August 4, 2011
Stockholm, Sweden - Aug. 4, 2011
After two weeks of running battles with IRGC forces in the
Qandil mountains and throughout Iranian Kurdistan, the Free Life Party
of Kurdistan (PJAK) has declared victory. But PJAK Secretary-General
Rahman Haj Ahmadi told FDI president Kenneth R. Timmerman he expected
more attacks, since the IRGC could not back down after suffering over
300 casualties, compared to just 16 PJAK militants - already a high
casualty rate, as far as Ahmadi was concerned.
For a detailed commentary on the two weeks battle between PJAK
forces and the IRGC, see
this article from Newsmax.
But FDI was also interested in how PJAK fits into the larger
pro-freedom movement inside Iran, especially in light of the
published in July by a group of advisors to
former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi (Ardoshir Amir Arjomand,
Hamzeh Ghalebi, and RojabAli Mazrooi), that expressed outright
hostility to PJAK and to other minority-group organizsations, by
labelling them "separatist" - a term that delights the propaganda
chiefs of the Islamic Republic.
These advisors convened a conference of Green movement activists in
Paris in July, where they were sharply criticized by young activists
because of their refusal to call for an end of the velayat-e faghih - the system of
absolute clerical rule that is the centerpiece of the Islamic Republic
system. Neither PJAK or any other representative of Iran's minorities
was invited to the conference, apparently for fears of appearing to
embrace a "separatist" agenda.
Is PJAK a
separatist group? What is the group's actual agenda for the future of
Iran, as opposed to the hidden agendas
and allegiances ascribed to them?
FDI feels there is no better way than to go to the source. In the
wide-ranging interview published below, we asked Rahman Haj Ahmadi this
week the political questions that might not interest the average
American news reader, but that we know will be of vital importance to
all Iranians who seek a democratic future for their country.
FDI: Rahman Haj Ahmadi,
there is much talk about federalism in Iran. In a recent discussion in
Washington, DC with KDPI leader Mustapha Hijri, he told me he was
worried about the internal borders of federal "states" in western Iran,
where Kurds and Azeris have lived together for centuries. Do you want
to divide Iran into ethnic enclaves in this way?
RAHMAN HAJ AHMADI: No. We
want no internal borders inside a democratic Iran. We call our option
"democratic confederation." We believe Iran should be a bit like
Europe, where different cultures live together in harmony within the
European Uhion, while maintaining their cultural identities. We think
it would be foolish for Iranians to repeat the experience of, say, the
Czechs and the Slovaks, who waged a political fight to become separate
entities only to reunite again as part of Europe. Why should we fight
to separate, only to unite again? We believe in a single, united,
FDI: Some have accused you
of seeking to establish "ethnic federalism," as opposed to "geographic
federalism," in other words, to establish ethnically pure mini-states
such as those that have created epic bloodshed in Europe over the past
RAHMAN HAJ AHMADI: Again, I
must say no. At our first Congress, in 2004, we expressed support for a
federal system in Iran, but we quickly realized there were serious
problems with this, so we did additional research and at our second
Congress we adopted a policy of democratic confederation. We did not
want others to reject our ideas because of a misunderstanding of our
A confederation has no borders. We do not aim to destroy Iran, but
to keep it as it is and transform it into a democratic system that
respects the identity and the rights of every citizen. I am
Kurd, born of a Kurdish mother. But I live in Iran. Iran is a country
of many different ethnicities. We want all of them to feel they have
equal rights as Iranians.
In the early 20th century, Kurds sought to create a single country.
But those days are over. Now we are seeking the best solution within
FDI: What exactly do you
mean by "confederation"?
RAHMAN HAJ AHMADI: Kurds are
spread all over Iran. They live in Kurdestan, West Azerbaijan,
Khorassan, Qazvin, Tehran, Zanjan and in northern Iran. So the best
solution is for them to have the same rights as others and to remain
within their existing communities. We do not seek to create ethnic
In the future, elections will not take place as they do today in the
Islamic Republic. In the future, we want anybody to be able to be a
candidate, not just those approved by a committee. Look at what's
happening in northern Kurdistan [ie, southeastern Turkey]: you have two
Turks and a Chrisitian elected to parliament by a majority Kurdish
population. That is a perfect example of what we would like to see in
Our struggle is not just about the Kurds. We have a 7-point plan to
create a democratic Iran.
Confederation is based on culture, not ethnicity; for example, it
would respect the rights of religious minorities, such as Bahais,
Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, and others. We see a
confederation as a protection of religious rights and cultural rights.
This is a system where all different cultures can have their own voice
We believe even Persian nationalists will accept this idea once they
understand what we are really talking about. They are afraid we want a
system where Iran ends up like the former Yugoslavia. That is just the
opposite of what we want.
FDI: What you are
describing ressembles in some ways the civil rights struggle in America.
RAHMAN HAJ AHMADI: Yes, this
is a civil rights struggle. But again, let me repeat, it's not just for
Kurds. We would like Iran to be like Europe. In Belgium, for example,
you have 80,000 ethnic Germans. Despite their small number, three
ethnic Germans have been elected to Parliament, and one to the European
parliament. They are free to use their own language. The UK,
Switzerland, Spain, and Canada also have a form of confederation. We
want everyone to have their cultural rights and their political rights.
This is what respect of human rights means.
I believe politics is built on trust. I won't lie to our side, and I
won't lie to the other side. I was born of a Kurdish mother. So I can't
deny that I am a Kurd, and neither can they. But only when we are
honest with each other can we create something based on mutual respect
and brotherhood. If I must denounce my identity to satisfy the
nationalists, then I will be living a lie.
I am Kurdish, but I want to live in a democratic Iran where everyone
has their rights without any internal borders.
There are 24 Arab countries in the world. And yet, to the Iranian
government, Iranian Arabs are not considered an ethnic group. Turkomens
have their own country; and yet, in Iran, the government doesn't
consider Turkomens as an ethnic group. Azeris have their own country,
but they are not considered by Iran to be an ethnic group. No coalition
will ever work if it is based on lies. This is why we believe the Green
Movement will continue to fail unless it includes the ethnic groups. So
far, the Greens have been following the same line as Reza Shah or
Khomeini when it comes to Iran's minorities.
The Islamic regime is using colonial tactics to divide and separate
Iran's ethnic groups so they won't work together. When they are killing
us in Kurdistan, the Persians are quiet. When they are killing Azeris
or the Arabs or the Balouchis, the Kurds and the Persians remain quiet.
We need to change that. We need to build a democratic society, so a
Persian who believes in democracy shares the same culture as a Kurd or
a Balouch who believes in democracy.
I like to say that Iran is like a seven-story building that has
caught fire, with Kurds living on the 4th floor. How can you save your
own apartment, unless you fight the fire to save the whole building? We
have to save all of Iran, not just ourselves.
We are hoping to free Iran from Qandil, and welcome all who want toi
join our fight. To other Iranian groups we say, come. This is not just
our fight. This is your fight.
FDI: You have spoken often
of PJAK's dedication to a secular Iran, indeed, a secular Middle East.
Why is that so important to you?
RAHMAN HAJ AHMADI: The fall
of the Islamic Republic will not necessarily mean the end of political
Islam. Al Qaeda could rise again. We believe political Islam is the
greatest danger to the world today, and we could be a good asset in the
fight against this. We oppose al Qaeda and what they represent just as
fiercly as al Qaeda opposes the United States.
We do not understand why the United States doesn't seem to recognize
this. The struggle against political Islam is something that we share.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is President and CEO of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.