Dr. Rauf Karimi. Photo: Rudaw.
He is a dentist but also a politician. Dr. Rauf Karimi is the Secretary General of United Kurdish Front and a candidate for Iran’s February parliamentary elections from the Kurdish city of Sna (Sanandaj). He says he is trying to encourage Kurdish opposition parties and the Iranian government to come to the negotiation table. Meanwhile, he believes that different voices and agenda among Kurdish parties might discourage Tehran from any negotiations.
In this interview with Rudaw Karimi talks about the upcoming elections and what his party stands for.
Rudaw: What have you done so far for your front to be recognized by the government?
Rauf Karimi: Unfortunately, until now the authorities could not accept the fact that Iran is a multi-ethnic country and they should take into consideration the different voices. After the Iranian revolution there have been many requests for legal permission to be given to Kurdish political organizations but each time the Interior Ministry has refused them, each time on a different excuse. We as the United Kurdish Front have been applying for official recognition for about 10 years. While in the same period many other state-affiliated organizations have been recognized by the state, we have been not given any negative or positive responses.
When was the last time you contacted the Interior Ministry and what was their answer?
We are in contact with them through our committee in Tehran. It seems that they don’t want to give us a negative response but at the same time they are not convinced to officially recognize the front.
Would you change the name of your front if needed in order to achieve the license?
The name of the organization as the United Kurdish Front was not chosen randomly and by accident. We have been thinking about it and the name has already found its position in political literature. We as founders and members of the front do not want to change the name, yet for the sake of our organization and in order to cover different voices and also to put an end to all the excuses we decided to change the name to the United National Party two years ago but still no response on that one, either.
Your group is not known among people. Is it because people have lost interest in party politics?
After the second round of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency all political and even cultural organizations faced a major decline in activities. Our front was no exception. That damaged our front’s mobilization process. On the other hand we may not have been able to attract public attention as necessary. I don’t believe that people have stopped to care about politics. Another reason is that we don’t have permission and due to the existing complex situation people may not know us. But even those who support us decided not to join the front directly to reduce the complications facing our party and we do understand that. On top of that, parts of the public have no trust in political activities inside the country and have a negative view on such activities. All these have affected us.
There is a lack of a political leadership among the Kurds of Iran. Why has your front not been able to fill out the gap?
Unfortunately this gap is visible. In the last decades and until now Kurds in general and in Rojhalat in particular have suffered from disunity. A strong political leadership can be achieved in two ways: First a charisma that would grab public support and attention.
Second a political party or an authoritative force that would be able to impose its hegemony on the public. As any other political force, we have so far not been able to fill this gap.
You expect to run in Iran’s parliamentary elections. Do you think you would then be able to fill this gap for Iranian Kurds?
We have been working on participating in the elections, but our group will decide on participation and taking the leadership role for people. We have no intention to impose ourselves and take the political leadership. After all people will decide who or what forces deserve their trust and political leadership.
This election is like a poll for our front to see if we have been able to present ourselves to the public. But because of the reasons I discussed we may not be able to achieve many votes in this election. Yet we can certainly say the idea of the fronts is totally in line with those of the public and we have never faced a serious refusal by people.
What qualifications do you require of your candidates?
We have agreed among to select candidates in three levels: First, in cities where the front has active skilled members we have asked them to apply. Second there are those who support the front but not necessarily members. Third, then there are those individuals who have no affiliation at all to the front yet we found them qualified and would like the people of the front in that city to vote for them.
Which region would be your priority?
All regions in the five provinces of Ilam, Kermanshah, Kordestan, Western Azerbaijan and also the city of Tehran are important to us. If we can send our representative to parliament from any of these regions it would be a significant step for the movement. But for this election the focus might be only on big cities and parts of small towns as well.
Why special attention has been paid to Sina (Sanandaj)?
The city of Sina is where the front has been founded and most of members and founders have started their activities in that city. No doubt Sina has special importance but all other provinces have their significance to the front.
Do you have candidates in Tehran?
Tehran is the capital city of Iran and the center of decision-making, so what happens there has direct impact on the daily lives of everyone. According to all statistics 10 percent of the population are Kurds from different political, economic and cultural background. It is important for the front to have a Kurdish candidate in Tehran and the front’s committee in Tehran is one of the five active committee of the front.
Do you believe the Council of Guardians would approve your candidates?
We believe they should approve our candidates, because they are all qualified and eligible and have nothing in their files that would justify their disapproval.
How have Kurdish political parties of Rojhalat responded to your front?
Boycotting Iranian elections became part of the policy of major political parties, so they might not be against the front but since they boycott the elections there is no support from them. Among others who do not boycott the election there was no special support either.
What was the response of Kurdish political parties and the Iranian government to your call for negotiations?
We are promoters of peace and would like for both sides not to use violence and for problems to be solved through dialogue and on the negotiation table. Unfortunately the government has not said anything on this matter, although we believe they have studied the issue and would have their response on time. Part of the opposition responded negative but others have shown support.
Do you think Iranian officials would agree to negotiate with Kurdish political parties, especially after an Iranian official said recently that these parties are no threat to Iran?
There have been talks of Iranian officials having met a Kurdish political opposition, which is good. But I believe until now the issue has not been taken seriously by the Iranian government.