The leader of Iran’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Khalid Azizi.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region— The leader of Iran’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Khalid Azizi says that the abolishment of the Iranian central government should not be a priority for the Kurdish resistance movement, but that it should focus its struggle on achieving Kurdish rights regardless of who is in power in Tehran.
“Our duty is to make them negotiate with us. We have tried the monarchy in Iran as well as the Islamic governance. There are no guarantees that the government after this one would respect our rights and change their policies in that regard,” Azizi told Rudaw in an exclusive interview.
Azizi said that it was time for the Kurdish political parties to ask what they have achieved through armed struggle since the Islamic Republic came to power in 1979.
“We have struggled in different ways for the past 37 years. It should have produced a result somewhere. And we have not abandoned armed struggle either. But we need to ask where does this armed struggle take us? Will the Islamic Republic be destroyed as a result of that? Are we giving them enough headaches so that they give us an answer? I think it could be discussed, but the civil struggle inside the country, which the Islamic Republic views as disruptive, can be the answer,” he told Rudaw.
Below is a translation of the interview.
Rudaw: You no longer believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran should be abolished; do you think that you need to politically engage with Tehran, be it directly or indirectly?
Khalid Azizi: I think that it should not be our approach in Iran to abolish a system or a regime. And that is due to a number of reasons: first, a party that strives to remove a central government, should be able to see itself as the alternative to the existing government and Kurds of course are not the alternative to current regime. Second, our struggle and movement are for our own national rights. Which is why regardless of what political shape and agenda a central government may have, as long as they address Kurdish grievances, we are ready to engage with them. The idea of removing the central government in Tehran has been planted into the Kurdish movement from the other oppositional Iranian parties.
Islamic Republic has determined where to confront us.
Q: But even within your own party there are different opinions. You have members who say that this regime should be removed since it cannot offer any solution to the Kurdish question.
A: It is not part of the Kurdish concern to seek the destruction of the central government. In the best case scenario, we might prefer that the Islamic Republic is either removed or substantially weakened which will pave the way for the Kurdish demands to be met. But this scenario consists of several acts. All of these acts are in fact only possibilities. Why? Because despite our struggle, we do not have the political weight to determine the future of Iran. This is why I stress the need to insist on creating the conditions to give voice to our grievances.
Q: Has there been a response to your grievances from Tehran?
A: It is not our duty to persuade Tehran, but our duty is to make them negotiate with us. We have tried the monarchy in Iran as well as the Islamic governance. There are no guarantees that the government after this one would respect our rights and change their policies in that regard.
Q: But this very regime assassinated two of your leaders, Ghassemlou and Sharafkandi. What guarantees are there for you to go to the negotiating table with them?
A: This government has not paved the way for any kind of dialogue. But what we try to do is to avoid putting all our eggs in the same basket. Our job is to find the weak spots of this regime and pressure it to change its policies. For the past 37 years, the Islamic Republic has determined where to confront us. They have made us response only to their tactics and methods. They have portrayed Iranian Kurdistan as a security region and made us to move only within this security issue. It has made us to confine us with the rhetoric and slogans against the Islamic Republic. Its strategy has been to create distance between the Kurdish people and us and then try to portray the struggle as a security issue between the political parties and the government and not between them and the people. I just say that the regime should not choose the battlefield, as we also could determine where to confront them and eventually push them to concessions.
Q: But your own comrades have doubted this proposal. Why?
A: There has always been a difference of opinion within the party. Let me refer you to a number of events involving Ghassemlou. In the war for Sanandaj (1980s) Ghassemlou used to say that the more the war is postponed, the better it is for the Kurdish case. When the first round of talks did not produce anything, and we were trying to find other options, people were accusing Ghassemlou of concession and sharply criticized him. Later on, everyone was trying to prevent a resumption of war with the regime and instead Ghassemlou went to Vienna to negotiate with the representatives of the government. Many people only see the security aspects of this meeting (in which Ghassemlou was assassinated) and think he was negligent. But it never crosses their mind why he chose to negotiate with the regime. I think Ghassemlou had also believed that the Islamic Republic had always chosen the battlefield for us and that our power was not equal to theirs.
Q: Have you been able to create a peaceful atmosphere with Iran?
you were unable to drive us out of the game.
A: We need to pave the way and make the Islamic Republic face millions of Kurds. It is not a battle between Iran and few hundred Peshmerga troops. There should be a change. One of these changes is to consider even those who are outside our party as patriots who do not need to take arms and seek to destroy the government. We should accept the fact that there are many people in Iran who are activists and peacefully campaigning in legal means and seek solutions in the parliament. They make peaceful use of for instance Newroz celebrations and environmental issues. We have made sure that this way the government will face the people, now we need to safeguard these kind of activism. Unfortunately such methods have not been powerful within the political parties.
Q: You have laid out these ideas previously, 8 years ago in the Rudaw newspaper. It stirred debates back then you and you met with the Iranian representatives several times afterwards. Have you discussed this with them?
A: We have followed up on these ideas in our last meeting with the Iranian representatives. The Islamic Republic is the governing body in Iran and if there are any kind of opportunities or people within the government that are willing to negotiate, well then we talk to them. But sadly there have been no result so far.
Q: How did you talk about this issue?
A. We told them that over the past 37 years we were unable to destroy you and you were unable to drive us out of the game. This means that both the Islamic Republic and the Kurdish case are realities on the ground. Accepting the realities will convince both parts to seek solutions. We offered also the solution.
Q: What was the solution?
The Kurdish issue cannot be ignored in Iran
A: We have said that the Kurdish issue in Iraq and Syria are moving towards solution, and so is the conditions in Turkey’s Kurdistan. We told them, while you Iranians say that Kurds and Iranians have common history, why don’t you look for a solution.
Q: So the meeting was not long ago?
A: Two and a half years ago, and that was it.
Q: Was it in Erbil?
A: Yes, it was.
Q: Those who you sat with came from Iran or were they already in Erbil?
A: They came from Iran. In fact the meeting was to produce a common ground. The Kurdish issue cannot be ignored in Iran. The only way is the solution through talks.
Q: Have they responded to that meeting?
A: We have not heard anything from them yet.
Q: If they allow the KDP to represent the Kurds and go back to Iran as an official party, are you willing to return alone and without the other parties?
A: There should be a space for political work in Iranian Kurdistan. Otherwise if only one party is allowed to work, it will soon have all the Kurdish opinion against itself and targeted for attacks. There are also risks of having internal conflicts within the party and in the end everyone would be harmed. I do not envisage such a thing is practical.
Q: Iran did not respond to you despite the sanctions imposed by the US and EU, now when things have changed for the better for Iran, do you think they will reply to you?
A: I think the more Iran is drawn into the world community, the more it will be monitored by the international rights groups who will push Tehran to abandon its previous positions. If Iran enters the international community, they will indeed eventually be asking questions about the Kurdish rights and that is why we should bring back the Kurdish issue inside Iran.
Q: If all the political parties in Iranian Kurdistan share your opinion, do you think Tehran would respond to you? Or do you think you should make them under the barrel of a gun?
We have struggled in different ways for the past 37 years
A: In the first place I would certainly like all the Kurdish parties to have a common stance and be united in their struggle to create a strong counterpart in relation to the Islamic Republic. And of course then we would not have been obliged to see this as only the plan for our party. The problem is that the disintegration among Kurdish parties in Iran has effectively hindered us to create a strong counterpart in regard to the Islamic Republic.
Q: You seem to be alone in this disintegrated state of affairs. The other ones still believe in armed struggle.
A: We have struggled in different ways for the past 37 years. It should have produced a result at some point. And we have not abandoned armed struggle either. But we need to ask where does this armed struggle take us. Will the Islamic Republic be destroyed as a result of that? Are we giving them enough headaches so that they give us an answer? I think it could be discussed, but the civil struggle inside the country, which the Islamic Republic views as disruptive, can be the answer.
Q: Are you disappointed with the US and the West when you say this?
A. We constantly hear the US threats against Iran and even the threats of the Saudi Arabia and Israel too. I have always said we should not pin our hopes to their threats. And now when the relations between Iran and the world is about to change we too should think about our alternatives.