Amini's first name and the devaluing of Kurdish lives - opinion

When Amini’s Kurdish name, Jina, is ignored intentionally or unintentionally, it is an acceptance of the cultural genocide that Kurds have been facing for decades in Iran.

 A demonstrator displays an image of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, at a protest following her death, outside the Wilshire Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, US, September 22, 2022 (photo credit: REUTERS/BING GUAN)
A demonstrator displays an image of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa (Zhina) Amini, at a protest following her death, outside the Wilshire Federal Building in Los Angeles, California, US, September 22, 2022
(photo credit: REUTERS/BING GUAN)

On September 13, a young Kurdish woman named Jina (“Mahsa”) Amini was visiting Tehran with her family from her home city of Saqiz in the Kurdistan Province of Iran. While exiting the Haghani subway in Tehran with her brother, the infamous morality police arrested her under the pretext that she was wearing her hijab improperly.

Witnesses in the police van that took Jina Amini to a detention center reported that she was beaten by the officers in the van. Not long after, Amini was transferred to Kasra Hospital in an unconscious state and later pronounced dead as a result of injuries from strikes to the skull.

Her death lit a fire in the hearts of Kurds and most Iranians. And for the first time, every mother in Iran could feel and relate to the pain that Jina’s mother and thousands of other mothers must feel when they lose their daughters and sons to the security apparatus of the Islamic Regime of Iran.

Being that Jina was a Kurdish daughter, the Kurdish regions of Iran known to Kurds as Rojhelat ignited in mass protest with cries of “Jin, Jian, Azadi” (“Woman, Life, Freedom”) and “Death to the dictator.” Their cries were heard in Tehran, Tabriz, Qom and many other cities across Iran.

Soon, similar protests sprung up all over Iran with the same cries as women began to bravely burn or throw away their hijabs as a symbolic act of destroying a symbol of state oppression.

 Women carry banners and pictures during a protest following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in Iran, in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli, northern Syria September 26, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/Orhan Qereman) Women carry banners and pictures during a protest following the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in Iran, in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli, northern Syria September 26, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/Orhan Qereman)

Since the death of Amini, people in cities all across the world have gathered in the thousands to pay their respect to Amini and stand in solidarity with protesters in Iran fighting for their human rights against the authoritarian rule of the ayatollahs.

While the death of Amini was undeniably an example of violence against women in Iran, her ethnic identity was an equally important factor in what led to her murder. Many Kurdish activists believe strongly that she was beaten to death because of her Kurdish identity.

Why does Amini's ethnicity matter?

In my view, it is obscene to disregard her ethnicity as a factor in her death. If the world still has not caught on yet, I have news for everyone: There is a campaign of cultural genocide against the Kurds in Iran. This campaign took on a new life when the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran Ayatollah Khomeini declared a Fatwa against the Kurds back in the 1980s and unleashed a bloody campaign against the Kurdish people of Rojhelat (Iranian Kurdistan).

In theory, the current constitution of the Islamic Republic guarantees minorities like Kurds, the Baloch people, Ahwaz Arabs, Azeri Turks and other minorities, cultural rights such as the right to teach and learn in their mother tongue. In practice, however, the policy is one of forced assimilation. The Kurds in Iran have been facing cultural genocide for over a century. The very fact that the Iranian authorities and the world refer to Jina Amini as Mahsa Amini is a testament to this reality.

Millions of Kurds in Iran are denied the right to learn their language and to adopt Kurdish names. For instance, it was not long ago that Iran arrested Zara Mohammadi, a Kurdish language teacher, for teaching Kurdish children their mother tongue. She remains in prison at this very moment.

Furthermore, the Islamic regime of Iran is notorious for its execution of minorities, chief among them being Kurds, all under bogus charges and without a right to a fair trial. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that the Kurdish areas in Iran were the first to ignite in protest upon the news of Amini’s death.

Her death has, however, galvanized people in cities across all of Iran and throughout the globe to gather and speak up in support of the rights of women. While Amini has become a symbol for women’s rights in Iran, her death has ignited the anger and visceral pain of all oppressed people in and outside of Iran to take to the streets and stand against tyranny and injustice.

Kurdish people stand with all people across Iran and the world in the face of tyranny and for human rights but it is unjust to deny Amini’s name and the name, culture and ethnic identity of millions of Kurds in Iran.

The Kurds in Iran

The Kurds in Iran have always been the greatest challenge to the regime. This is why the Islamic regime has done all it can to assimilate Kurds both ethnically and religiously.

To reject the name “Mahsa” is to refute a policy of forced assimilation and cultural genocide and acknowledge the human rights of all peoples in Iran instead.

If the movement that Amini’s death has sparked is to succeed in bringing about everlasting change to Iran, a unity of voice and principle is a must amongst protesters and opposition groups calling and working for an end to the Islamic regime.

When Amini’s Kurdish name is ignored intentionally or unintentionally, it is an acceptance of the cultural genocide that Kurds and other minorities have been facing for decades in Iran. No one can stand for human rights and not acknowledge and oppose this injustice.

Many might say that such discourse only serves to divide Iranians but I would argue that the contrary is true.

For this movement that has sprung up in reaction to the killing of Amini to last and succeed, it is paramount that there be unity in goals, principles and values amongst Iranians opposing this regime.

Unity among Iranian opposition groups can only be achieved by acknowledging that the rights of all peoples in Iran are legitimate whether they be Kurd, Fars, Baloch, Azeri or Arab, man or woman, Sunni or Shia, Christian or Jew, Yarasani or Baha’i.

By chanting Amini’s real name, we acknowledge that her life mattered as did her identity. We demonstrate that all identities, languages and cultures in Iran are equal. Not only does this refute the crimes of the oppressive Islamic regime against women but also against all the peoples of Iran especially minorities who collectively make up the majority of Iran’s population. This, I would argue, is the true path to unity and a democratic future for all peoples of Iran.

The writer is a Kurdish human-rights activist, English teacher and freelance writer who has written for Kurdistan24, Rudaw and other Kurdish news organizations.