Farzad Kamangar: We Are People Too

The purpose of this letter is not to pinpoint the problems of the Kurds and deny the inequalities that exist among the Baluchis, Turks, Persians, and Arabs. By adopting a sympathetic comradely toward others, one can regard themselves as a religious or ethnic minority, and thereby recognize the pains of others. We are people too.

The Kurdish story is the story of the woman who gets nothing from her matrimony but insults and beatings. When her husband was asked, “You don’t really pay for her expenses nor do you show any love to her, so why do you beat and belittle her every day?” He replied, “If I don’t do this, how will anyone know I’m her husband?”

Now for our story. In Iran’s mainstream political discourse, the words Kurds and Kurdistan unfortunately imply separatism and have anti-revolutionary and anti-security (regional) connotations.  It is as though the words Kurds and Kurdistan are uninvited guests and have no affinity with Iran.

The province of Kurdistan has become a breeding ground for certain adversities. The Kurdish people are deprived of many basic economical, social, and cultural rights. Historical underdevelopment in the province has resulted in poverty, unemployment, and disillusionment of the Kurdish people.

Although patriotic and kind Kurds have persistently opted for a peaceful life in Iran and have not asked for anything but their basic rights, the response to their legal demands has been an increase in political and civil imprisonment, exile, and execution. This is a result of existing negative perceptions and common prejudices against the Kurdish people.

The presence of ethnic and racial minorities in Iran and the rest of the world is not a new phenomenon. Ethnic, racial, and cultural plurality in a society can act as a double-edged sword. Under the conditions where a [minority] region is developed and fair and equal social relationships exist, co-habitation of various ethnicities is not only problematic, but it is also culturally enriching for that society. It increases the society’s tolerance and reduces cultural dogmas and narrow-mindedness. Today in the era of globalization, where many societies feel threatened by the shadow of cultural monotony, multiculturalism is a gift that needs to be protected and cherished.

At the same time, under conditions where the leaders of a society do not pay attention to the needs and legitimate rights of minorities, extended [negative] consequences will be inevitable. Perhaps one of the basic rights every Iranian feels entitled to, whether Kurdish or not, is the right to citizenship. This is a right that stands against seclusion and exclusion; two sentiments formed from the influence of tangible realities in daily life: from poverty to the dimming light in a famished child’s eyes; from the embarrassed father with empty pockets to the empty family dinner table; to the pale cheeks and impoverished look of a mother.

Seclusion is formed from the centralist approach and segregates the problems and the needs of the Kurdish people (the marginal population) from those living in the central regions [of the country].

There is no doubt that sentiments of exclusion, seclusion, and self-alienation are not limited to ethnic minorities when issues of underdevelopment and mismanagement are prevalent in society [as a whole]. These feelings affect, more or less, all members of society. However, due to structural inequalities, they have much deeper implications for minorities.

The sentiment of seclusion for all groups results in tension and unrest; especially in the presence of cultural poverty which is a consequence of economic poverty. Why not, even for once, instead of a security approach, we approach the basic problems of the people? This way we can solve the problems once and for all. However, there are other issues.

Is there no civil solution to fight the phenomenon of smuggling goods than to shoot or kill? If a person’s basic financial needs are met, would a young person risk his or her life to smuggle a box of tea or a few rolls of fabric across the border? Along the same double-standard policy,  the security-centred approach implemented against Kurdish political and civil prisoners is severe.

[Translator’s note: One of the only sources of income for the Kurdish population living near the Iraqi border is smuggling goods into Iran and selling them. The security and military forces shoot, injure and kill many of these impoverished individuals every year].

Even inside prisons, and in regards to punishment, do the Kurds have to still bear the label of ethnic minority and experience dark sentiments of seclusion and exclusion? Is there really a difference between a Kurdish and non-Kurdish prisoner that the former should be deprived of many legal rights such as access to a lawyer, temporary release, reduction in sentence, pardon, or freedom? Why despite recent leniency toward political prisoners of Tehran and some other major cities (I.e. their release, which is a source of great joy and I wish it continues), harsh and strict treatment of Kurdish prisoners persist. Instead of attempts to solve the issues, general policies continue to revolve around suppression and execution.

Unfortunately, some use the geographical location of the province of Kurdistan as a pretext to justify the security-oriented approach. The regime continues with pressures and crackdowns on political and civil prisoners. They also proceed with the occasional execution of prisoners who are essentially hostages or scapegoats rather than prisoners serving a sentence for a crime.

How long will this security-oriented view which has caused adversity and divergence amongst the Kurdish youth continue?

The victimized Kurdish population has chosen the most reasonable method to solve their problems: a non-violent life. Doesn’t the security-oriented approach toward the Kurds and Kurdistan imply that the Kurdish people are separated from Iran and Iranians, and thus have to be treated as non-Iranian citizens? I really wish this does not remain the case, or it can result in violence; a consequence that no sane mind wants to accept.

I hope the [discriminatory] treatment of Kurdish prisoners will end. By extending the same treatment to all prisoners, a necessary step (even if the step is small) will be taken to reduce the problems in this region. I wish the story of the Kurds will not be similar to the story of the woman whose only share of matrimony is the daily abuse she receives from her husband…

Farzad Kamangar

Evin Prison, April 10, 2010

Published by: HRANA (Human Rights Activists News Agency) Translation by: Siavosh Jalili for Persian2English

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