By Mina Al-Droubi – The Majalla – Khalid Azizi is a composed and soft-spoken man; he does not exhibit the fiery rhetoric that would be expected of a man in his position. Azizi is the secretary-general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Iran, an outlawed group currently based in neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan region (Southern Kurdistan).
He lobbies for the improvement of rights for Iran’s Kurdish population, currently numbering close to seven million.
Here, he talks about the changes sweeping the region and how they may affect the course of the Kurdish fight for greater freedoms. His forecast is fairly bleak; the near future promises little change from the status quo. The elections taking place in Iran today, June 14, will do little to improve Kurds’ lot, according to Azizi: “I have not seen an agenda from the presidential candidates regarding the case of Kurdish people in Iran.”
Cooperation between Kurds in Iran, Syria, Turkey and Iraq also appears to be a distant prospect, yet Azizi displays a certain respect for national sovereignty and has no intention to meddle in neighboring countries’ internal affairs. He has enough on his plate within the Iranian-Kurdish opposition.
Q: In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in 2008, you stated that there was disunity between members in your party. Are these problems still present? Is your party currently facing any internal obstacles between its members?
The split in the party occurred about six years ago. We are currently having meetings and discussions in order to reunite the party again. At the present time, we have a good relationship.
Q: You have made numerous visits to Europe and America to gain support for a Kurdish regional government in Iran, just like the one in Iraq. Is this one of the current objectives of your party?
The objective of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Iran is to lobby for the Kurdish case in Iranian Kurdistan. My purpose is to conduct meetings with Iranian dissidents outside Iran in order to realize a possible front among the Iranian opposition against the Islamic Republic of Iran. So I’m trying to provide information about the case of Kurdish people inside Iran, the situation of political prisoners, and violations of human rights in Iran. I’m trying to send this message to different political parties and the EU parliament which cares about Iran, to divert their attention from Iran’s nuclear project building to these humanitarian issues.
Q: Do you feel that the situation in Iran can help your party achieve its goals?
Our party was outlawed by the late Ayatollah Khomeini despite our efforts to find peaceful solutions to the Kurdish issue in Iran, so they have failed to adjust themselves to our demands and forced war on the Kurdish people. Since we were outlawed we haven’t carried out any legal activity in Iran, so we cannot participate in any changes inside the country. However, the majority of our members are living inside Iran, those who had to flee Iran when their activities were discovered have settled in Northern Iraq or in Europe or America.
Q: There are numerous other Kurdish parties. Do you all share the same objectives? Are you united in any way?
The objective of the majority of mainstream Kurdish parties in Iran is to achieve federalism and to ensure self-rule for Kurds in Iran. Unfortunately, we have not managed to establish a broad form among these political parties. My party, the KDP, has been working on this issue, to have a united front among the Kurdish political parties against the Iranian regime.
Q: If there was cooperation between the various Kurdish parties, do you think that a ‘Kurdish Spring’ would emerge?
The Kurdish issue has become a reality since the start of the Arab uprising, but the Iranian regime does not allow its own Kurdish people to play any part in their political process. For the time being, every part of Kurdistan is concentrating on the solution in the section [country] to which it belongs: the solution is inside Iraq for Kurdish people, Syria for Kurdish people, and Turkey too. So I don’t see a common agenda to establish a Kurdish state.
Q: Two years ago, Le Figaro newspaper accused your party of killing an Iranian nuclear scientist. You have denied these allegations. Why do you think these charges were brought against your party?
My party has deep belief in a democratic movement and we have always tried to find solutions based on democratic values. Mr. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou was killed in Vienna while sitting and discussing the Kurdish issue, and Sadegh Sharafkandi [secretary-general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (PDKI)] was killed in Berlin.
I would like to emphasize that we do not have any relation to terror acts, or to killing people at all. It is not true; we have not conducted any militant attack against a single person inside Iran. Our policy is to concentrate on a civil movement. But the Iranian regime has always tried to connect us to Western countries, saying that we are pro-American and how we are trying to portray the Kurdish issue as a separatist movement, or as a pro-Western movement, and that we are cooperating with Western countries against Iran. These are all false accusations.
Q: What is your relationship to the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq?
The policy of the KDP in Iran is not to interfere with Iraqi internal affairs [or] the Kurdish regional government. Our headquarters are in northern Iraq only because we are not allowed to conduct our political activities inside Iran; that’s why our office is there. We respect both the Iraqi government and KRG; we do not have any problems with them.
Q: What is the situation like for Sunni Kurds in Iran? Are they denied any rights because of their beliefs?
There are a lot of Sunni problems in Iran, but ethnic problems in particular: the denial of Kurdish rights, both as a nation and group inside Iran. The Iranian regime’s ideologies and values are based on Shi’ite principles; they do not allow the Sunnis to have the same rights as the Shi’as in Iran. So the discrimination is totally concrete, but the Kurds are both Sunni and Shi’ite.
In the Kurdish cities, the Sunni Kurds have the freedom to build their mosques. But in the cities that have a majority Shi’a population and a minority of Sunnis, then the problems emerge. There have been problems with Sunni mosques in Tehran for many years. So in terms of establishing Sunni institutions in Iran, they are constrained.
Q: Are you officially supporting any of the candidates in the presidential elections?
No, we have boycotted the elections as I have mentioned our party is outlawed. We cannot have any political activity inside Iran, so we do not have any opportunity to have a say in these elections.
I have not seen any agenda from the presidential candidates regarding human rights, a case for the Kurdish people in Iran, or democratic values and human rights which are based on the international charter of human rights.
The elections are not democratic, as they are totally controlled by the government and its institution. Mr. Khamenei has the last word; he has tried to organize the election in favor of their policy, in accordance to their strategy and own purposes. This is why we have boycotted the elections. We had no other choice.
Q: Do you think that Hassan Rouhani is being genuine in his speech about granting rights for Iranian minorities if he wins the elections?
I believe that the Iranian reformist movement is trying to have a different policy from the conservatives. At the time of Mr. Khatami there was some sort of freedom, in comparison to his predecessor, there was some opportunity for people to express themselves. Right now, if Rouhani is trying to represent Khatami and the reformist movement, there seems to be a problem. It’s not easy for a president to maneuver while the velayat-e faqih [guardianship of the jurist] is present, it will not allow him to practice his belief. Rouhani mentioned ethnic minorities, but it cannot have a possible solution. I believe that when the elections are over probably we may have an answer to this question, because we still don’t know Rouhani’s chances in comparison with the others [presidential candidates].
Q: Is your party offering any assistance to the Kurdish refugees on Syria’s borders?
As we are in Iraqi Kurdistan we do not have any affiliation with this. We have contacts with different political parties in Syrian Kurdistan and we have always tried to remain united. [We] have worked as much as possible to establish a democratic government in Syria [so that] everyone, regardless of their ethnic and religious background, should be given an opportunity to participate in the build-up of Syria after Bashar Al-Assad.
Q: What are your views on the situation in Syria? What is your stance on Iran aiding President Bashar Al-Assad?
I believe that Iran is backing Bashar Al-Assad’s regime; Iran is doing everything possible to prevent the fall of Al-Assad. The Iranian opposition groups are not in favor of this policy. The Iranian people are suffering because of the economic situation as Iran is investing millions of dollars in order to save Assad’s regime.
I believe this regime has to go. Iran will lose this battle, and when Iran has lost Bashar Al-Assad then it will start to create more problems somewhere else in the Middle East. Iran is trying to save itself; its strategy is to create a crisis outside Iranian borders in order to decrease the crisis inside Iranian borders, to preoccupy the states in the region with the crisis of Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. This is the policy of the Iranian regime.
Mina Al-Droubi is a desk editor at The Majalla. Mina, an Iraqi–British journalist, graduated in International Politics from City University and received her master’s degree in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.