Al Jazeera World

Return to Arms: Hadaka

A rare and exclusive insight into an Iranian Kurdish political party and paramilitary group in exile in northern Iraq.

Filmmakers: Salam Hindawi, Ali Kishk and Fathi Gaouadi

There are large Kurdish communities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and parts of Iran. Many among them aspire to an independent Kurdish state. But while the Turkish, Syrian and Iraqi Kurds are often in the news, much less is known about Iran’s seven million or so Kurds.

“Return to Arms: Hadaka” is a rare and exclusive insight into an Iranian Kurdish political party in exile in northern Iraq which has recently renewed its military activity. In this film, Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent Salam Hindawi gains access to the little-known but long-established Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan – or Hadaka, to use its Kurdish name.

Hadaka was founded in 1945 and is a left-wing group that wants Kurdish self-determination in Iran. In 1946, it briefly created a Kurdish republic in the western Iranian city of Mahabad, but when this was overturned a year later, Hadaka almost disappeared as a political entity. However, it managed to survive and was reorganised in the 1960s. It took part in the Iranian revolution in 1979, but Ayatollah Khomeini refused Kurdish demands, suppressed Kurdish political parties and forced Hadaka into exile.

The Iranian regime is a bloody one so our voice may become effective to lead to a popular uprising.

by Mohammed Nazif Qaderi, Hadaka, senior party member

It waged a periodic guerilla war against Iran from bases in northern Iraq for 17 years but agreed to suspend its military activity in 1996.

In 2015, a 25-year-old Kurdish woman, Farinaz Khosravani, was allegedly raped by a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. She committed suicide and her death struck a nerve among the Iranian Kurdish community of Mahabad.

Mass protests erupted and the government reacted by executing an alleged 84 of its supporters and arresting dozens more.

As a result, Hadaka announced it was reviving its armed struggle early in 2016.

Hadaka says recruitment is a challenge in practical terms and bringing volunteers from Iran across the border into northern Iraq has its risks.

Senior party member Mohammed Nazif Qaderi says: “Our strength is drawn from the Kurds and other Iranian ethnicities – Turkish, Balug, Arab and Turkmen. People striving for democracy in Iran support us … The Iranian regime is a bloody one, so our voice may become effective to lead to a popular uprising.”

The party’s leader, Secretary-General Mustafa Hijri, goes further: “The Iranian regime is weak, contrary to what it pretends. It’s involved in action on many fronts, like Iraq, Yemen and Syria. Internally, the regime is facing discontent from the Iranian people.”

Asked whether Hadaka would combine with other groups opposed to the Iranian government, Hijri says: “We’re ready to cooperate with any political force that wants to help us achieve our goals against the Islamic Republic of Iran … Our aim is to form a federal democratic Iranian government in which all ethnicities in Iran will have autonomy.”

Return to Arms: Hadaka recruits

According to Hijri, his organisation has not received any assistance “from any countries hostile to the Iranian government”, but Tehran counters that Hadaka is “implementing a foreign agenda”.

“We have information and evidence that Takfiri groups in the north of Iraq and on our border region are active,” explains Husein Kanaani, a former general with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. “They are supported by some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. There are also Sunni Kurdish groups that are given arms, financial and political support by the Saudi government.

Kanaani dismisses Hadaka’s threat to Iranian security: “They’re more of an annoyance along our borders.”

A 58-page Amnesty International report in 2008 detailed long-standing discrimination against the Kurds in Iran. Al Jazeera’s Salam Hindawi also met Hadaka members who seemed deeply committed to their cause. But it remains to be seen whether they can persuade significant numbers of Iranian Kurds to support them in their renewed military action on the border between Iran and Iraq – to achieve their longer-term aim of self-determination.