Iran–PJAK conflict

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Iran-PJAK conflict
Part of Kurdish separatism in Iran
Map of Iranian Kurdistan.png
North West of Iran - the epicenter of PJAK insurrection.
Date 1 April 2004 – present
(11 years, 7 months and 4 weeks)
Location West-Azerbaijan, Kordestan and Kermanshah Provinces in Iran, Kurdistan Region in Iraq and Ağrı Province in Turkey
  • Cease fire established on September 2011, as Iran's government declared victory, while PJAK withdrew from Iranian territory.[1]
  • PJAK redeploy their positions across the Iran-Iraq border.[2]
  • Clashes renew in 2013
 Iran Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK)
Commanders and leaders

Iran Ali Khamenei (2004-present)
Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013)
Iran Hassan Rouhani (2013-present)
Iran Mohammed Ali Jafari (2004-present)
Iran Yahya Rahim Safavi (2004-present)
Iran Ataollah Salehi (2004-present)
Iran Mohammad Hejazi (2004-present)

Iran Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moghaddam (2004-present)

Haji Ahmadi (2004-2011)
Majid Kavian  
Murat Karasac  
Agiri Rojhilat
Zanar Agri
Ihsan Warya
Akif Zagros
Gulistan Dugan

Resit Ehkendi  (POW)

5,000 deployed[3]

15,000 (according to PJAK)[4]

600[5]-1,000[6][7] fighters

2,000[8]-3,000[9] fighters (according to PJAK).
Casualties and losses
539 KIA (536 Revolutionary Guard, 3 Police Officers) PJAK's statement , 1 Helicopter shot down PJAK statement (2004-14, see below) 64 KIA Iran's statement 263 KIA, 2 Executed, 40 Kurdish civilians killed (2004-14, see below)
Total: 429-937+ fatalities:
429-673 fatalities[10] (Uppsala data 2005-09,2011)
661-937 casualties (2004-14, see below)

The Iran–PJAK conflict, or Iran-Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan conflict is an armed conflict between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the ethnic secessionist Kurdish guerrilla group Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), which began in 2004. The group had been carrying out attacks in the Kurdistan Province of Iran and other Kurdish-inhabited areas, and is closely affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party operating against Turkey.[11] Following large clashes in summer 2011, a cease-fire was declared between the parties, with Iran claiming victory and PJAK ending all armed operations as of 29 September 2011. Since then, several violent incidents have occurred, including the Baneh clash in December 2011 and another clash in April 2012. In 2013, confrontations renewed, including clashes in May 2013, August battle in Sardasht border area and more events in October.

In line with the Turkish PKK's goals, PJAK leaders say their long-term goals are to establish an autonomous Kurdish region within the Iranian state.[12] It is mainly focused on replacing Iran's theocracy with a democratic and federal government, where self-rule is granted to all ethnic minorities of Iran, including Sunni Arabs, Azeris, and Kurds.[13] Many however refer to PJAK as a strictly separatist organization, pursuing a complete disengagement of the Kurdish regions from Iran and alliance with neighbouring Kurdish regions in Iraq, Turkey and Syria.


Since the Iranian Revolution, there has been an ongoing conflict between Iran’s central government and Kurdish political movements rooted in the predominantly Kurdish region of western Iran.[14] The level of violence has ebbed and flowed with peaks of serious conflict in 1979, the early eighties and the early nineties.[14]

Kurdish casualties are estimated by the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI)) at more than 30,000 civilian dead in addition to 4,000 Kurdish fighters.[14] Along with the dead, there have been tens of thousands of people imprisoned; hundreds of villages destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.[14] The local economy of an already under-developed region has been severely damaged by the conflict, as of course has the Iranian economy as a whole.[14]

Founding of PJAK[edit]

PJAK fighters in 2012 (VoA image)

The exact history of PJAK is widely disputed.[9] Turkey and Iran claim that PJAK is no more than an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).[9] According to some sources, members of the PKK founded the PJAK in 2004 as an Iranian equivalent to their leftist-nationalist insurgency against the Turkish government.[15]

According to founding members of PJAK, however, the group began in Iran around 1997 as an entirely peaceful student-based human rights movement.[9] The group was inspired by the success of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region and by the PKK's struggle in Turkey.[9] Discouraged by the failure of previous Kurdish revolts, however, PJAK's leaders initially worked only to maintain and build a Kurdish national identity and to thwart the Iranian government's attempts to re-brand Iranian Kurds as ethnic Persians or Aryans.[9] After a series of government crackdowns against Kurdish activists and intellectuals, the group's leadership moved to the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1999.[9] There they settled in the area controlled by the PKK on the slopes of Mount Qandil—less than 16 kilometres (10 mi) from the Iranian border.[9] Once established at Qandil and operating under the PKK's security umbrella, PJAK adopted many of the political ideas and military strategies of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, whose theories had initially inspired PJAK's founders while still in Iran.[9] The PKK's ideological influence also transformed PJAK from a civil rights movement to a more ambitious and multi-directional independence movement, aided by the transfer of many seasoned PKK fighters of Iranian origin into PJAK.[9]

Abductions of Iranian security forces[edit]

PJAK's leaders have twice kidnapped groups of Iranian soldiers in 2003 and 2004.[9] In both instances Iranian soldiers were released unharmed after being tried and acquitted for crimes against the Kurdish people by ad hoc PJAK courts in Iranian Kurdistan.[9]



The PJAK group's first armed attack took place in 2004 in the Meriwan region of Iranian Kurdistan, after Iranian security forces fired on a Kurdish demonstration killing 10 people.[9]


Istanbul's Cihan News Agency claimed that over 100 members of the Iranian security forces were killed by PJAK during 2005.[16]


In February 2006, 10 Kurdish demonstrators were killed by police in the city of Maku.[9] PJAK responded with three attacks against two Iranian bases.[9] PJAK killed 24 members of Iranian security forces on April 3, 2006 in a raid, performed in retaliation for the killing of 10 Kurds demonstrating in Maku by Iranian security forces.[17] On April 10, 2006, seven PJAK members were arrested in Iran, on suspicion that they killed three Iranian security force personnel. Shortly afterward, on April 21, and again a week later, Iranian troops fired nearly 100 artillery shells at PJAK positions near Mount Qandil and briefly crossed the Iraqi border, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense.[9] The Iranian attack is believed to have killed no more than 10 PJAK fighters.[9]

PJAK set off a bomb on 8 May 2006 in Kermanshah, wounding five people at a government building.[18] Since those events, the US news channel MSNBC claimed that the Iranian military begun bombardments of Kurdish villages in US-occupied Iraq along the Iranian border while claiming that their primary targets were PJAK militants. A number of civilians died.[19] PJAK troops killed four Iranian soldiers on May 27, in a clash near the town of Mako in Iranian Kurdistan, the PKK's Roj TV reported.[9]

On September 5, 2006 it was reported that Iranian forces engaged PJAK near Sardasht, killing more than 30 and injuring 40 Kurdish militants.[20]

On September 28, 2006, Iran said that two members of the PKK (which Iran regularly confuses with the closely affiliated PJAK) blew up a gas pipeline to Turkey near the town of Bazargan in West Azerbaijan province.[21]


On February 24, 2007 an Iranian helicopter crashed near the town of Khoy, killing 13 soldiers, including several members of the elite Revolutionary Guards and Said Qahari, the head of the Iranian army's 3rd Corps. PJAK quickly claimed to have shot down the helicopter using a shoulder-launched missile, killing 20 soldiers, including several senior officers, during an hour-long battle. Iran, however, blamed the crash on bad weather. After that, Iran launched a counter-offensive against the group in the northeast of Iran's West Azerbaijan province, near the Turkish border. According to Iran's state news agencies as many as 47 Kurdish rebels and 17 Iranian soldiers were killed in the violence between February 25 and March 1, 2007.[21]

In August 2007, PJAK claimed it managed to down another Iranian military helicopter that was conducting a forward operation of bombardment by Iranian forces.[22]

According to Kurdish officials, Iranian troops raided northern Iraq on August 23, 2007, attacking several villages.[23]


The Iranian news agency IRNA reported on October 11, 2008 that members of the Iranian religious militia Basij killed four Kurdish guerrillas in a clash close to the Iraqi border.[24]

In August 2008, under Iranian pressure, one of Iraqi Kurdistan's ruling parties, the PUK, launched an offensive against PJAK forces. KDP-leader and President of Iraqi Kurdistan, Massoud Barzani condmened PJAK operations against Iran multiple times.[25]

According to West Azerbaijan provincial police commander Brigadier Hassan Karami his forces clashed with PJAK 65 times, killing 13 PJAK fighters and injuring 24 from April to November 2008. According to Brigadier Karimi this marked a 13 percent decline in PJAK attacks.[26]

On November 10, 2008, PJAK announced it had halted all operations in Iran and would start fighting the Turkish military.[26]


On April 24, 2009, PJAK rebels attacked a police station in Kermanshah province. According to updated reports 18 policemen and 8 rebels were killed in a fierce gun battle.[27] According to Iranian government sources, the attack resulted in 10 policemen and 10 rebels killed.[27] According to Hiedelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, the attack, which occurred on April 24 and 25, involved PJAK attacks on two police stations in the cities of Ravansar in northern Kermanshah province and in Sanandaj, the capital of Kordestan province, killing eleven police officers, with more than ten PJAK members reportedly killed.[28]

Iran responded a week later by attacking Kurdish villages in the border area of Panjwin inside Iraq using helicopter gunships. According to Iraqi border guards officials, the area attacked by Iran was not considered a stronghold of PJAK, that appeared to have been the target of the raid. According to the ICRC, more than 800 Iraqi Kurds have been forced from their homes by the recent cross-border violence.[29]


In 2010, PJAK claimed responsibility for the deaths of 3 Revolutionary Guard soldiers in Khoy. Earlier in the year Iranian police arrested a suspect in the killing of a prosecutor in the same region during clashes with "Kurdish militants."[30]


On March 24, two Iranian police officers were killed and three others injured in two attacks in the city of Sanandaj in Kurdistan Province and on April 1 four border guards were killed and three others were wounded in an attack against a police station near the city of Marivan.[31] On April 4, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps said the perpetrators of the previous attacks in Sanandaj were killed.[31]

Two Kurdish guerillas affiliated to PJAK were reported to had been killed and another wounded by the IRIB TV website on June 19, 2011, in Iran's northwestern town of Chaldran in West Azerbaijan province.[32]

On 16 July 2011 the Iranian army launched a major offensive against PJAK compounds in the mountainous regions of northern Iraq. On July 17, the Revolutionary Guard killed at last five PJAK members in a raid that destroyed one of the group's headquarters in northwestern Iran. PJAK claimed 21 Iranian soldiers were killed in the clashes.[33][34] Iranian authorities on the other hand confirmed their casualties at 1 killed and 3 injured while claiming to have inflicted "heavy losses" on the rebels.[35] They announced that they had captured three rebel bases, one of which was identified as Marvan and was said to be the leading PJAK camp in the region.[36]

On July 20, PJAK killed 5 Revolutionary Guard members and one Revolutionary Guard commander[37] while Revolutionary Guard forces killed 35 PJAK fighters and captured several others during clashes on July 25.[38] By July 26, more than 50 PJAK fighters and 8 Revolutionary Guards had been killed,[39] and at least 100 PJAK fighters had been wounded according to Iranian sources,[40] while over 800 people had been displaced by the fighting.[41][verification needed] At least 3 civilians were killed.[42] During clashes in the Jasosan and Alotan heights the next day, Iranian forces claimed to have killed over 21 PJAK fighters, confirming that two Revolutionary Guards had been killed and two had been injured during the clashes.[43]

On July 29, suspected PJAK militants blew up the Iran-Turkey gas pipeline, which was repaired the next day. On August 1, Iranian forces killed 3 and arrested 4 of the militants said to be responsible for the attack, at least one of which was a Turkish citizen.[44]

On August 5, the leader of Party of free Life for Kurdistan, Rahman Haj Ahmedi, said to Newsmax that more than 300 Iranian Revolutionary Guards had been killed in a series of ambushes, while acknowledging 16 loses.[45] Iranian officials however, claimed to have killed over 150 PJAK forces during the operations,[46] confirming the deaths of only 17 Revolutionary Guards.[47]

On August 8, 2011, Abdul Rahman Haji Ahmadi, the leader of the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, said the armed rebel group is prepared to negotiate with Iran and maintained that Kurdish issues need to be solved through “peaceful means”. In an exclusive interview with Rudaw, Haji Ahmadi acknowledged that in some cases compromise is inevitable and indicated that PJAK is willing to lay down its arms. He said fighting may not help Kurds secure political and cultural rights in Iran.[48]

On August 8, 2011, Murat Karayılan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) said they withdrew all PJAK fighters out of Iran and sent them to PKK camps in the Qandil mountains. He said they replaced PJAK forces on the Iranian border with PKK forces to prevent further clashes and called on Iran to end attacks because unlike the PJAK, the PKK was not at war with Iran.[49] Karayılan released the following statement: “As the PKK, we have not declared any war against Iran. We do not wish to fight against the Islamic Republic of Iran either. Why? Because one of the aims of the international forces who seek to re-design the region is to besiege Iran. Currently, they are more preoccupied with Syria. If they just manage to work things out there as they wish, it will be Iran’s turn next. As Kurds, we do not think it quite right to be involved in a war with Iran at such a stage. You have no interest in targeting the PKK ... You must end this conflict. It is America that wants this conflict to go on. Because these attacks of yours serve America’s interests. They want both the PKK and Iran to grow weaker.”[50]

On September 5, 2011, the Revolutionary Guard rejected the cease-fire declared by the Kurdish rebel group PJAK, as meaningless, as long as PJAK forces remained on the borders of the Islamic Republic. Iran also said its troops had killed 30 PJAK fighters and wounded 40 in several days of fighting.[51][52]

The battle ended inconclusively and on September 12, the cease fire was restored.[2] Iranian official propaganda claimed to have captured three PJAK camps and to have destroyed PJAK’s military capability. The organization dismissed this, asserting that its fighters had defeated an Iranian attempt to seize the Qandil area.[2]

On September 29, 2011, Iranian sources reported PJAK had officially surrendered after 180 deaths and 300 injured.[53] According to another Iranian source, Iranian ambassador to Iraq Hassan Danaei-Far declared that they had cleared all areas of PJAK activities and that they had reached an agreement with the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government, in which they vowed to keep the border peaceful.[54] According to Farsnews, Revolutionary Guard ground commander General Abdollah Araqi declared that the conflict had ended after PJAK had accepted Iran's terms and withdrawn all its forces from Iranian soil.[1]

In late October 2011, President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani said in a visit to Tehran that an agreement had been reached between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the PJAK, in which the PJAK had agreed to end its armed activities in the region and that the borders between Iran and the Kurdistan Region would now be safe.[55]

On December 28, 2011, Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps clashed with PJAK forces in Baneh in northwest Iran.[56][57] PJAK reported that it was attacked by Iranian government forces, which led to the death of nine government officials; PJAK says it sustained no casualties.[57] The Fars news agency, which is close to the Revolutionary Guard, confirmed that a member of Basij, an Revolutionary Guard sub-group, was killed in the conflict, adding that several PJAK members were wounded.[57]


On early January, "Gloria Center" of the IDC published that despite the claims of the Iranians to have destroyed PJAK, the organization has survived the assault.[2] PJAK was reported to be engaged in the construction of new defensive positions close to the border.[2] On January 4, it was reported that the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK) of Iran said Islamic Republic forces have violated the terms of the ceasefire between the two sides,[57] relating to the Baneh clash, a week earlier.

On April 25, 2012, in a clash near Paveh, in Kermanshah province of Iran, 4 Revolutionary Guard officers were killed and 4 others wounded. Casualties were also inflicted to PJAK, but there were no estimations available.[58][59]

While the open Iran–PJAK conflict largely stalled after the Paveh clash, according to a Kurdish website at least 33 Kurds have been shot by the Revolutionary Guard in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan since the end of March 2012. Out of the 33 Kurds who have been shot at by the Guard, 21 have died and 12 have been injured seriously.[60]


During February 2013, 3 Iranian Revolutionary Guard soldiers died is separate clashes with PJAK.[61][verification needed] There were also two clashes between the PJAK and the Revolutionary Guard in mid-April near Kurdish-inhabited areas along the border with Turkey.[62]

A number of clashes between PJAK and Revolutionary Guard took place also in May 2013, with at least 2 Iranian soldiers killed.[63]

On June 6, 2013, Yusuf Hamzelu, a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, was killed near the northwestern border of Iran, according to Iran’s Mehr News Agency.[62] He was buried in Zandan on June 10. The Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), PKK’s Iranian branch, denied the news report in a media release and actually accused Iran of hiding the fact that the Iranian soldier was killed by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Syria.[62]

On early August, the Iran-based Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) announced that it is "ready to send fighters to Syrian Kurdistan to fight beside their people."[64]

On August 14, 4 Revolutionary Guard guards killed and 3 wounded during mine dismantlement in Kordestan province.[65]

On August 19, a battle erupted in the Sardasht border area between Revolutionary Guard and PJAK, in which PJAK claimed to kill 7 Iranian soldiers and lose 2 fighters; Iran didn't comment on the event.

On October 10, 5[66]-6[67] Revolutionary Guard force members were killed in Kordestan province.

During October, 9 civilian casualties were reported from Revolutionary Guard fire in Iranian Kurdistan province.[68] Also during October - 2 PJAK members were executed.[69]

On October 27, 3 PJAK were killed and 3 captured according Iranian PressTV.[67]

On October 31, 1 Iranian border guard killed by rebels.[70]


On Saturday, January 4, Iranian security forces shot and killed a 26-year-old Kurdish man by the name of Saman Khzri in the town of Sardasht in unclear circumstances.[71]

On June 2014, Iranian forces claimed to clash PJAK militants and killing at least 2 of them.[72]


In February 2015, Iran executed a Kurdish citizen accused of being a member of the armed wing of PJAK.[73] The execution was performed despite a global effort to prevent it, as the executed Saman Naseem, was arrested at the age of 17.

On 20 May 2015, PJAK guerrillas killed a single IRGC soldier in the village of Hencîran, Merîwan area, after the Iranian army launched a counter insurgency operation.[74]

In August 2015, PJAK claimed killing 33 Iranian soldiers in two separate incidents.[75] Iran didn't confirm casualties, though indicated armed clashes occurred. Also Iran killed 4 YRK member and arrested one of them.[citation needed]

Warfare tactics[edit]

PJAK has adopted hit-and-run assault tactics against Iranian forces, carrying them out with small arms and grenades.[9] Afterward, PJAK fighters may either melt back into Iranian society or re-cross the border into Iraqi Kurdistan.[9] PJAK is believed to have some heavier weaponry in its Mount Qandil camp such as RPGs and heavy machine-guns.[9]

Foreign involvement[edit]

PJAK's military operations are believed to be funded by Kurdish immigrant communities in Europe and Kurdish businessmen in Iran.[9] Despite Iranian accusations, there is no evidence of any foreign funding.[9]

Relation to United States government and military structures[edit]

On April 18, 2006, US Congressman Dennis Kucinich sent a letter to US president George W. Bush in which he expressed his judgment that the US is likely to be supporting and coordinating PJAK, since PJAK operates and is based in Iraqi territory, which is under the control of the U.S. supported Kurdistan Regional Government.[76]

In November 2006, journalist Seymour Hersh writing in The New Yorker, supported this claim, stating that the US military and the Israelis are giving the group equipment, training, and targeting information in order to cause destruction in Iran.[77]

This is denied officially by both the US and PJAK. In an interview with Slate magazine in June 2006, PJAK spokesman Ihsan Warya was paraphrased as stating that he "nevertheless points out that PJAK really does wish it were an agent of the United States, and that [PJAK is] disappointed that Washington hasn't made contact." The Slate article continues stating that the PJAK wishes to be supported by and work with the United States in overthrowing the government of Iran in a similar way to the US eventually cooperated with Kurdish organisations in Iraq in overthrowing the government of Iraq during the most recent Iraq war.[78]

In August 2007, the leader of PJAK visited Washington, DC in order to seek more open support from the US both politically and militarily,[79] but it was later said that he only made limited contacts with officials in Washington.[19] One of the top officials in the PKK made a statement in late 2006, that "If the US is interested in PJAK, then it has to be interested in the PKK as well" referring to the alliance between the two groups and their memberships in the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (KCK).[80]


Uppsala count[edit]

The Uppsala Conflict Data Program recorded 434 fatalities (ranging from 429 to 673) in the Iran–PJAK conflict from 2005 until 2011. These figures however do not include casualties from the year 2010.[10]

Year Low estimate Best estimate High estimate
2005 28 28 37
2006 26 31 68
2007 47 47 94
2008 42 42 178
2009 67 67 67
2010 - - -
2011 219 219 229
Total: 429 434 673

Secondary source reports summary[edit]

According to numerous news reports from 2004 to present, casualties range between 661 and 937; these figures are a mix of PJAK claims, Iranian government claims and third party analysis.

2004 casualties: 10+ killed

  • 2004 clashes - 10 Kurdish demonstrators killed, unknown number of Iranian security forces killed in retaliation by PJAK (first PJAK armed attack).[9]

2005 casualties: 100-120 killed During 2005, some 100-120[9] Iranian security forces killed, according to PJAK claims; unknown PJAK casualties. According to Elling, 120 Iranian soldiers were killed in the conflict in 2005.[81]

2006 casualties: 80-120+[81] killed

  • February 2006 Maku demonstrations - 10 Kurdish protesters killed.[9]
  • April 2006 Iran raids by PJAK - 26 killed.[citation needed]
  • April 2006 Iraq raids by Iran - 10 militants killed.[9]
  • May 2006 Kermanshah bombing - five wounded.[citation needed]
  • 27 May 2006 - 4 Iranian security forces killed in a clash near Mako.[9]
  • September 2006 Sardasht incident - 30+ PJAK killed and 40 injured, unknown Iranian casualties (Iranian claim).[20]

2007 casualties: 102-114+ killed

2008 casualties: 28-100 killed

  • 25 May-2 June clashes - 8[82] PJAK militants killed; 92 Iranian soldiers and para-militaries killed (PJAK claim).[82] 21 PJAK and 7 Revolutionary Guards killed (Iranian claim)[83]

2009 casualties: 20-26 killed

  • Ravansar and Sanandaj police station attacks (2009) - 20-26 killed.[citation needed]

2010 casualties: 45 killed

2011 casualties: 223-344 killed

2012 casualties: 4-8 killed

  • April 25, 2012 - in Paveh (Kermanshah province), 4 Revolutionary Guards officers were killed and 4 others wounded; unknown casualties to PJAK.[58][59]

2013 casualties: 44 killed and executed.

October - 9 civilian casualties from Revolutionary Guard fire.[90]
October 27 - 3 PJAK killed, 3 captured.[67]
October - 2 PJAK members executed.[91]
October 31 - 1 Iranian border guard killed by rebels.[92]

2014 casualties: 5-6+ killed

January 4 - 1 Kurdish civilian killed.[93]
June 21 - 2+ PJAK killed.[72]

See also[edit]


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