Keynote Speaker: David L. Phillips-Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights:

“Iranian Kurdistan, also known as East Kurdistan or “Rojhelat”, is home to 12 million Kurds who are dispersed in parts of Kermanshah, Ilam, West Azerbaijan, and Kurdistan provinces. In return for supporting the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iranian Kurds were promised local self-government, and control over natural resources and economic decision-making. They were also promised cultural rights, including use of both Farsi and Kurdish in education.”

“Iranian Kurds were deceived by Ruhollah Khomeini. Barred from participating in Khomeini’s Assembly of Experts, Kurds protested: “No referendum. Self-determination first.” Iran’s new constitution enshrined the principle of Islamic jurisprudence and Shia supremacy, while ignoring demands for regional autonomy. Article 15 of Iran’s 1979 constitution established Persian as the Islamic Republic’s official language. The constitution promised uniform development and cultural rights to all Iranian citizens. However, Kurdish areas were denied investment and lagged behind.

Kurds refused to participate in a referendum to approve the constitution in March 1979. When Kurds took up arms, 200,000 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a brutal counter-insurgency campaign. The Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) proposed a 5-point peace plan, which was rejected by Khomeini’s representatives who insisted they disarm before negotiations. Khomeini declared a holy war against the Kurds on August 19, 1979. Khomeini rejected the concept of minority rights during a speech in December 1979. Disparaging Kurds, he referred to them as “children of Satan” and “enemies of God.” By 1982, more than 10,000 Kurds had been killed and 200,000 displaced by the IRGC. Thousands more were executed after summary trials.  ”

“Social injustice still prevails in Iranian Kurdistan, one of the poorest regions in Iran measured in average income, literacy, and life expectancy. Unemployment of Iranian Kurds is about 50%. Kurds rejected state-sponsored education in Farsi. The demands of Iranian Kurds were inspired by regional developments, such as the PKK rebellion in Turkey and Iraq’s constitution of 2004.


Kurds in Iran aspire to the same rights as their Kurdish brethren in Iraq. Non-Persian ethnic groups, including Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, and Ahwazis, comprise 40-50% of Iran’s population and represent a potent force. However, divisions between Kurdish factions and between the Kurds and other ethnic minorities have undermined their effectiveness. The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan evolved into the KDP, which splintered in 1988. Despite personality conflicts and power struggles, these groups share the same goal: a democratic, federal, republic “in Iran with local control over politics, natural resources, economic development and cultural expression.”

“Columbia University’s Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights is pleased to co-sponsor the panel with the Washington Kurdish Institute. I have met the panelists in previous meetings at Columbia University on January 27, 2020 and in Washington on March 4. Plans to broaden the circle and upgrade the level of participation were stymied by the Coronavirus, which restricted travel in early March.

As soon as conditions allow, we hope to convene a meeting of political party leaders and their US-based representatives in Europe to break the ice; finalize terms of reference for the dialogue project; and agree on the way forward.”

Arash Salih– Representative of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan to the United States:

“The Rojhelat, AKA the Iranian Kurdistan, aka Radian Kurdistan, aka Kurdistan of Iran is the most forgotten part. But not to forget that the Kurdish nationalism originated in Rojhelat. In the pre-modern era, the longest and the most robust Kurdish dynasty, Ardalans was centered in Sanandaj in Rojhelat from where they organized their territory for several centuries. A territory that based on Sharafkhan Bidlisie the most renowned Kurdish historian sometimes also encompassed Qaradagh, Kirkuk, Kifiri, Khanaqin, and Sharazur in southern Kurdistan. In the modern times, the first experience of the Kurdish self-rule was established in Mehabad and in Rojhelat in the form of an independent Republic. Rajhelat is also the home for the oldest Kurdish political organization. The most important institutes of Kurdish nationalism, Peshmerga, national Anthem, and, Kurdish banner are all products of the rich political culture of Rojhelat.”

“Rojhelat is forgotten not because it is silent. We don’t hear from Rojhelat a lot, not because nothing’s going on there. Quite contemporary Rojhelat is more alive than any time. It has its own way of expressing itself entered under the most brutal and the most insidious dictatorship mankind has seen in the past half a century. But unfortunately when it comes to Iran, other topics and subjects such as JCPOa, maximum pressure, the relationship between the United States and Iran, they are all topics and subjects that is more interest in the mass media””It is important for the United States to realize that it is in their direct interest to support us Kurds in Iran. It will be in the direct benefit of the region to support us in Iran. It will be in the direct benefit of peace if they support us, Kurds in Iran. And basically it is very important to realize that, the Iranian Kurds can you actually repeat the same experience as Iraqi Kurds and Syrian Kurds and provide an example of democracy and tolerance in their region for the rest of Iran”

Salah Bayaziddi- Representative of the Komala Party to the United States:

“41 years ago when the revolution took place in Iran, Iranian Kurds, alongside other ethnic groups in Iran participated for hope for a free democratic Iran. In reality, in Iranian Kurdistan, the Islamic revolution never took place. The appeal in 1979 when Khomeini proposed the Islamic Republic referendum for yes or no, the Kurds fully boycott it. So from that point, that evolution in Kurdistan diverse to a different from what was going on in the rest of Iran. Khomeini was angry at the Kurds but the Kurds still remained peaceful, trying to resolve the issue with the central government.”In July of 1979, Khomeini declared jihad against the Kurds. It took more than decades in the military could be defeated, but politically still is strong. The took by estimate between 60 to 80,000 lives during that decade, Kurdistan still remains militarized when some changes might happen in other parts of Iran, but we still have a political execution in Iran. ”

“The Kurdish situation is not changed much, but what happened that changed for the Kurdistan and rest of Iran I think it was in November 2019 when the protest took place in Iran. For the first time, we saw the widespread protest, which is the same thing that the Kurds were asking for decades. The people who are this time to come to the street, they were not middle class, like in 2009, they were upset about the result of the presidential election, the people, the so-called poor people and low-class people who the regime always saw them as their base. But what we saw, the regime in the two days took a policy, shot to kill people.”

“The Iranian Persian parties, which is, unfortunately, a very fragmented, mostly the elites or some of them don’t believe even at limited, right for Kurds like federalism or power-sharing.”