Political Realities Leave Iran’s Kurds Divided, Weak and Ineffective

Political Realities Leave Iran’s Kurds Divided, Weak and Ineffective
Fighters from the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), Feb. 7, 2015 (Flickr photo by kurdishstruggle licensed under the Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and Kurdish rebels from the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran clashed late last month along Iran’s mountainous border with Iraq. In an email interview, Denise Natali, a distinguished research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, discusses the relationship between the Iranian government and Iran’s Kurdish minority.

WPR: How large is Iran’s Kurdish population, and how integrated are they into Iranian society?

Denise Natali: Kurds are estimated to represent about 8 to 10 percent of the Iranian population, or about 6 million to 8 million people. They are not a monolithic community; approximately half are Sunni Muslims and the other half are Shiite, with small heterodox Muslim communities as well, such as the Ahl al-Haq. Distinctions also exist between rural and urban groups, leftist and conservative political factions, tribes, socio-economic classes and dialect groups across regions. Iranian Kurds mainly inhabit the northwestern provinces of Kermanshah, Kurdistan, West Azerbaijan and, to a lesser extent, Ilam province, although they are also located in Tehran and the northeastern provinces of Mazanderan and Khorasan.

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