Posts filed under 'Kurdistan'

2009: Ehsan Fatahian, Iranian Kurdish activist

2 comments November 11th, 2020 Headsman

Iranian Kurdish activist Ehsan Fatahian was hanged on this date in 2009 in Sanandaj, the provincial capital of Iranian Kurdistan.

He was condemned for alleged “armed struggle against the regime” as part of the proscribed Komala party. He initially received “only” a 10-year prison term, but an appeals court elevated the sentence — and that sentence was ominously rushed to completion.

Other political prisoners staged a hunger strike in protest of his hanging, and thousands of people signed online petitions circulated by human rights organizations begging Tehran to abate the sentence.

Fatahian’s moving last statement to the world, written a few days before his hanging:

Last ray of sun at sunset
is the path that I want to write on
The sound of leaves under my feet
say to me: Let yourself fall
and only then you find the path to freedom.

I have never been afraid of death, even now that I feel it closest to me. I can sense it and I’m familiar with it, for it is an old acquaintance of this land and this people. I’m not writing about death but about justifications for death, now that they have translated it to restoring justice and freedom, can one be afraid of future and destiny? “We” who have been sentenced to death by “them,” were working to find a small opening to a better world, free of injustice, are “they” also aware of what they are working towards?

I started life in city of Kermanshah, the city that my country people consider grand, the birthplace of civilization in our country. I soon noticed discrimination and oppression and I felt it in the depth of my existence, this cruelty, and the “why” of this cruelty and trying to resolve it made me come up with thousands of thoughts. But alas, they had blocked all the roads to justice and made the atmosphere so repressive that I didn’t find any way to change things inside, and I migrated to another resort: “I became a pishmarg [armed Kurdish fighter or literally “one who faces death”] of Koomaleh,” the temptation to find myself and the identity that I was deprived of made me go in that direction. Although leaving my birthplace was difficult but it never made me cut ties with my childhood hometown. Every now and then I would go back to my first home to revisit my old memories, and one of these times “they” made my visit sour, arrested and imprisoned me. From that first moment and from the hospitality (!!) of my jailers I realized that the tragic destiny of my numerous [comrades] also awaits me: torture, file building, closed and seriously influenced court, an unjust and politically charged verdict, and finally death.

Let me say it more casually: after getting arrested in town of Kamyaran on 29/4/87 [July 19, 2008] and after a few hours of being a “guest” at the information office of that town, while handcuffs and a blindfold took away my right to see and move, a person who introduced himself as a deputy of the prosecutor started asking a series of unrelated questions that were full of false accusations (I should point out that any judicial questioning outside of courtroom is prohibited in the law). This was the first of my numerous interrogation sessions. The same night I was moved to the information office of Kurdestan province in city of Sanandaj, and I experienced the real party there: a dirty cell with an unpleasant toilet with blankets that had probably not seen water in decades! From that moment my nights and days passed in the interrogation offices and lower hallway under extreme torture and beatings and this lasted three months. In these three months my interrogators, probably in pursuit of a promotion or some small raise, came up with strange and false accusations against me, which they better than anyone knew how far from reality they were. They tried very hard to prove that I was involved with an armed attempt to overthrow the regime. The only charges they could pursue was being a part of “Koomaleh” and advertising against the regime. The first “shobe” [branch] of Islamic republic court in Sanandaj found me guilty of these charges and gave me 10 years sentence in exile in Ramhormoz prison. The government’s political and bureaucratic structure always suffers from being centralized, but in this case they tried to de-centralize the judiciary and gave the powers to re-investigate (appeal?) the crimes of political prisoners, even as high as death penalties, to the appeal courts in Kurdestan province. In this case [Kamyaran’s city attorney] appealed the verdict by the first court and the Kurdestan appeals court changed my verdict from 10 years in prison to death sentence, against the Islamic republic laws. According to section 258 of “Dadrasi Keyfari” law [criminal justice law], an appeals court can increase the initial verdict only in the case that the initial verdict was less than minimum punishment for the crime. In my case, the crime was “Moharebeh” (animosity with God), which has the minimum punishment of one year sentence, and my verdict was a 10 year sentence in exile, clearly above the minimum. Compare my sentence to the minimum sentence for this crime to understand the unlawful and political nature of my death sentence. Although I also have to mention that shortly before changing the verdict they transferred me from the main prison in Sanandaj to the interrogation office of the Information Department and requested that I do a video interview confessing to crimes I have not committed, and say things that I do not believe in. In spite of a lot of pressure I did not agree to do the video confession and they told me bluntly that they will change my verdict to death sentence, which they shortly did, and demonstrated how the courts follow forces outside of judiciary department. So should they be blamed??

A judge has been sworn to stay fair in every situation, at all times and towards every person and look at the world from the legal perspective. Which judge in this doomed land can claim to has not broken this [oath]and has stayed fair and just? In my opinion the number of such judges is less than fingers on one hand. When the whole judicial system of Iran with the suggestion of an interrogator (with no knowledge of legal matters), arrests, tries, imprisons and executes people, can we really blame the few judges of a province which is always repressed and discriminated against? Yes, this house is ruined from its foundations.

This is in spite of the fact that in my last visit with my prosecutor he admitted that the death sentence is unlawful, but for the second time they gave me the notice for carrying out the execution. Needless to say that this insistence on carrying a death sentence under any circumstance is the result of pressure from security and political forces from outside of the judiciary department. [The people who belong to these circles] look at life and death of political prisoners only from the point of view of their paychecks and political needs, nothing else matters to them other than their own goals, even if it is about the most fundamental right of other human beings, their right to live. Forget international laws, they completely disregard even their own laws and procedures.

But my last words: If in the minds of these rulers and oppressors my death will get rid of the “problem” called Kurdestan [the province], I should say, what an illusion. Neither my death nor the death of thousands like me will be remedy to this incurable pain and perhaps would even fuel this fire. Without a doubt, every death points to a new life.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iran,Kurdistan,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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2019: Hervin Khalaf, Rojava politician

1 comment October 12th, 2020 Headsman

One year ago today, Rojava political figure Hervin Khalaf was killed by summary execution.

A Syrian Kurd whose family counts several martyrs to that people’s long struggle for self-determination, Khalaf (English Wikipedia entry | French was a civil engineer in Al-Malikiyah at the tip of Syria’s furthest-northeast salient wedged between Turkey and Iraq. It’s a heavily multiethnic part of the country; the Assyrian singer Faia Younan hails from the same town.

Amid the ongoing civil war that has fractured the map of Syria, Al-Malikiyah has since 2012 been part of Rojava, a de facto (albeit legally unrecognized) independent heavily-Kurdish polity that has unfolded an appealing secular social revolution featuring women’s rights and democratic devolution. Khalaf personified that vision, fired by the future she was making with her own hands; in an obituary, a friend recalled her rising at 5 in the morning and working until midnight, everything from diplomatic wrangling to teaching mathematics to children. She became the secretary-general of the liberal Future Syria Party.

Rojava has been menaced on all sides throughout its brief existence: initially by the Syrian army, which eventually withdrew amicably to allow both parties to focus on other threats; by the Islamic State; and — of moment to this post — by neighboring Turkey.

Turkey’s long-running conflict with its own Kurdish populace just across the border was of course a concern for Rojava and the Kurdish militias that supported it. When the United States withdrew its forces from northeast Syria in 2019, it laid Rojava open to Turkish invasion — which occurred on October 9, 2019. Days into that attack, an allied local militia of Sunni extremists stopped Khalaf’s armored SUV at a roadside checkpoint and summarily executed both she and her driver, Farhad Ahmed. The murder drew worldwide outrage.

While Rojava’s prospects seemed grim indeed in these days, Russia — stepping into the void as the Kurds’ great power patron — brokered a deal with Turkey that has prevented the region being overrun entirely.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Execution,History,Kurdistan,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Syria,Turkey,Wartime Executions,Women

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1975: Lex Aronson, aid worker

Add comment December 15th, 2019 Headsman

Dutch Jewish aid worker (A)Lex Aronson was hanged on this date in 1975 in Iraq.

Aronson (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) had survived Bergen-Belsen as a child* — his grandfather was not so fortunate — and gone on to a peripatetic career in global relief work that took him to Israel, Syria, Gabon, Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, and points beyond.

The last point beyond was Kurdish northern Iraq, during the terrible Iraqi-Kurdish war there of 1974-1975.

By the accounts of his friends, Aronson was a free spirit, a man of idealism and wanderlust. By the account of the Iraqi government that arrested him, Aronson was an Israeli spy.

There’s a published collection of his correspondence; in a letter to his mother dated March 13, 1975 — the last he would post before his arrest 11 days on — achingly shows him eschewing a judicious evacuation in order to press onward into the teeth of a devastating offensive Iraq had launched on March 7.

the political bosses here have decided that all foreigners should be evacuated. By foreigners, they are referring to a few press photographers, the team of five English from “Save the Children,” and yours truly. The hospitality is so extensive here that at the first sign of a threat, they are stepping out of their way to secure the safety of their guests. The local bosses mean well. However, what daddy has in his head, he doesn’t have in his arse… by which I mean that whatever I have set my mind to, I don’t give up easily.

I was determined to go to Badinan. I went from one political office to another, pestering all the leaders save for Barzani himself. Finally, I was rewarded with a letter of introduction to all the Kurdish military commanders requesting that they give me the help necessary for me to reach my goal.

A subsequent letter by a Save Our Children doctor to Aronson’s father in early 1976 explained something of the circumstances in the following days that led to his capture,

I saw your son on 20 March 1975. He was breakfasting with me at the home of the leader of the Barzan community, Sheikh Abdullah, in preparation for a journey to Badinan. He was taking medicine and other equipment with him so that he could set up a surgery to treat the inhabitants of a single community somewhere in that area. He had bought a donkey to convey these items, but unfortunately this had got lost between Senidan and Sideka, over the pass to the east of Hassanbeg Mountain with the snow so deep that no donkey could traverse it.

The donkey was under the control of two Pesh Merga (Kurdish Freedom Fighters). Apparently they became separated from your son and he had no idea of the [whereabouts of?] this medicine or his passport and money. He was travelling against the advice of the Kurds in the border area who were keen (at that time) that all foreigners should get out as quickly as possible. For this reason, he retraced his steps to try to find the donkey, yet wanted to press on towards Amadiyah. He had spent a day or so looking. He asked me to look for the animal. I made inquiries in both Sideka and Semilan, but I could not find it. However, as at that stage there was total chaos in these villages, it was not at all surprising that I was so unsuccessful. I must explain that he was in danger, as he had no identification papers with him when I saw him.

A confusing and, for his loved ones, anguishing period ensued his arrest. The Iraqi News Agency announced his execution on November 3, only to retract that announcement shortly afterward and clarify that he remained alive, still facing execution. His parents for months thereafter received notes scribbled on cigarette packages which meandered through smuggling channels at indifferent speeds, but with the irresistible implication that their son yet drew breath — and so they kept up their struggle to save him via appeals and publicity well into 1976, when the Iraqi embassy in March 1976 finally notified them that he was long since hanged.

“Nobody can imagine how we feel now,” his father told the press. “All hopes smashed at once. There is nothing left to fight for. Now we can only try not to get too depressed.”

* He was a passenger on the “Lost Transport”, a train of inmates evacuated from Bergen-Belsen that ended up with no destination as the Reich collapsed, and were eventually liberated by the Red Army.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Jews,Kurdistan

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1974: Leyla Qasim, Bride of Kurdistan

1 comment May 12th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1974, Kurdish activist Leyla Qasim was hanged by the Ba’ath regime in Baghdad.

A middle daughter among four brothers from the heavily Kurdish Khanaqin district, Qasim joined the Kurdish Student Union as a student at Baghdad University in the early 1970s.

The Iraqi government had fought a running war against Kurdish rebels throughout the 1960s, resolved only by a tenuous truce; by the spring of 1974 armed conflict began again.

Visible Kurdish activists living right in the capital became a natural target.

Qasim and four male companions were arrested in late April, accused of plotting against Iraq (various accounts have this down to a hijacking scheme or cogitating the murder of Saddam Hussein). They were tortured, condemned in a televised trial, and executed together.

She purportedly gave her family the last words of a proper martyr: “I am going to be [the] Bride of Kurdistan and embrace it.”

She’s still regarded as a Kurdish heroine and many families confer her name on their daughters.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Iraq,Kurdistan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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2006: Sheikh Zana, Erbil terrorist

1 comment September 21st, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 2006, the government of Kurdistan hanged eleven members of an alleged “terrorist cell” in its capital of Erbil.

Sheikh Z(h)ana Abdel Karim Barzinji and his gang “were involved in kidnapping and killing innocent people,” per media accounts, and security forces made sure to provide to television statements dubiously adulterated videotapes of confessions they had wrung from the group. The confessions copped to beheadings and bomb attacks, as well as to gay sex and child rape.

It was the first known judicial execution in Kurdistan since it attained functional autonomy in 1992 — but authorities still delayed it in deference to the moratorium on executions in Iraq immediately following the U.S. invasion. When Baghdad resumed executions in September 2006, Erbil went ahead and did so as well.

Victoria Fontan, a scholar of peace and conflict studies resident in Iraq, remembered her horror at watching with Kurdish friends the stagey confession broadcast in her Voices from Post-Saddam Iraq: Living with Terrorism, Insurgency, and New Forms of Tyranny. In particular, Fontan takes note of the incendiary gay-baiting used to demonize the accused, a shaming tactic she has noted in widespread use against insurgents on Iraqi television.

This was coming at a time when Erbil had just suffered an especially bloody suicide attack, and residents were demanding answers and more security. Because I had heard of similar homosexual accusations related to al-Qaeda before, my reaction was a mix of amusement and skepticism. A gay/pedophile/Islamist/terrorist network: how convenient to discredit any insurgent effort for years to come …

The entire city was waiting for the confessions, which finally came in the most sordid of manners, interrupted with footage of gay sex, executions, and much gore. The fact that the confessions were intermittent, cut off abruptly at times, that the images of gay sex supposed to have been filmed by Sheikh Zana and his group could have been filmed by anyone even after the culprits’ arrest — in the same way that some were filmed in Abu Ghraib — was not relevant at all to the viewers of this show. My friend Rowand and his family were mesmerized and disgusted. When I expressed my skepticism, they politely dismissed it. This footage appealed to the deepest of Iraqi collective fears, the fear of being exposed as a homosexual.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Homosexuals,Iraq,Kurdistan,Mass Executions,Murder,Sex,Terrorists

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1925: Sheikh Said Piran, Kurdish rebel

Add comment June 29th, 2011 Headsman

Early this morning this date in 1925, just hours after his condemnation for an eponymous rebellion against the newborn Turkish Republic, Sheikh Said Piran was publicly hanged.

This founding member of the Kurdish anti-Ankara martyrology had sparked a momentarily-successful rising against Turkey, fired by grievances that have not ceased to resonate since.

The secular nationalist Kemal Ataturk‘s intent to “Turkify” its peoples. The Kurdish populace’s frustrated national ambitions, indifferently bartered away by distant great powers dismembering the Ottoman Empire.* Ataturk’s abolition of the Caliphate.

“Oppressive and vile towards the Kurds,” Sheikh Said declared. (pdf)

For several years we have been able to read in the newspapers and official documents about the oppression, insults, hatred, and enmity that the Turk Republic [sic] accords to the Kurdish notables and dynasties. There is a lot of evidence available from authentic sources that they want to subject the Kurdish elite to the same treatment to which they subjected the Armenians

The February revolt quickly made him master of the majority-Kurdish eastern province of Diyarbakir, but a massive Turkish counterattack drove him east, encircled him, and had the Sheikh in irons by mid-April.

The government arrogated martial law powers to itself and appointed Orwellian courts called Independence Tribunals to prosecute Kurdish elites, rebels or no. (Some Kurdish intelligentsia were hailed to Diyarbakir from Istanbul.) Hundreds hanged, without even counting wholesale extrajudicial retribution against Kurdish civilians.

the repression of the 1925 rising was accomplished with a brutality which was not exceeded in any Armenian massacres. Whole villages were burnt or razed to the ground, and men, women and children killed.


Mass hanging of Kurds at Diyarbakir, May or June 1925 (Source)

Despite prosecutors’ avowed intention to extirpate the separatist sentiment “root and branch,” it hasn’t exactly put the whole Kurdish issue to bed.

Just ask Kurdish guerrilla Abdullah Ocalan, who received on this very same date 74 years later his own Turkish death sentence (since commuted).

* A past-is-prologue artifact from the time: the “Issue of Mosul“, a prickly international relations dispute over control of the historic city, accurately suspected to be sitting on a lot of oil.

Turkey claimed it as part of its historic heartland, but Great Britain had seized it just before World War I ended and wound up hanging onto it for the embryonic Iraqi state. Kurds who also considered it part of their homeland got short shrift altogether. It’s still disputed today among Iraqis, situated as it is just on the edge of Kurdish Iraq.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Kurdistan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1947: Qazi Muhammed, father of Kurdistan

3 comments March 31st, 2008 Headsman

On this date* in 1947, the only president of the world’s only Kurdish state was hanged with two aides in Mahabad, the Iranian city that had been the capital of his nascent country.

Ground between the maneuvers of much more powerful states — the stereotypical fate of the Kurds — Qazi Muhammed‘s endgame begins not in mountainous northwest Iran where he declared the short-lived Republic of Mahabad (alternatively, Mehabad), but in Berlin, where a distant dictator had hurled Europe’s great powers into war.

The contest for influence in Middle East and its lifeblood of oil for the modern mechanized army forms a crucial sidebar to World War II’s European chessboard, and the unpredictable collisions between rival empires and competing anticolonial interests made many strange bedfellows.

Two months after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, British and Soviet troops jointly seized Iran from its potentially pro-German ruler — securing both oil resources** and a precious route for sending American supplies to Russia’s desperately pressed defenders.

Kurds were very far from Stalin or Churchill’s calculation, but the moment also offered a power vacuum permitting de facto Kurdish self-rule in a narrow band straddling Soviet and British occupation zones.

As the war drew to a close, erstwhile allies began girding for the Cold War — and the disposition of Iran was a dress rehearsal. Moscow was keen to maintain influence in that country’s north, and to that end encouraged Iran’s Azerbaijani region to break away as an independent state — which it did in December 1945. The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad followed suit on January 22, 1946 (a date still commemorated by Kurdish activists) with Qazi Muhammed as president. Although the Mahabad Republic is sometimes characterized as “Soviet-backed,” or even a Soviet puppet, that might be a better description of its hopes than its reality.

Mahabad may have represented the national dream for Kurds, but it was a small pawn to the Soviets, easily sacrificed when its position became untenable. Moscow’s priorities were elsewhere, and this was the brief window when America was the only nuclear power: the Red Army was (diplomatically) forced out of Iran and the breakaway Republics reoccupied by the western-backed Iranian government. And Mahabad, a statelet founded by a middle class party with only limited backing from tribal chiefs, required Soviet support to have any hope of holding up.

Seeing where the wind was blowing, the Kurds submitted in December 1946 to the advancing Iranian army without a hopeless fight, but Muhammed refused on his honor to flee, hoping to placate the Iranians.

For all its inadequacies, Mahabad was the only Kurdish state of the 20th century, and Qazi Muhammed its founder and only president. That has earned him a place of honor in the crowded pantheon of Kurdish martyrs.

After a military court had him hanged, leadership of the Kurdish struggle passed to Mustafa Barzani, whose refugee guerrillas had made declaration of the Kurdish state a possibility in the first place.

In a biography of Barzani written by Barzani’s son, the Kurdish captain describes his last meeting with the president — and if the manifest interest of the reporting parties colors our presumption of its literal authenticity (journalist Jonathan Randal, for instance, reports that Barzani never held Mohammed in high regard), it likewise underscores the place of this day’s victim in the Kurdish mythology.

I went to Qazi Mohammed and asked him what he personally intended to do. He said that he intended to sacrifice his life to prevent bloodshed in Mahabad, that he would surrender to the Iranian forces, and that he had sent an emissary to General Hamayoni in Miyandoab informing him of his decision. He broke down in tears as he continued: “Never rely on anyone but your own group. All those who took the oath of allegiance have betrayed us and are rushing to prove their loyalty to the Iranian forces. Beware of the tribal chiefs who would target you if they could. I hope that you will leave Mahabad as soon as youc an to avoid confronting the Iranian forces.”

I insisted that he go with us [to Iraq], and pledged my word of honor that I would sacrifice my life and the lives of all who were with me to defend him, because he was the symbol of our nation. I told him that my advice to him was not to trust Iranian promises. It would be painful to see the first president of the Republic of Kurdistan fall into enemy hands.

In tears, Qazi Mohammed rose and hugged me, saying, “I pray God will give you strength and protect you. May my sacrifice spare the citizens some of their affliction and mitigate the terror and vengeance.” Then, he pulled a flag of Kurdistan from his pocket and gave it to me and said: “This is the symbol of Kurdistan. I give it to you as a token of trust in your honor, for I think you are the bes man to keep it.”

The Encyclopedia of Kurdistan has an excellent entry on Mahabad’s straitened political situation, as well as a good article on the background of tribal politics in the years prior to World War II.

* Some sources report March 30; the small hours in the morning of the 31st seems to have the plurality of scholarship.

** Although Baku was a much more important source of oil for the USSR.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Iran,Kurdistan,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities


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