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ALM Special

A year since Mahsa Amini’s killing, Iran’s Kurds brace for renewed crackdown

The Kurdish twist to Iran's grassroots civic uprising cutting across ethnic, sectarian and gender lines served the regime well in its crackdown.
Iranian refugees and Iranians living in Greece wave a Kurdish flag while singing the Iranian protest song of Shervin Hajipour during a demonstration to commemorate 40 days from the death of Iranian Mahsa Amini while in police custody in Iran, in central Athens on Oct. 29, 2022.

The woman whose death in police custody sparked nationwide protests across Iran a year ago was an ethnic Kurd. Her real name was Jina, but her parents were forced to officially name her Mahsa because of bans on Kurdish-language names, just one of the many strictures faced by Iran’s estimated seven million Kurds. The 22-year-old, who was beaten to death for failing to cover her hair adequately, has since come to symbolize the demonstrations — the most threatening to Iran’s clerical regime in recent history. "Jin, Jiyan, Azadi," Kurdish for “Women, Life, Freedom,” the protesters’ rallying call, continues to resonate across the globe.

This Kurdish twist to a grassroots civic uprising cutting across ethnic, confessional and gender lines served the regime well. It deftly spun a narrative of Kurdish separatism fomented by malign foreign forces as the root cause of the unrest.

Iran’s clerical leaders continue to tout that line, and with the first anniversary of Amini’s death on Sept. 16 approaching, Iranian authorities are doubling down. Rights monitors say that the regime has been deploying thousands of forces together with tanks and heavy weapons to the Kurdish-majority provinces of Iran as much to deter protests as for a swift and bloody suppression in case they emerge. The Oslo-based Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported that these include thousands of Revolutionary Guards who were dispatched to Amini’s hometown of Saqqez.

Shler Bapiri, a member of Hengaw’s executive board, told Al-Monitor that the repression of Kurds inside Iran had sharply increased in the wake of the protests, which — under the regime’s ferocious crackdown — petered out by the start of this year. “Therefore, unfortunately, the majority of those executed, demonstrators killed and activists arrested in Iran are Kurds,” Bapiri said. “The ‘Jina Revolution’ showed the world that the Islamic Republic always regarded Kurdistan as a security case and militarized zone, so it beat demonstrators with batons in Tehran and shot demonstrators with weapons in Kurdistan,” Bapiri added.

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