As mass demonstrations in Iran enter their fourth week after the murder of Jina Amini by Iranian ‘morality police,’ Kurdish cities continue to be a center of protest activity. As a result, they have been subjected to some of the harshest crackdowns.
On October 8th, large demonstrations in Sanandaj (Sine in Kurdish), the capital of Kurdistan Province, were met with a violent state response. Security forces fired on demonstrators, killing and injuring multiple civilians. Internet access has been severely restricted, hindering the flow of information on the full scope of the crackdown. Human rights organizations have expressed extreme concern about the situation and report that protests and repression are continuing to date.
To provide background and context on this developing situation, the Kurdish Peace Institute reached an independent journalist in Sine, who provided this report on protest dynamics, the regime’s response, and the current situation on the ground there. For security purposes, the journalist will remain anonymous.
The first cities where people started protesting after the death of Jina (Mahsa) Amini were Saqqez, her birthplace, and Sine, the center of Kurdistan Province, where I live.
The protests were peaceful. People were calling for justice for Jina. They used slogans like “jin, jiyan, azadi.” But the police tried to stop the people immediately. When they realized that the people wouldn’t step back, they started detaining people, threatening people, and harassing them to make them angry. They wanted to provoke a response from the start to find an excuse to crack down.
These protests have two aspects: the first is the national (Iranian) dimension, and the second is the Kurdish dimension.
In Iran as a whole, these protests are the result of Islamic extremism, social limitations, comprehensive injustice, and a state that ignores people’s needs. Many social researchers believe that the worsening economy, the transformation of a part of the middle class into the poor class, and widening inequality are some of the reasons for the uprising as well, amplifying the other grievances.
State pressure on the issue of compulsory hijab has also made people angry. Even before Jina was murdered and the protests began, morality police had been more active in stopping women in the streets. They even have hidden forces who monitor cars on the street to see if women in them have headscarves or not and then send warning messages to the cars’ owners. Overall, this tragic incident was the final straw for people.
As for the Kurdish dimension, Kurds are one of the largest minority groups in Iran. Kurdistan, Kermanshah and Ilam are the three Kurdish-majority provinces. Many Kurds also live in part of West Azerbaijan province. I will not make this report longer by delving into the history of the Kurdish question in Iran for now. Everyone knows that social injustice is even worse for Kurdish people in Iran and that we have been second-class citizens for decades.
In addition to ethnicity, there is another difference between the Islamic Republic and the people of Kurdistan Province and other Kurdish provinces: most Kurds here are Sunni Muslims, while the state religion is Shia Islam. This makes the protests in Kurdish regions a more sensitive issue for the Islamic Republic. [Note: Some sources claim that most Kurds in Iran are Sunni, while others claim that Shia Kurds are the majority. Both Sunni and Shia Kurds are discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity. There are also non-Muslim Kurdish minorities, like Yarsanis, who are particularly persecuted as both non-Persians and non-Muslims].
Most Iranians, of all ethnicities, are religious— just not the definition of ‘religious’ that the government imposes. Shia Muslim people here understand that the regime uses its interpretation of Islam to control people and hold on to power.
For the last four decades, the regime has accused Kurdish people of being separatists and enemies of Shia Islam. For a long time, many people believed them. However, two developments are starting to neutralize this disinformation campaign.
First, Iranians are becoming more educated about the Kurdish people and are abandoning some of the incorrect and prejudiced ideas they might have held before. Second, communication tools, especially social media, have broken the regime’s monopoly on information. It can no longer control narratives about Kurds or anything else.
Here, I would like to mention an important point for the Western media and Western analysts. Recently, many of their reports about Iran have made the people upset. This is because some media outlets re-share information from Iranian state-affiliated media.
As an independent journalist, I can tell you that virtually no press in Iran has freedom of expression. Most media outlets are controlled by the government and its sympathizers. 90% of journalists self-censor. If they don’t, they will be arrested. Today, many journalists who were working in completely legal frameworks are in jail. Claims from the official Iranian media should not be trusted or repeated.
Their lies were on display recently after the massacre of protestors in Sistan and Balochistan. Many Western media outlets republished the Islamic Republic’s false narrative about the situation there that it created to justify the murder of civilians. I watch state news on television every day. and almost all of their reports about the situation of the protests are the complete opposite of what is happening in reality.
Another important point: The Iranian people are very happy to see solidarity from people around the world, celebrities, politicians, and others. It gives them hope and motivates them to keep going. Kurds feel the same way.
However, as a Kurd, I am upset about the lack of reactions and solidarity from Kurdistan. Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani went to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral while we Kurds in Iran were in a bad situation. We as Iranian Kurds stood with Iraqi Kurdistan when the IRGC bombed their land response to our protests—we even organized another public strike. We would like to see more solidarity from Kurds.
The first protests in Sine were downtown, around Ferdosi street. Police tried to suppress them from the beginning. Like in other parts of Iran, it was regime forces that turned our peaceful protests violent. As a Kurd living in Sine, I can tell you this: no one has weapons here. But regime media is lying to the public and trying to convince the world that people are protesting violently.
Protests here have lasted for three weeks, and are still going on. But things are different because of heavy repression.
At first, many Kurdish cities in Iran were on strike and completely locked down. This was what public opinion wanted. Kurdish parties supported the calls for strikes as well. Once people understood that regime forces could easily attack them if they protested in the main streets and the two main squares, they went to other streets and neighborhoods.
Despite the brutal suppression of the security forces, unorganized protests have continued in the corners of the city of Sine, especially at night, in recent days. They have been organized by young people, even teenagers. Like in other parts of Iran, protests here in Kurdistan do not have leaders. They are organized by the people.
People are also engaging in civil disobedience. Some women have stopped wearing their headscarves over the past few days. Men support them. Police sometimes do not even dare to stop women for this— they know that if they do, people will fight back, despite the risks to their own lives.
The regime forces are tired. They have realized that people don’t want to go back and won’t stop demanding freedom. So they’ve begun to hide and wear civilian clothes to go unrecognized.
They are shooting directly at people. Many civilians have been injured. Injured people can’t go to the hospitals because they are likely to be arrested if they do. Many protestors are in jail now. Many activists, including former prisoners, feminists, labor activists, teachers, and other individuals who the regime thinks might be able to lead the people, were jailed before protests even began.
Recently, because people know that they could be attacked or arrested for going out into the streets, they tried to show their support for protests by forming traffic jams and honking their horns in their cars. Last Saturday, regime forces started to shoot people in their cars for doing this.
Reports said four people were killed in the streets over the weekend. I myself can confirm at least two. On Saturday, the security forces were shooting at everyone, not even just protestors: families with kids, the elderly, pedestrians just going about their day. Both uniformed and plain-clothes officers have guns.
The regime is putting pressure on the families of people killed by the security force. Some have been coerced into appearing on television and saying that ‘anti-revolution forces’ (Kurdish opposition parties) have killed people. But that’s completely wrong. No one here has guns. No one from any of the Kurdish parties is here either. They are busy with their resistance in Iraq. They have even publicly stated that they are not playing any role in the protests in Kurdistan, because they know that the regime wants to use their involvement as an excuse to further militarize its response to the protests and attack people in Kurdistan as if it were a war zone.
The situation got worse last night. Many people were chanting from their windows at night, so they started shooting into people’s homes. Many neighborhoods and apartment buildings have been attacked. People say one woman was killed in her apartment in front of her window. Many people were arrested because they were filming with their phones. While we had internet, a relative wrote to us and said their windows had been shot at and broken. If a person had been standing near the window, they could easily have been killed.
In our neighborhood, there are large apartment buildings. You can hear the loud sounds of shooting. We smell gas too— not tear gas but something else, I am not sure what it is. Residents of many neighborhoods say security forces are even shooting at apartments where people are completely quiet.
The regime wants to terrorize people to get them to stop. But we are still protesting because there has been no justice for Jina Amini. The regime has even killed more young women and girls. The regime lies. It takes no responsibility. It even accuses the people of killing each other. It’s absolutely shameless. There is systematic repression going on here, without any limits.
The world must hear us. We aren’t any kind of organized opposition. We don’t represent any political party. We have no weapons. We just want our rights. But they are killing us as if we were enemies at war.