Major Kurdish Organizations in Iran

by Martin Van Bruinessen
published in MER141

Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI)
Established in 1945, initially as a pan-Kurdish party (members from Iraq as well as Iran). Based in Mahabad, which became for most of 1946 the capital of a de facto independent Kurdish republic under the leadership of this party (then still called KDP). After the collapse of the Mahabad Republic and the execution of its president and KDP’s founder, Qazi Muhammad, the party went underground and shifted to the left, becoming closely allied with the (Communist) Tudeh Party. Repeated waves of arrests and reprisals in the 1950s thinned the party’s membership; in 1959 most of the leaders still at large escaped to Iraq. When the political situation there deteriorated under ‘Arif in 1963, they moved on to eastern Europe. During the 1960s, the party’s surviving clandestine network in Iran lent Barzani, then engaged in a war with the Baghdad government, crucial logistic support. When Barzani gradually improved his relations with Pahlavi authorities, younger members of the Iranian KDP recoiled. Against Barzani’s explicit command, they started guerrilla operations nside Iranian Kurdistan in 1968. Their armed rebellion was a failure; they were soon tracked down and killed by the Iranian gendarmerie, aided, in a few cases, by Barzani’s men. After their deaths, the rebels became popular heroes; both the wide popular support for the KDPI at the time of Iran’s revolution and the general dislike of Barzani and his entourage among the Kurds of Iran are based on this episode.

During the Iranian revolution, jailed leaders of the KDPI were finally released; others returned from exile. They built up a strong party organization and, aided by Kurdish army officers who joined them, a military organization. The KDPI soon established itself as the Kurdish organization most firmly rooted in the population, especially in the area that had comprised the Mahabad Republic in 1946.

In the first years of confrontation with the Islamic Republic, the KDPI controlled large parts of the countryside and by night many of the towns as well. Since 1983, it has given up the idea of maintaining liberated areas; its headquarters are just across the Iraqi border; its peshmergas remain mobile, undertaking actions throughout Kurdistan, even in well-guarded towns, with apparent facility.

The KDPI defines its objectives in its program: the right of self-determination for the Kurdish people within the framework of Iran; the struggle against the political, economic, military and cultural influences of imperialism; and the establishment of a socialist society “responsive to the specific conditions in our country.” Its “strategic slogan” calls for the less distant goal of “autonomy for Iranian Kurdistan within the framework of a democratic Iran.”

In 1980, a split occurred in the party leadership. The pro-Tudeh cadres, following the Tudeh Party’s policy of accommoation with Khomeini, clashed with Ghassemlu and broke away. Only small numbers followed them. Qasimlu, the party’s undisputed leader, is a man of great abilities who enjoys wide popularity. As regards democracy within the party, the KDPI compares favorably with the other Kurdish organizations. Among the other Iranian organizations, the KDPI saw initially the National Democratic Front and
the Feda‘i, and later the People’s Mujahidin, as its major strategic allies; internationally it stresses contacts with the European social-democracy. The party depends on Iraq for logistic support (and probably for other aid as well), but claims that this support is given without prior conditions.

 

Komala (Komalay Shoreshgeri Zahmatkeshani Kurdistani Iran or Organization of Revolutionary Toilers of Iranian Kurdistan)
Emerged only after the revolution, in 1979, but was established clandestinely according to present claims, as early as 1969 by the people who still lead it. In the last years of the shah’s regime, the Komala had played a role in organizing peasant resistance against landlords in the Marivan area. Immediately after the revolution, the Komala found much support among young, educated urban people attracted by its radicalism: the Komala calls itself Marxist-Leninist, and was more uncompromising than the KDPI in its attitude toward the central authorities, landlords and tribal chieftains and also towards the Tudeh Party and the Soviet Union. It established cordial relations with the so-called “third line” organizations, a conglomerate of all-Iran Maoist or ex-Maoist formations. The Komala set out to organize town Soviets and to organize further peasant resistance against landlords. A congress in 1981, when the Komala went through an ideological crisis, condemned its earlier policies as “populist” and recommended finding a base among the proletariat. This meant shifting the emphasis to the industrialized parts of Iran. As a consequence, the Komala fused in September 1983 with three ideologically related Iranian organizations into the Communist Party of Iran. Abdullah Muhtadi, Komala’s leader, became its secretary-general. The Komala is now this party’s Kurdish (and only significant) branch.

In its program, this party endorses proletarian struggle against capitalism, remarks in passing that revisionism (as represented by the Soviet Union) is the greatest obstacle to this struggle, and presents as its objective a “revolutionary democratic republic” based on sovereignty of the people (exercised through people’s Soviets). The professional army and bureaucracy will be abolished, and all nations will have the unconditional right to self-determination; complete equality of all will be guaranteed.

The Komala’s geographical center of gravity is the Sanandaj-Marivan area, to the south of the KDPI’s heartland. But both have followers and are active throughout Kurdistan. There have been many conflicts between the two organizations; from 1979 on, the Komala has always strongly criticized the policies of the KDPI, which it considers a bourgeois organization and accuses of collaborating with feudal elements. The KDPI responds by pointing out that it is precisely many of the Komala’s leaders that are from feudal family backgrounds, and it accuses the Komala of irresponsibly provoking clashes with government forces that cost many civilian casualties. When Komala refused to stop calling the KDPI a “class enemy” and continued making anti-KDPI propaganda, the KDPI declared war on it, and throughout 1985 there were many armed clashes between the two.

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