including Tehran, Shiraz, Rasht, Kermashan, Saqqez, Ahwaz, Zahedan, Zabol, Sanandaj, and many others, have been participating for nearly three weeks.

The Revolutionary Catalyst

According to Dennis W. K. Khong and P. C. Lim, every uprising and revolution has a catalyst. For instance, the self-immolation of Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010 became the catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring. The