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Iran’s Kurdish region at center of crackdown on protesters

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As protests in Iran stretch into a third month, the government crackdown is intensifying in ethnically Kurdish areas in the northwest of the country, according to the government, local officials and human rights activists.

At least 42 people were killed last week while protesting in Kurdish towns following “direct fire from Iranian government forces”, the Kurdish human rights group Hengaw said on Tuesday. The group, which focuses on human rights in Iranian Kurdistan, said at least 1,500 people were injured.

Authorities restrict media coverage of the protests, making independent reporting on the protests difficult, if not impossible. NBC News cannot verify claims made by the government or independent organizations.

Two videos that NBC News was able to confirm were shot in Javanrud, Kermanshah province, an area with a high proportion of ethnic Kurds, showing clashes in a rubble-strewn street. A video was shot from the perspective of men wearing camouflage worn by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful military and political force with deep influence in the Iranian state. The other was filmed from the point of view of plainclothes civilians who carry no visible weapons.

According to Hengaw, during the clashes that occurred on Monday, gunfire could be heard as the armed and camouflage-clad men advanced down the street towards people in civilian clothes.

Scenes of reported clashes in the northeastern Iranian city of Javanrud shared by a Kurdish human rights group on Tuesday. @HengawO / Twitter

According to the semi-official Fars news agency, the violence erupted on Monday after two funerals were held in the city. The regime-aligned agency blamed the violence on “rioters” and “Kurdish separatists” who infiltrated crowds of protesters and attacked an IRGC base. The guards “started shooting in the air but had to fire at the attackers,” Fars said, adding that several officers were injured and two saw their homes set on fire.

Mohammad Kowsari, a former IRGC commander who is now a hardline lawmaker, said Iran sent the army to the region to fight Kurdish separatist groups. He was speaking in an interview published on Jamaran, a website closely linked to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Jalal Mahmoudzadeh, MP for Mahabad, told the Etemad newspaper that members of the security forces fired on homes and businesses on Saturday, calling on authorities to ease their approach, according to Reuters.

On Wednesday, the United States imposed sanctions on three Iranian security officials for allegedly helping to extend military control over predominantly Kurdish areas which it says have “faced a particularly severe security response” since the start of the war. protests begin in September.

Iranian officials have blamed much of the violence in the northwest on people they label as terrorists or Kurdish separatists, without providing evidence to support those claims. Local security official Mohammad Pourhashemi told state television that local gunmen were responsible for the violence in Javanrud after they exchanged gunfire with security forces.

Some Kurdish groups have been engaged in low-level conflict with Iran since the country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iran accuses them of inciting protests and smuggling weapons into the country, allegations that the Kurds have denied.

Violence in Kurdish areas is just one part of the widespread outpouring of dissent, often led by women, against the semi-theocratic authoritarian regime that has ruled Iran since 1979.

“There’s a lot going on,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director specializing in Iran at London-based think tank Chatham House.

Mahsa Amini, the young woman whose detention by the vice squad and subsequent death three days later sparked deadly protests across the country, was Kurdish. Authorities deny abusing her.

The protests originated in the western Kurdish region but have since spread across the country, which is roughly the size of Alaska and whose 85 million people outnumber the populations of California and Texas. reunited.

On the ground, protests for women’s rights have blossomed into a larger and more diverse movement. Some demonstrators called for the overthrow of the regime and the “death to the dictator”, that is to say the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The young protesters – often horrified by Amini’s death after he was arrested for allegedly breaking Iran’s strict dress code laws – were unafraid to target the Islamic Republic’s holy symbols. Videos of people knocking turbans off the heads of religious figures have gone viral, one of which was geotagged by NBC News in the Tehran metro. Last week, protesters set fire to the ancestral home of Khomeini himself, according to activists.

“Today, young people in particular are disruptors and they want to change the status quo by pushing back the social, cultural and political norms and red lines that had previously limited engagement between state and society,” said Vakil.

These “brazen acts” show “their level of deep anger at leaders who experienced popular frustration but did nothing to address it”, she added.

Iran's Kurdish region at center of crackdown on protesters

These domestic protests exploded onto the international stage after Iran’s men’s soccer team failed to sing the national anthem in their first World Cup match against England in Qatar on Monday.

Iran team captain Ehsan Hajsafi has become the latest public figure to offer his support to the protesters. “We have to accept that the situation in our country is not good and our people are not happy,” he told a news conference.

On Thursday, the semi-official Tasnim News agency reported that national football player Voria Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, was arrested for insulting and damaging the image of the Iran national football team and propaganda against the government.

The violence has also spread across the border into Iraq, which like other neighboring countries also has a Kurdish region.

Iran attributes its domestic unrest in part to Iraqi Kurdish groups and has targeted them with missile and drone attacks. These have been condemned by Kurdish officials and the Iraqi government, although the latter is dominated by parties close to Iran.

Last week, Esmail Ghaani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, visited Baghdad and threatened Iraq with a ground invasion in the north of the country if it did not fortify the border.

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