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1979: Kurdish revolt grows in Iran

Kurds in Iran have ousted government troops from a large area near the Iraqi border.

However, they have full control of only one town, Mahabad, the centre of Iranian Kurdistan in the north-west of the country.

The revolt began last week when Kurdish tribesmen overpowered Iranian soldiers in the nearby town of Paveh.

The fighting later spread to the towns of Divan Darreh, Saqqez and Mahabad which was briefly the capital of an independent Kurdish republic from 1946-7.

Iran's four million Kurds have been disappointed the ousting of the Shah and the setting up of an Islamic state has not brought them more autonomy.

Hiding

Many of the 15 million Kurds inhabiting the mountainous area where Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and the Soviet republic of Armenia meet want it to be declared an independent state.

But Turkey and Iraq in particular have always resisted giving up sovereignty over their portions of Kurdistan.

Earlier this year Kurdish leaders met Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, who warned them against trying to break away from Iran.

Many Kurdish leaders have now gone into hiding after Ayatollah Khomeini ordered their arrest.

In spite of the current fighting, Iran's Kurds say they do not want to sever the territory from the rest of the country.

"If we cut ourselves off we would have only the mountains and the goats. We would die from hunger," said one Kurdish leader.

Iranian newspaper reports have put the number killed so far at about 600.

Traditionally, Iran's Kurds have been less strident in their demands for independence and have rarely resorted to violence.

They have more in common with the majority population who are Persians than Kurds in Turkey and Iraq have with the majority Arabs there.

In Context
Fighting between Iranian forces and Kurds continued until 1983 when the government regained control of most of the region.

Iraq has become infamous for the brutal suppression of its Kurds.

A poison gas attack by Iraqi forces in 1988 on the Kurdish town of Halabja killed five thousand people.

The United States and Britain tried to create a safe haven for Iraq's Kurds by imposing a "no-fly" zone over their region.

In December 1999 a court in Turkey passed a death sentence on the Kurdish rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, sparking worldwide protest.

Mr Ocalan led a 15-year war for autonomy in which an estimated 37,000 people were killed.


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