News from

August 4, 2011


Is PJAK a separatist group?

Q&A with PJAK Secretary-General Rahman Haj Ahmadi

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 "Green manifesto" 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, confederal Iran.

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 hundred years.

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 goals.

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 existing states.

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 states.

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 Iran.

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 and identity.

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.