Iran's President Hassan Rohani. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is due to arrive in the predominantly Kurdish provincial capital of Urmia on Monday for a two-day tour, which will also include the main Kurdish city of Mahabad.
The Mahabad mayor’s office announced Wednesday that Rouhani will hold a public meeting at the city’s stadium on Monday and also inaugurate the petrochemical plant in the city later.
Mahabad has been preparing for weeks to welcome the moderate president for the first time since he was elected president in 2013 with considerable Kurdish voting support.
Rouhani was scheduled to visit Mahabad last year following a weeklong street riot in March 2015 due to the mysterious death of a Kurdish girl, Farinaz Khosravani.
The president, however, visited the other main Kurdish city of Sanandaj last year where he pledged long-term investment in the province to revive the stagnated economy.
Kurdish activists have over the past decades accused Tehran of systematic discrimination against the Kurdish population with weak representation in the governing bodies.
No Kurd has so far been elected governor in Urmia despite its mainly Kurdish population, with an estimated 1.9 million Kurds and 1.1 million Azeri Turks.
Ethnic tensions between the Azeris and Kurds have been high in many of the cities with mixed populations, including in Urmia, which both claim as their city.
The Kurds have accused Tehran of sidelining them in favor of the predominantly Shiite Azeris who have had the bulk of government positions, even in the mostly Kurdish cities.
Of the 17 top positions in the Western Azerbaijan province where Urmia is the capital, 11 have been assigned to Azeris while six have gone to the Kurds. Only 11 of the 40 local mayors are Kurdish, even in areas with clear Kurdish majority, according to the official statistics.
In an open letter ahead of Rouhani’s visit, Kurdish activists have denounced what they describe as “the oppression of the Kurdish people” and call on the president to fulfill his election promises.
“A radical political system is oppressing the Kurds in the province with regular discrimination at government and administrational levels,” the Kurdish activists wrote in their letter.