Kurdish exiles support Iranian protests but refuse to organize them

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SULIMANIA, Iraq (AP) — Dara Qureshi scans her phone for two weeks, a nickname for cross-border activists in neighboring Iran, where protests have raged.

Qureshi, a member of one of the many Iranian Kurdish opposition parties exiled in Iraq, responds to “Brwa” when asked how to access Starlink, a satellite constellation operated by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, after his business boss promised to let the Iranians in. affected by government-imposed internet restrictions.

“What is your advice, comrade?” unknown activist. Qureshi does research knowing that for the person on the other end it is only a few precious minutes before the internet goes out.

The support of Kurdish exiles such as the Quraysh to protesters in Iran has fueled claims by Iranian officials that the protests, which spread to more than 40 cities, were organized and supported entirely by foreign elements.

But Iranian Kurdish exiles say their role is minor. They say the Iranian government is trying to scapegoat them to divert attention from protests that erupted across the country, uniting multiple ethnic groups and fueling widespread anger from the government, focusing on women and the oppression they face. The death of a Kurdish woman named Mahsa Amini in custody in Tehran, the capital of Iran, after the morality police arrested her for not wearing the hijab properly sparked protests.

This week, Iran sharply stepped up its military operations against Iraqi-based Iranian Kurdish opposition groups, launching three sets of drone and missile strikes targeting party bases in northern Iraq, killing at least nine people. The attacks were condemned by Iraqi authorities and the international community. The Iranian ambassador to Iraq was then summoned by the Foreign Ministry.

Iran cracked down on others by announcing on Friday that it had arrested nine foreigners for anti-hijab demonstrations. This came after rights groups reported that leaked government documents showed Iran’s security forces ordering a “serious confrontation” against the protesters, showing journalists being arrested.

Kurdish opposition parties say their reach is limited to majority Kurdish areas in western Iran.

“It is true that the political parties here are calling for protests, but those who take to the streets and organize are inside Iran; Iranian women’s rights activist and 32-year-old Rosaline Kamangir, who is in regular contact with women protesters in Iran, said it had nothing to do with party postings.

“The organizers are eye-to-eye with local and perhaps with the parties, ultimately acting according to their own beliefs,” he said.

Opposition groups jointly called for a general strike and protest in Iran’s western Kurdish region following the death of 22-year-old Amini.

Amini’s death, whose family resides in the Kurdish city of Saqqez, has sparked particular anger in the Kurdish areas of Iran. The Kurds refer to her by her Kurdish name, Zhina; Iranians usually have an official name and another name they use more regularly and Mahsa is a Persian name in their official record.

The Kurdish-dominated areas have seen a separatist movement since the Shah’s reign, and in the past decades it has morphed into a low-level guerrilla uprising between opposition groups and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

However, the protests did not take a particularly Kurdish nationalist tone. Instead, as in the rest of the country, Amini has become a symbol of oppression against women, fueling anger at Iran’s oppressive policies. Many female protesters burned their headscarves and cut their hair during the rallies.

“I didn’t know Mahsa, but her death made me protest,” said Nisreen, a woman in the Iranian Kurdish town of Bukan. “His death made me angry. Women are oppressed in Iran, we have no opportunity,” said the 34-year-old woman, speaking on WhatsApp, fearing retaliation would be made to the AP on the condition that her surname is not used.

He said that the first protest he attended in Bukan started peacefully. Then the shootings and arrests started,” he said. Once, the person standing next to him was shot.

He said opposition parties have influence in his region. “But that’s not why I’m protesting.”

Activists and residents said that every household in Iran’s Kurdish areas knows or has a family member affiliated with Kurdish opposition parties in exile.

The main parties in Iraq banned in Iran are the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iran; Komala with Marxist tendencies; and the Kurdistan Free Life Party or PJAK.

“Everybody’s relative is protesting in Iran, everybody knows someone who’s been arrested,” said Kawser Fattahi, 33, a member of Komala, with trembling fingers while holding a cigarette. He said that two of his cousins ​​in Iran were kidnapped and he had not been heard from for a week. Qureshi’s uncle was detained during a protest in Bukan.

Fattahi was at the Komala party headquarters in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Koya when it was bombed in one of the Iranian attacks. He spoke with the AP in Sulaymaniyah, where he arrived on Wednesday.

After the bombings, party members dispersed from their compound and settled with friends or in the rugged mountains.

Fattahi left his hometown of Bukan a few years ago due to his political activities distributing party leaflets.

“Her mother and brother are both protesting,” he said. He had last seen them a few months ago when they had illegally crossed the border to see him.

Like most party members, he maintains two phones, one for daily use in Iraq and the other for talking to relatives and party members in his hometown.

Due to the danger of crossing the border from Iraq, the presence and activities of opposition parties inside Iran have always been limited. Fattahi said social media was used to encourage supporters to join protests and strike a general strike.

But now with widespread internet blackouts in Iran, its supporters are unable to access social media.

“Most of our communication requires the internet,” Qureshi said. “And when they call us, it’s always from an unregistered number.”

Kamangir received hundreds of messages a day at the start of the protests in mid-September. He said he now receives bursts of updates every two days.

“It’s dark today,” he said.

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