From the rise of the Islamic Republic in 1978, when Kurds for the first time demanded the right to autonomy, until 1989 when the Islamic Republic Constitution was amended to no avail, up to the very last power struggle between the conservatives and the reformists in 2017 and the current election, Kurds have been drawn, albeit, marginally in intense debates about the role of so called reformists in changing the status quo to ensure limited cultural and linguistic rights.
Hassan Rouhani seems back on track to win in one of the most polarized contests between technocracy that he represents and the traditional theocracy of Raisi. The power struggle came to a head in their presidential campaigns. Rouhani once again has promised Kurds both economic and cultural changes and reforms. To win Kurdish votes, conservatives and reformists have taken recourse to exposing each other. Like in the plays of Aristophanes, Iranian sociopolitical history and reality satirically unfolded before the eyes of Iranians as the opponents leveled sharp political criticisms and heaped relentless vindications against one another.
One of the bones of contention was Raisi’s vehement objection to Rouhani claiming credit for his so called language rights for Kurds, which according to Raisi has been ensured by God and enshrined in the Constitution, denying Rouhani the symbolic credit and changes he has attributed to his presidency. The current debate again is inundated with false promises and probably many Kurds still seek change in the mirage of Rouhani’s second presidency a political force with greater executive and judicial power to carry out the promised reforms.
In Iran, only private teaching of the language has been recognized. But because of cultural initiatives of writers and publishers and as a result of Kurdish cultural revival in Southern Kurdistan, Kurdish cities have taken great strides despite the Islamic Republic in publishing literary works in Kurdish. The city of Kermanshah that once had been forcibly assimilated and acculturated into the Persian language has become the site of language revitalization efforts. Propagandist activities about allowing the teaching Kurdish does not go beyond offering Kurdish in the University of Kurdistan in Sandandj, it is therefore naiveté to believe that Kurds would be treated as equal citizens under the Islamic Republic of Iran.
For those who continue to harbor illusions, one has to admit that the nationalist ideology in Iran is pervasive. The denials of the regime can be seen its Supreme Leader’s intolerant attitude. Not long ago Ayatollah Khamenei, after a sermon about problems of smuggling in Sistan and Baluchestan province, in a blatant case of cultural and linguistic appropriation referred to smugglers in Sistan and Baluchestan of Iran as Kulbars (the Kurdish word for couriers). This was not only a case of misrepresentation and linguistic appropriation but revealed an open contempt for the Kulbars, many of whom are callously murdered by the Islamic Guards every year.
If we could deduce anything from history, we should caution against the dangers of technocracy and its bizarre dualism, as it would wed the tenets of Islam with oriental interpretations of political and economic liberalism. It continues to use Persian, the language of power, to delegitimize the Kurdish language through Persian, but Kurds exist as a distinct and de facto group, a group whose equal rights are not recognized . Neither the technocracy nor theocracy can meet their demands. They need greater changes and no longer need lip service to their language and cultural rights that they cherish and cultivate in different ways openly or secretly; they have transcended Rouhani’s vision as their struggle is for a more radical democracy, greater transparency, human dignity, and cultural and religious diversity, none of which has had any place in the Islamic Republic’s totalizing ideology and its history of horrors.
Dr.Amir Sharifi is President of the Kurdish American Education Society-Los Angeles. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.