Democratic Self-Administration Also For Iran

Considering the danger of a true third world war, the opportunity to take a serious, radical step in the struggle for democracy in the Middle East must be recognized and seized.

AntiNote: The following is a speech delivered two months ago in the European Parliament by Haj-Ahmadi Rahman (PJAK) at the First International Conference on the Crisis in the Middle East, Iran and the Kurds.

We consider this speech of interest because of the evidence it provides of political cross-pollination across contexts among various branches of the not at all homogeneous Kurdish movement. We have published other material describing and comparing approaches to democratic self-administration and democratic confederalism in predominantly Kurdish areas of Syria and Turkey, but this is the first we heard of the phenomenon in Iran, where conflict and government repression in Kurdish-majority regions has also been escalating of late.

As with any of the testimony we present at Antidote, this speech should be understood as just that, testimony, and not as our endorsement of any particular party or perspective. That said, we do not distance ourselves from Haj-Ahmadi Rahman’s political proposals or their liberatory, collaborative spirit but rather declare our solidarity with Iranian Kurds and all people struggling under and against domination and deprivation.

4 June 2015

First of all, on behalf of the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), hello and warm regards to all conference participants. We hope that this conference will be used as a point of departure for dedicated activity.

All gathered,

As we hold this conference, a new political process is being developed in the Middle East, against the backdrop of what might be called the third world war.  But against that backdrop, both crises and potential escape routes are becoming visible. As a consequence of conflicts among widely varying socio-political forces, a new Middle East is taking shape, for better or worse.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is quietly becoming a focal point in these red-hot transformations, as its own striving for regional dominance confronts and comingles with the interventionist policies of capitalist world powers as well as the broad spectrum of democratic movements in Iran itself.

Right here, right now, the establishment of a democratic forum of discourse on socio-political questions around identity and diversity among the various peoples and groups in Iran has immense historical significance. When there is space for different ideas and strategies to be freely developed, deliberate steps can begin to be taken to resolve difficult issues and even resolve the current crisis altogether. Organizing a conference such as this is an attempt to create just this kind of democratic space for dialogue and discussion; we believe that this can open new doors for all of us.

Looking at news and commentary about the situation in Iran right now, we can conclude that all liberal-democratic forces demanding freedom, equality, and democracy—including Kurds, Arabs, Balochis, Azeris, and other ethnic groups; oppressed religious groups like the Yarsanis, Baha’i, Christians, and Zoroastrians; as well as political groups including left socialists, feminists, and anarchists—are confronted with the harsh security regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Islamic Republic of Iran deals with the acute lack of domestic social integration—which would be required to unite the forces of every nationality, culture, and faith in Iran—with single-minded cynicism and exploitation of differences. What has resulted is a situation that all people and peoples of Iran must struggle against: cultural genocide, absence of freedom of expression and assembly, executions of political prisoners, and other forms of terror that authority unleashes on society—above all on people and peoples who resist.

If we truly want to get to the root of the problems that the peoples of Iran face, we must develop an adequate approach to understanding the world system and its nature. Iran is a “component” that can only be understood as part of a global whole. It is obvious that our current epoch is very much shaped and compelled by capitalism. Global capitalism influences all reaches of public life—still, that does not mean that it cannot be overcome.

Many reasons to bring our century-long struggles against tyranny together—and thus to a successful conclusion—can be enumerated:

  1. The stressors of war and nationalism only serve the divide-and-conquer politics of imperialist powers.
  2. Core social and political movements have always played an important role in the advancement of democratic and liberatory struggle, but divided and without means of defense against centralized authority, they have remained vulnerable to repression.
  3. We have lacked an alternative model in which the community arises as a political actor and frees itself from power-oriented and authoritarian currents. To whatever degree a monolithic nation-state is perceived as holy and exceptional, a society is stripped of its self-determination in equal measure.
  4. Central authority regards all democratic and identity-seeking movements as dangerous, as does the manifold Iranian opposition; the common factor is nationalism. Democratic and identity-seeking forces among the peoples of Iran—including Kurds, Arabs, Balochis, Azeris, Turkmen, Gilaks, Mazandaranis, etcetera—are establishing spaces for basic democratic activity across localities that could open the way for truly democratic politics in Iran as a whole.
  5. Direct attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran intended to marginalize the left political spectrum are in perfect harmony with liberalism’s positioning against the idea of socialism. By advancing the false assumption that individual rights and liberal democracy can and will resolve vexing social problems, neoliberalism inherently attempts to marginalize and weaken the socialist movement. Meanwhile, a civil society-based model for democracy is of an inherently socialist nature: it is obvious that a balance between the individual and the community is required of such a model of democracy, as it attends to the fact that the individual and the community complete one another and without the existence and freedom of the one, the existence and freedom of the other is not possible.
  6. The character of every nation-state on the planet, principal among them the central government of Iran, is strictly patriarchal. Despite their participation in social and political movements, women are conspicuously absent from positions corresponding to their work and achievements. A model of democracy in which women cannot be practically and intellectually active cannot be regarded as true democracy. A radical democracy aiming to resolve Iran’s acute social and political questions must be free of both class and gender discrimination.

All gathered,

We of the PJAK are offering an alternative model for the resolution of the problems of Iran’s people and peoples. This model is based on the theory of the “democratic nation” [nation in this sense meaning a people, e.g. the Anishinaabe nation –ed.] and has a confederal democratic structure. The practical expression of this model is the system of Free and Democratic Communities (KODAR) in East Kurdistan, which the PJAK wishes to establish and upon which further activities will be undertaken to realize freedom and democracy in East Kurdistan as well as in Iran at large.

The centralist nation-state of Iran has always attempted to constrain its numerous ethnic, religious, and cultural identities as well as the broad spectrum of ideological and political groupings, to force them all into one mono-national structure. This mono-national structure, of course, is what we refer to as a nation-state. A nation under the sole aegis of a central authority, however, has lost its political agency and has no more internal control. The “democratic nation” that we hold up as an alternative is a non-governmental nation that consists of a societal plurality, across the full spectrum of which self-management and internal control is distributed. Democratic confederalism is a form of political administration produced by and within the democratic nation.

Democratic confederalism is a broad framework for the convergence and harmonization of disparate societal groups, communities, and individuals, who encounter each other on the basis of solidarity and the values of freedom and equality. We define this freedom and equality on the basis of respecting difference. We regard all cultural, religious, linguistic, and ethnic differences as enriching, and as an invaluable factor in the advancement of democracy.

That is what the oppressed people of Iran need. These people have borne the wounds of assimilation, destruction of culture, lack of political status, and often denial of their very existence, for years. We regard radical democracy shared among peoples as a means to heal these wounds, this suffering. In contrast to strict centralized authority which seeks to marginalize, assimilate, or extinguish altogether multidimensional communities and individuals, the model of democratic confederalism offers all people free, equal, and voluntary participation. This model is the most efficient and beneficial system for the coexistence of diverse cultures and social identities, which have (it should be noted) already spent thousands of years together and have much in common.

A central national authority weakened by its own despotic state violence would do better to confer to the emerging community of democratic nations the power to make the self-management of all its multitudes possible. Despite the revocation of all its civil, political, social, cultural, economic, and self-defense rights, we believe that it is through the process of democratic self-administration that the Iranian population can guarantee its own freedom and dignity.

We propose that there are two ways this model could be implemented:

  1. Through a political glasnost under which a democratic constitution can be attained, with “official” recognition, establishing democratic self-management among Iran’s people and peoples. There is no way for the multinational society and the central government of Iran to coexist under one political roof. In this connection we have said, if the government wants to resolve the “Kurdish question” in a peaceful way then official recognition of democratic self-administration in East Kurdistan is a sine qua non. Without a doubt, the insistence of the Iranian government on maintaining both its central authority  and this tense nation-state construct—along with their lack of flexibility in dealing with the peoples’ problems—is also an insistence on not resolving real and timeworn questions.
  1. As long as the central government so stubbornly persists in leaving the problems of its population unresolved, we understand it as the legitimate right of every social and ethnic group and nation to unilaterally establish democratic self-management for itself. Democratic self-administration is the realization of the principle of “the right of national self-determination,” in a democratic and non-state manner. In this case, legitimate self-defense will be employed against attacks from the state. Considering affinities among cultures and social-historical structures in many regions of Iran, the cantonal or democratic-provincial model could be copied and modified across contexts, and a Democratic Union could be formed among them.

It is important to be prepared for both scenarios (wherein we either are granted, or we simply take up, democratic self-administration). In the view of PJAK it is in line with the level of political consciousness among the Iranian population to expect to realize such a solution through movements, organizations, and parties. We will utilize this method of the democratic nation within the framework of KODAR in East Kurdistan, and we propose such a model be taken up by other people and peoples in Iran. We regard this model as an alternative one and believe that persisting in our reliance on traditional and nationalistic methods will bring only further harm.

Our solution, the democratic nation, is open and receptive to all differences and identities. This attribute can be institutionalized in any movement of the Iranian people. We believe that the ground can already be prepared for the transition away from the current dynamic towards the direly-needed convergence of democratic campaigns.

The Middle East continues to be understood primarily as a theater of bloodletting and conflict. As yet, neither the powers of the capitalist world nor regional conservative nation-states, least of all Iran, have shown themselves to be in possession of a project or plan for solving problems in the Middle East; indeed their actions have only led to more and more acute problems.

Crises are spreading, and this calls for a new strategy, a radical way out. We call this political strategy the “third way” [not to be confused with the neoliberal or chauvinist-populist “third way”]. This means neither to bow to the hegemony-hungry, repressive, and authoritarian nation-state nor to submit to the aggressive and hawkish politics of capitalist powers. We as the PJAK are founding this strategy in East Kurdistan and in Iran.

The constant struggle for hegemony and dominance in the region leads precisely to the emergence of multi-state terrorism like that of ISIS as well as to wars cloaked in religious and nationalistic regalia, ultimately encompassing all governments and peoples. In the failure of a democratic solution in Iran lies the danger that a situation similar to that of Iraq or Syria awaits us. For that reason, the acceleration of the democracy movement in Iran is of decisive importance.

It is clear that the Islamic Republic, by its insistence on fascist and misanthropic policies toward people beyond its borders, has become a serious threat to the diverse people within its borders as well. As with the formation of the antifascist resistance front in Kobanê against the multi-state terrorism of ISIS, the only way to confront the fascism of the Islamic Republic of Iran is through the strengthening of a solidary democratic front among the people. The only antidote against fundamentalism, fascism, and tyranny is this fractal model of democracy—local, regional, and global. We believe that the historical reality and great experience of political struggle among the people and peoples of Iran can produce an exemplar for this kind of democracy.

Considering the risk of the rise of new versions of ISIS, Hezbollah, and other pillars of proxy war, and the danger that it will come to genocides and the tragedy of a true third world war, the opportunity to take a serious, radical step in the struggle for democracy must be recognized and seized.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has always attempted to make its internal affairs—regarding, for example, questions around Kurds, Arabs, Balochis, Baha’i, women, and many other groups—invisible. It obscures its own basic ISIS-adjacent identity, and hides its fascistic and authoritarian face behind the legitimizing veil of concessionary international diplomacy—attempting in this way to render domestic oppositional and revolutionary forces ineffectual. In light of this situation, we hereby call all political movements in Iran to construct a democratic alliance.

The PJAK believes that the mentioned democratic model presents a common framework for all free peoples, including Kurds, Arabs, Balochis, Azeris, Turkmen, Gilaks, Mazandaranis, and Persians. This democratic model is a house welcoming Yarsanis, Baha’i, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sunnis and Shi’a. We regard this democratic model as home for Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Sabaeans, and other historical identities in Iran that are threatened with extinction. This democratic model is the historic answer to the demands of Iran’s women for freedom. This democratic model is a magnificent field upon which to present all elements of democratic modernity, including socialists, feminists, and environmentalists as well as cultural movements and religious and ideological currents of an antiauthoritarian and anticapitalist nature.

The model the PJAK is proposing as a solution, one of democratic nations, is one of pluralism; a wide variety of civil and political institutions fit into it without issues of discrimination according to race, nationality, religion, language, or culture. This means that the democratic politics in which we believe gives us unity alongside plurality. As people and peoples of Iran, all different identities will be protected, and we will attain a democratic alliance for a common struggle to resolve our wide-ranging social problems.

The PJAK is of the view that in order to bring the people’s inexhaustible spirit of struggle fully to bear, a democratic convergence must first be cultivated within our democratic movements and institutions. We believe that the civil and political organizations that are committed to fulfilling the democratic demands of all the identities, nationalities, and cultures of Iran need to combine their skills and possibilities, now more than ever. Only through such a process will the crisis, the suffering, and the tragedies with which our people are confronted subside; only such a process can promise to lead us to democracy and freedom.

In conclusion I will reiterate that this conference itself is an important step on this road to transformation and can lead to a whole new chapter. With this hope, I relay to all gathered once again the warmest regards of the PJAK.

The conference Crisis in the Middle East: Iran and the Kurds was organized by the Kurdish Friendship Group of the European Parliament, the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) and the East Kurdistan Commission.

The text of this speech first appeared in German on Kurdistan Report and was republished by Civaka-Azad, the Germany-based Kurdish Public Relations Center with whose permission the text appears here in English. Translated by the Antidote Writers Collective.

 Featured Image Source: Appel de Genève/Geneva Call 

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