1979 Kurdish rebellion in Iran
|1979 Kurdish rebellion in Iran|
|Part of Consolidation of the Iranian Revolution and Kurdish separatism in Iran|
| Council of the Islamic Revolution (later Government of Iran)
|Commanders and leaders|
| Ruhollah Khomeini
|| Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou
|7,000 (according to the KDPI)|
|Casualties and losses|
|3,000+ killed||5,000 killed|
|1,200 Kurdish political prisoners executed
1979 Kurdish rebellion in Iran erupted in mid-March 1979, some two months after the completion of the Iranian Revolution, and became the largest among the nation-wide uprisings in Iran against the new regime and one of the most violent Kurdish rebellions in modern Iran. Initially, Kurdish movements were trying to align with the new government of Iran, seeking to emphasize their Muslim identity and seek common grounds with the Shia's. KDPI was even briefly attempting to brand itself as non-separatist organization, criticizing those calling for independence, but nevertheless calling for political autonomy. The relations however quickly deteriorated between the Kurds and the new Islamic government, and though Shi'a Kurds and some tribal leaders turned towards the new Shi'a Islamic State, Sunni Kurdish leftists continued the nationalist project in their enclave in Kurdistan Province.
While at first, Kurdish militants, primarily of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, made some territorial gains in the area of Mahabad and ousted the Iranian troops from the region, a large scale offensive in spring 1980 by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard reversed the course of the rebellion.
Following the eruption of Iran-Iraq War, in September 1980, an even greater effort was made by the Iranian government to crush the Kurdish rebellion, which was the only one of the 1979 uprisings to still go on (Arab, Baluchi and Turkmen uprisings had already been subdued by that time). By late 1980, the Iranian regular forces and the Revolutionary Guard ousted the Kurdish rebels from their strongholds, but pockets of Kurdish rebels kept executing sporadic attacks. The clashes in the area went on as late as 1983.
About 10,000 people were killed in the course of the Kurdish rebellion, with 1,200 of them being Kurdish political prisoners, executed in the last phases of the rebellion. Kurdish-Iranian dispute resurged only in 1989, following an assassination of KDP-I leader.
With traumatic experience of the Pahlavi rule in Iran and two major failed rebellions in 1946 and 1967, Kurdish political organizations were enthusiastic supporters of the revolution against the Shah, which brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power in February 1979. The Shah had shown himself to be no friend of Kurdish aspirations for greater autonomy and a loosening of Tehran's control over their affairs. From the early days of the revolution, relations between the central government and Kurdish organizations have been fraught with difficulties.
The Kurds, with their different language and traditions and their cross-border alliances, were seen as vulnerable to exploitation by foreign powers who wished to destabilize the young republic. Sunni Kurds, unlike the overwhelming majority of their countrymen, abstained from voting to endorse the creation of an Islamic republic in April 1979. That referendum institutionalized Shia primacy and made no provision for regional autonomy.
The crisis deepened after Kurds were denied seats in the assembly of experts gathering in 1979, which were responsible for writing the new constitution. Ayatollah Khomeini prevented Dr. Ghassemlou, the elected representative of the region, to participate in the assembly of experts’ first meeting. Kurds were therefore deprived of their political rights under the new Iranian constitution, since the majority of them belonged to the Sunni branch of Islam.
As the wave of nationalism engulfed eastern Kurdistan after the fall of the Pahlavi Dynasty in line with a series of anti-revolutionary revolts across the country (in Khuzestan, Iranian Balochistan and other parts of Iran), a full scale rebellion was imminent. Also, in March 1979, the KDP-I formulated and publicly announced an eight-point plan for Kurdish independence.
The rebellion erupted in mid-March 1979, when protesting Kurds seized police station, army headquarters and parts of army barracks in Sanandaj, after failure to disperse them by army troops. According to BBC, the revolt began, when Kurdish tribesmen overpowered Iranian soldiers in the town of Paveh. Unrest then spread to other Kurdish-dominated regions as rebels took over towns and army garrisons, namely to the towns of Divan Darreh, Saqqez and Mahabad. Many Kurdish leaders went into hiding, after Ayatollah Khomeini ordered their arrest. Iranian newspaper reports at this stage did put the number killed at about 600.
Since April 1979 armed conflict broke out between armed Kurdish factions and the Iranian revolutionary government's security forces. The Kurdish forces included primarily the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) and the leftist Komala (Revolutionary Organization of Kurdish Toilers). By late April, sectarian fighting also broke out between Kurdish and Azeri factions in the area, resulting in hundreds of killed.
Fighting campaigns and politics
In mid-August, without sufficient preparations and regardless of army's advice, the Revolutionary Guard marched on the rebel-held Paveh, falling into a major ambush. The defeat prompted Khomeini to approach the heads of the army and the government. The new Iranian Islamic leadership had little patience for Kurdish demands and opted for crushing unrest through military means. As a result Ayatollah Khomeini, the new religious leader of Iran, declared a jihad (holy war) against Kurds in Iranian Kurdistan and key Kurdish nationalist figures were declared "enemies of the state", in his statement on August 17, 1979. The government then began a three week campaign to clear out Kurdish strongholds, mainly Saqqez and Mahabad.
On August 20, 1979, the Iranian army started the Siege of Mahabad. By August 30 it was reported they had managed to completely surround the city and three days of negotiations started. After this failed, Iranian forces entered the city on September 3 backed by F-4 fighter jets and over 100 tanks. Backed also by artillery power, they managed to seize control of the town after just several hours of fighting. The defeat in Mahabad was a major blow to the rebels, and afterwards Iranian forces continued to march on the smaller town of Baneh. Over 500 people were killed during the siege.
The rebel defenders were overwhelmed by superior power of the Iranian offensive, using heavy artillery, tanks and air cover, but managed effective resistance. Despite the heavy casualties, the bulk of Kurdish Peshmerga evaded capture and retreated into the mountains. The Kurds resumed their offensive six weeks later, returning to Mahabad and effectively fighting the armor forces of Iran with Molotov cocktails and RPGs. In the end of November, Kurds also attacked Sanandaj, Saqqez and other Kurdish cities and towns. Kurdish effective initiative continued, as Iranian government was distracted by other events in the country, such as the American Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran.
In a speech on 17 December 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini called the concept of ethnic minority contrary to Islamic doctrines. He also accused those who do not wish Muslim countries to be united in creating the issue of nationalism among minorities. His views were shared by many in the clerical leadership.
New Iranian administration of President Banisadr meanwhile took office. In late January 1980, Revolutionary Guard units and government supporting Kurds unsuccessfully battled rebels in the region, resulting in stalemate to last until spring. By May 1980, Kurdish rebels still controlled much of the regions' roads, rural areas and holding once again the city of Mahabad as their capital. The KDPI claimed to control over 7,000 fighters at the time.
Spring 1980 Iranian offensive
In the spring of 1980, government forces under the command of President Abolhassan Banisadr take back most of the Kurdish cities through a huge military campaign, sending in mechanized military divisions to Kurdish cities including Sanandaj, Pawe, and Marivan.[unreliable source?] Entire villages and towns were destroyed to force Kurds into submission.[verification needed]. Ayatollah Khalkhali, sentenced thousands of men to execution after summary trials. The Kurds however continued to hold Mahabad as the summer fighting diminished, while Iranian-Iraqi tensions grew.
Autumn 1980 Iranian operations
In late August 1980, Iranian army failed to take Mahabad, held by the Kurds for already 10 months. They continued to hold it for five more months, as the Province of Kordistan became the theater of Iran-Iraq War. Although, President Banisadr ordered a cease-fire with the Kurds, following the Iraqi invasion, the Pasdaran ignored him, continuing counter-insurgency campaigns.
The confrontation between Tehran and the Kurds intensified sharply when the Iran-Iraq War broke out, as Iran faced Iraqi support to Kurdish insurgency in Iran, while waging its own campaign to encourage risings of various groups within Iraq. It was initially assumed that Iraqi Kurds and their Iranian brothers would cooperate to exploit weaknesses on both sides. Not surprisingly, neither Baghdad nor Tehran was willing to accept that outcome. Rather, both sides insisted on organizing special loyalist Kurdish military units to participate in the war and to demonstrate allegiance to their respective states. Essentially Iraqi KDP and Iranian Kurds were split, experiencing a series of internal conflicts.
The Pasdaran units had not been effective against the Kurds, until Revolutionary Guard backed units engaged into fighting with Iraqis and Iraqi-backed Kurds in late December.
While most of its military and political activity in Iran was greatly overpowered after the 1979-1981 rebellion, Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran had continued its opposition activities through 1980s. In 1989, the KDPI renewed its military activities, among which most notable was the 1990 incident, in which some 300 Iranian soldiers were killed.
Since 1996, following an effective political and military crackdown, the conflict of KDPI against the Iranian government shifted to the political opposition abroad.
- Komala (Komala-ye Shureshgari-ye Zahmat Keshan-e Kordestan-e Iran, or Komala, or Committee of the Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kordestan) 
Ettela'at newspaper publication
On 27 August 1979, in Sanandaj, Iran, 11 Kurdish prisoners were executed by a firing squad following a 30 minute trial under Shiite cleric Sadegh Khalkhali. Jahangir Razmi, a photographer for Iran’s independent Ettela’at newspaper, captured the execution on film.
Within hours an anonymous photo of the execution ran across 6 columns of the paper. On September 8, the newspaper was seized by the Foundation for the Disinherited, a state-owned holding company. On April 14, 1980, the photo won a Pulitzer Prize. In 2006, Razmi made public 27 images from the execution that he had kept hidden.
- Denise, N. The Kurds And the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, And Iran:p.145 2005. Siracuse University Press. "Instead of creating a cohesive Kurdish nationalist movement, some Kurdish leaders such as Husayni's brother Shaykh Jalal accepted Iraqi military assistance and formed a Sunni militia opposed to the Iranian government and Kurdish nationalist parties. Qasimlu differentiated his real Kurdish nationalist party from 'traitors' within the KDPI. Others, such as the prominent Ghani Bolourian, tried to negotiate with the central government. After the revolution some Shi'a Kurds from Ilam, Kermanshah and West Azerbaijan turned away from Kurdish nationalists and towards non-Kurdish Shi'a communities. Sunni Kurdish leftists continued to direct the nationalist project in their enclave in Kurdistan Province, having marginal influence over Shi'a Kurds in other regions." 
- Ward, R.S. Immortal: a military history of Iran and its armed forces. 2009. pp.231-233. 
- "What Is Iran Doing in Syria?". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2012-09-23.
-  "Sending in Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) rather than regular army troops, and dispatching the Ayatollah Sadiq Khalkhali—the “Hanging Judge”—resulted in the deaths of nearly 10,000 Kurds in the 1979‐82 period alone, many in mass executions ordered by Khalkhali."
- Denise, N. The Kurds And the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, And Iran:p.144-5. 2005. Siracuse University Press. "Free to discuss its political views, the KDPI came out of thirty years of clandestine existence and made public claims for political autonomy"; "Despite its criticisms of the regime, in its early post-revolutionary public discourses the KDPI called itself an authentically national and Iranian party". 
- Ali Reza Nourizadeh (Persian - Arabic - English)
- Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East: p.390. 
- D. and in khorasan [Cultural & Civil society of Khorasani Kurds, www.cskk.org]. McDowall,A Modern History of the Kurds, 1996, Chapter 13, "Subjects of the Shi'i Republic," pp. 261-287.
- Ayatollah Khomeini's Speech, Radio Tehran, December 17, 1979. Quoted in David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds (London: I.B. Tauris, 1996, p. 271
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