Relevant articles on divisions within Iranian Kurdish parties

A sampler by Wladimir van Wilgenburg

In 1983, together with an Iranian socialist group, Unity of Communist Militants, Komala formed the Communist Party of Iran. In 1991, political differences with the UCM leadership led to a split, with the latter forming the Worker-communist Party of Iran. In 2004 there was a further split in the Communist Party of Iran, with the more nationalist faction led by Mohtadi deciding to relaunch Komala


Mohatdi now considers himself a “revolutionary liberal”.[1] He has met American officials over the last few years at the state department and other government agencies[2] and many consider that the group has shifted to the right since the split with the CPI. Komala remains one of four major Kurdish parties organising in Kurdistan. Most activists of the organisation are unaware of the relationship of Mohtadi and other Komala leaders with the US.

The 1961-1975 struggle in Iraq overshadowed the Kurdish movements in Iran and Turkey. Although the armed resistance in Iraq initially contributed to the revival of the KDP in Iran (KDPI), Barzani argued that Kurds in Iran should delay their struggle until the KDP had achieved meaningful autonomy in Iraq. In exchange for limited support by Tehran, he ordered those Kurdish activists from Iran who had escaped into Iraqi Kurdistan to stop anti-Iranian activism. One faction followed Barzani, but a group of activists split to form the KDPI/Revolutionary Committee. The Iranian army was able to crush their resistance, helped when Barzani closed the borders. The rest of the KDPI leadership remained in Baghdad and Europe until the Pahlavi monarchy was on the verge of collapse in late 1978.

During their absence, Kurdish society and politics had changed. In 1969, a group of radical intellectuals came together as the Revolutionary Organization of Toilers of Kurdistan, better known as Komala, similar to and helped by the KTL in Iraq. Komala, opposing both pro-Soviet tendencies and the urban guerrilla emphasis of some Iranian revolutionary groups, worked to form peasant unions after the Islamist revolution and acquired much popular support among Kurdish peasants and youth.

As in Iraq, organizational conflict reflected the emergence of new social forces and radical perspectives in the nationalist movement. The KDPI denounced Komala’s activities to organize the peasantry and recruit women, arguing that issues of class struggle should await the achievement of autonomy. The KDPI began armed assaults on the leftist groups as early as 1980, and in 1984 launched a confrontation against Komala that continued for several years and took a heavy toll on both sides. The KDPI has since split, weakened by the assassination of two general secretaries.

Unlike Iraq, where the KTL eventually dissolved into the modernist front, Komala has maintained itself as an alternative to KDPI with its call for a socialist Iran in which Kurdish rights to self-determination will be honored. However, much like KTL, Komala has not been able to liberate itself from the burden of traditionalism, or to turn the nationalist movement into a social revolution or a people’s war. Since 1984, the leadership and much of the organization of both parties has been based in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Although both Komala and KDPI formally demand autonomy within Iran, an increasing number of Kurds in Iran and Iraq are arguing more openly in favor of independence, pointing to the failure of negotiations, and numerous deals between the Kurds and various central governments, government associations of Kurdish leaders, and changing international relations. [13]

Iran’s Kurdish parties KDP, KDPI meet for first time since 2006 split 14.12.2012 By Fuad Haqiqi RUDAW –
Leaders of Iranian Kurdistan’s two main Kurdish parties meet to address differences and seek mutual agenda. Photo: Khalid Azizi
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December 14, 2012

KOYE, Kurdistan region ‘Iraq’,— The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) and Iran’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) met for the first time this week since splitting into two groups in 2006, for talks aimed at a possible reunification, officials said.

“Both parties believe that they have a mutual agenda and must resolve their differences in order to realize that agenda, said Qadir Wirya, a member of the KDP’s senior leadership.

He told Rudaw that, “In general unification between the two parties was discussed in the talks.”

Hama Nazif Qadiri, a senior KDPI official, confirmed that the aim of the meeting was to improve relations, but said that, “Unification requires building trust between the two parties.”

Wirya agreed that, “The process takes a lot of effort from both sides.”

At a 2006 convention, KDPI members elected Mustafa Hijri as leader, forcing a split that created the KDP under the leadership of Khalid Azizi. Hijri represented the KDPI at the reunification talks.

“Both parties discussed several political issues directly related to Iranian Kurdistan,” Wirya said. “A mechanism to participate in national and international meetings related to Iran also was discussed,” he added.

Qadiri did not directly address whether the meeting meant recognition of the KDP by his party.

“The most important thing for KDPI is to hold a dialogue with all Iranian Kurdish parties, regardless of their ideological beliefs,” Qadiri said.

The Kurdish Struggle in Iran: A Lost Cause?

06/03/2011 14:16:00 By ROZH AHMAD

The Kurds’ ongoing struggle for more cultural and political rights in Iran
is more isolated and fragile than ever before, with countless splits
occurring in the Iranian Kurdish parties and often ferocious in-fighting.

Due to bans imposed on these political groups by the Islamic Republic of
Iran, they are mostly now officially stationed well within the borders of
the neighboring semiautonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, as
political refugees hosted by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

To this day, the groups are still armed – not adequately enough to counter
Iran’s military might, but with more than enough firepower to fight each
other, as some of them did in recent years, when several party splits led to
inter-party armed conflict.

With sectarianism now seemingly more important among these exiled Iranian
Kurds than the struggle for their rights, the unity of the Kurdish
resistance is weakening in Iran, and there is the ever-present possibility
of further armed conflict or even civil war among the groups, which would
further weaken the Kurdish cause in Iran.

Currently, five major Iranian Kurdish political groups outlawed by Iran have
their bases within Iraqi Kurdistan. The groups, co-existing in an
ideologically uneasy relationship, comprise the Democratic Party of
Kurdistan-Iran (PDKI), the Komala-Communist Party of Iran (Komala-CPI), and
their splinter parties.

Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist government allowed the groups to be in Iraq after
the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution, due to their opposition to a common
enemy: the Iranian government.

During the Kurdish uprising against Hussein in 1991, the groups were allowed
to establish bases in Iraqi Kurdistan, and they have been here ever since.
The KRG supplies them with power, water and land.

Iran claims the Kurdish groups are terrorists, although the groups
themselves renounced armed struggle in 2003, as the Iraqi Constitution does
not allow armed political activities to be operated from Iraqi soil. The
groups do not allow Iraqi Kurds as members, so as to avoid upsetting the
KRG’s foreign relations.

Rudaw recently visited the two most prominent camps of these Iranian Kurdish
parties and observed the daily life of their peshmarga fighters, which is no
longer limited to military duties alone. With their guns put to one side,
Rudaw saw both male and female peshmargas – still in their military fatigues
– building, planting trees and armed with microphones and computer keyboards
in their media studios, from where they broadcast to Iran and the rest of
the world, via television, radio and the internet.

“We support civil struggle, and cultural and political representation of the
Kurdish nation, and we also believe in a political solution for the Kurdish
question in Iran,” said Mohammad Nazifi, member of the PDKI’s Secretariat,
at the democratic party’s camp nestled under the Haibasultan Mountains, just
10 minutes’ drive from the town center of Koya in Erbil province.

Hassan Rahmanpanah, spokesman and Central Committee member of the
Komala-CPI, said the communist group did not believe in armed struggle, but
that it still had weapons and military camps to defend itself from “the
Islamic regime’s attacks.”

“If we did not have our guns we couldn’t have our media, our publications
and the [clandestine] civil struggle we are operating in Iran against the
Islamic regime,” he told Rudaw at the Komala-CPI camp in the craggy
mountains of Zirgwez, about 45 minutes’ drive south from Sulaimani city.

During the 1990s, prominent members of both groups were often assassinated
by Iranian secret service members when they were en route to and from their
camps and while in Iraqi Kurdish towns. Although there have not been any
deadly attacks since security increased in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003, the
groups remain ever-vigilant.

The roots of the political tension

Historically, there have always been political differences between
Komala-CPI and the PDKI. These differences reached their highest level in
the early 1980s, when, in the Iraqi Kurdistan mountains, a bloody six-year
civil war erupted between the two groups, who were both heavily armed at
that time.

Komala-CPI, founded in 1967 in the Kurdish region of Iran, is a Marxist
organization, which now “fights to destroy capitalism in the longer run, but
its immediate demand is to form a democratic state with all the other
Iranian political forces included,” according to Komala-CPI’s Rahmanpanah.

He said any democratic government in Iran “must guarantee the democratic
rights of the Kurdish nation, even if they want to secede.”

“Our socialist demands are similar to those of the Communist Party of Iran
[which includes both Kurds and Iranian Persians, and is also based in the
Zirgwez camp], but because of the extent of the national oppression in
[Iranian] Kurdistan, ending this oppression is one of our prime goals,”
added Rahmanpanah. “We have agreed to fight for the people’s judicial
representation in Iran at our latest congress.”

The PDKI, led by Mustafa Hijri and founded in 1945 in Iranian Kurdistan, has
a contrasting position to Komala-CPI’s on the Iranian Kurdish question. The
PDKI’s Nazifi said its central aim was “to build a federalist government in
Iran that assures the right of the Kurds and the other.nations [ethnic
groups] in Iran on an ethnic and geographical basis.”

He added that the PDKI had long believed in a “decentralized federalist
government,” similar to the one existing in Iraq today, that “could
guarantee the rights of all those nations, settle Iran’s problems peacefully
and create good relations in the Middle East and internationally.”

Breaking away from the mother party

Komala-CPI, known to the communists as “the mother party,” has also given
birth to two further “Komala” parties which insist on using the term
“Komala” (meaning “Group” in Kurdish) in their party names, creating great
headaches for outsiders trying to work out the identity of these various

In 2000, the biggest split in Komala-CPI’s history occurred when Abdullah
Muhtadi, one of Komala-CPI’s most renowned leaders, decided to break away
from the party due to his disenchantment with its communist ideology and his
increased embracing of a social-democratic position.

He formed a new faction named the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan

“Our faction’s split was the only one that occurred for political reasons in
the history of Iranian-Kurdish politics,” said Farwq Wakili, Komala-PIK
Central Committee member and the party’s representative in Sulaimani city.
“We are still a leftwing organization – left of social democracy. Our Komala
fights for federalism in Iran and the rights of the Kurds and other nations
on ethnic and geographical grounds.”

Perhaps underscoring a fundamental similarity in purpose among the Iranian
Kurdish parties, which is ignored due to their highly politicized
internecine fighting, Komala-PIK’s aim, as expressed in Wakili’s statement,
appears to be exactly the same as the “democratic” PDKI’s, as expressed in
Nazifi’s statement, even though Komala-PIK is led by former staunch
communist Muhtadi and uses the name “Komala,” now inextricably associated
with communism.

To add even more confusion to the party nomenclature and ideology, the
Kurdish-language name of Komala-PIK translates as “Komala-Revolutionary
Toilers’ Party of Kurdistan,” with the party name rather shrewdly toned down
in its English version for Western and international consumption.

“This is because ‘revolution’ and those kinds of names are not popular
outside the country and in the West,” explained Wakili.

Split after split leads to armed conflict

In 2008, the year when the sectarianism and factionalism among the Iranian
Kurdish parties peaked, several Komala-PIK Central Committee members decided
to further break away from the Komala splinter party, apparently because of
personal politics, to form their own organization, called Komala-Kurdistan
Toilers’ Party (Komala-KTP), led by Omer Ilkhani Zada.

This separation was not as peaceful as Muhtadi’s split from the Komala-CPI
“mother party.” Tension ran so high between these two “social democratic”
splinter groups that armed attacks were mounted against each other, and the
parties took each others’ cadres as prisoners. This was eventually stopped
by the intervention of the Iraqi Kurdish security forces.

The split, and the subsequent violence, had reportedly been simply due to
petty personal differences on how to and who should run Komala-PIK, but as a
result, instead of fighting their common enemy, the Iranian regime, the
refugees had turned their weapons on each other.

“It was a management issue which could have been solved easily, but the
consequence was quite unfortunate,” said Komala-PIK’s Wakili, adding that
there were no political or ideological differences between the two “social
democratic” groups, who both blame each other for sparking off the violence
and, to this day, will not engage in mutual dialogue.

“The violence was a result of deviating away from Komala-CPI’s fundamental
principles,” said Komala-CPI’s Rahmanpanah, adding that no violence had ever
taken place during a split from his own party.

“When [Muhtadi’s Komala-PIK] first split from us, we even provided them with
a camp next to us and paid for all their expenses for three months,” he
said. The Komala-PIK camp still stands next to the original Komala-CPI camp.

The Kurdish democrat’s PDKI did not escape the epidemic of sectarianism
either. In that same year, just after the PDKI’s 13th congress, a splinter
group left the party to form the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK), not to be
confused with Iraqi Kurdistan’s own Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which
is one of the region’s current ruling parties.

The PDK claimed they had had issues with the original party’s “internal
democratic structure,” while the PDKI claimed the faction had broken away
because their demands had not been met in the congress.

Both “democratic” parties have similar manifestos, exasperatingly similar
names and even celebrate similar party anniversaries. The lack of
fundamental political and ideological differences between them mirrors the
relationship of Muhtadi’s Komala-PIK with its offshoot, Zada’s Komala-KTP.

The ‘Iraqi Kurdistan solution’ for Iran’s Kurds

Apart from communist Komala-CPI, all the Iranian Kurdish parties view the
United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent formation of the
KRG, as the solution to the Kurdish question in Iraq. Komala-CPI is the only
one of these groups demanding “the right of the Kurdish nation to self

In contrast to the communist party’s separatist views, the PDKI’s Nazifi
told Rudaw that, “to put into practice our federalism, all the regions of
the indigenous nations must be part of Iran,” adding that his party
envisioned a semiautonomous Kurdish region within an “Iranian federalist
state,” echoing the status of the Kurdish semiautonomous region in Iraq.

However, Komala-CPI remains staunchly opposed to federalism.

“Federalism is unable to answer the Kurdish question and guarantee the
democratic rights of the Kurds,” said Komala-CPI’s Rahmanpanah, adding that
federalist-type governments had been equally unsuccessful in addressing such
issues in the rest of the world as well.

“The experiences of Palestine, India and Iraqi Kurdistan show that
federalism has not offered a solution for the different ethnic minority
groups,” he said.

Other peoples join the Kurds’ struggle

The Iranian Kurdish movement has, on the whole, also fought for the rights
of all the major ethnic minorities in Iran, namely the Arabs, Azeri,
Baluchis and Turks.

In turn, members of these minorities have joined the Kurds’ ranks.

Rudaw met peshmargas in their early twenties from these various
nationalities at both the Komala-CPI and PDKI camps, many of them speaking
in broken Kurdish.

“We pick up each other’s languages, because we struggle together and we are
also living here together,” said a 21-year-old communist peshmarga, adding
that the peshmargas of other ethnicities usually picked up the Kurdish
language after being in the camp for a couple of months.

At the PDKI camp there was a cemetery which, as well as having graves and
memorials for Kurds, included those for Arab and Turkish party martyrs,
killed while fighting the Iranian military forces or assassinated by the
Iranian secret service.

A united front or lost cause?

As a member of both Socialist International (SI) and the Unrepresented
Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), the PDKI is substantially more
internationally recognized than the other Iranian Kurdish parties.

In 2004, Komala-PIK also requested to become a SI member, but was refused
because SI’s policy only allows for the membership of one democratic,
including social democratic, party per country.

Despite this, Komala-PIK’s Wakili says his party is the most influential
Iranian Kurdish party.

“You can see the important position our party holds in the international
media, which means we are progressing politically and more recognized than
the [other parties],” he said.

The other two splinter groups, the PDK and Komala-KTP, as yet have no great
influence nationally or internationally, especially when compared to the
PDKI and Komala-CPI, possibly due to the recentness of their formations.
Only time will tell whether these groups will become substantial enough to
rival the two mother parties, or whether they will simply sink into oblivion
like dozens of other parties in the turbulent history of Iranian politics.

All the Iranian Kurdish parties mentioned here told Rudaw, and indeed have
often grandly proclaimed to the rest of the world’s press, that their aim is
to form a united front against their common enemy, Iran. On the surface,
this would seem the obvious and most simple solution, but in practice,
appears to be a far cry from reality, due to the violent, but often petty
and pointless, ideological disputes and personal politics among the groups.

The Kurdish struggle in Iran appears to be a lost cause, stagnating amid the
factionalism and sectarianism that is bogging down the Iranian Kurds’ simple
hope to secure their rights and freedom.

Kurdish parties to form united front

After more than a decade of divisions five Kurdish parties in Iran are coming together in an united front in pursuit of a common agenda, according to Abdullah Muhtadi, leader of the Kurdish Komala Party in Iran.

“Five Kurdish parties have found a way to cooperate with each other,” Muhtadi told Rudaw in a recent interview. “We haven’t had this in more than 10 years. It is a necessity,” he said.

According to Muhtadi, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) is the group closest at this time to Komala, the Kurdish branch of the Communist Party of Iran.

Iran’s fractured Kurdish groups have been holding rare talks since an important Kurdish National Conference was called by Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani.

Komala’s three divided factions have become especially united ahead of the Kurdish summit, for which no formal date has been fixed. Its aim is to gather Kurdish groups around the world to work out a common agenda and roadmap for greater Kurdish rights, perhaps even a homeland.

Until the first preliminary meeting of 39 Kurdish groups under the auspices of Barzani on July 25, Iranian Kurdish parties had rarely met face-to-face.

Muhtadi did not say that the conference was the reason for the united front. He expressed the common goal of Iranian Kurdish groups as a “federal, democratic and pluralistic system for Iran in which Kurds can decide for themselves.”

Muhtadi believes that Iran’s other minorities such as Baluchis, Arabs and Azeris share Kurdish ambitions for the present and future.

“It is true they are all Iranians, but a future Iran will not be democratic nor can it stay united if it doesn’t grant its minorities their rights,” said Muhtadi, who enjoys close relations with other Iranian opposition groups. “This is becoming clear day by day.”

The Komala leader said that Iran’s different ethnic groups stand a better chance of achieving greater rights if they work together for a better Iran.

“History, geography and circumstances have forced us to join hands with other democratic-minded people in Iran for political change today and a new Iran tomorrow where Kurds can achieve their rights,” he said.

For more than a decade, Komala and other Kurdish groups have silenced their guns against the Islamic Republic and sought a political settlement for Kurdish Rights. Iran’s Kurdish regions are among the country’s poorest and Kurds want rights such as Kurdish language classes in their public schools.

“If future governments in Iran are going to be hostile like the one today, then we will have no choice but to fight and shed blood until the end of the world,” warned Muhtadi, who personally played a major role in building an umbrella group in 2005 for Iran’s ethnic groups.

“They see us as the leader in the struggle for ethnic rights,” said Muhtadi. “We (Kurds) are the third in terms of numbers in Iran, but we are the first in terms of political struggle,” he said.
In Iran’s presidential elections in June, many Kurds voted for the moderate Hassan Rouhani, who pledged to grant cultural rights to the Kurds. But Muhtadi expressed skepticism about Rouhani. He said Iranians had voted for him for lack of a better choice. “There was no other window of hope for the Kurds or Iranians, except Rouhani. People voted for him out of sheer economic desperation,” he claimed.

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