The death, last year, of Jina Amini, a young Kurdish woman from Rojhelat (western Iran), sparked protests around the country. Jina’s murder at the hands of the security apparatus of the Ayatollah regime shocked to the core a nation on the brink of unrest. Women joined in the collective resistance with already disenfranchised people such as Kurds, Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Sunni Muslims against the government in Tehran. They demand justice and an end to the regime.
The death of Jina Amini (known by the state as Mahsa Amini) at the hands of the morality police is a result of the development in the long decades of the regime’s rule and persecution of Kurds, including those seeking liberty from theocratic despotism.
Her death symbolized a new revitalization of Iran’s protest movement. Thousands of people across the country, from Tehran to Rojhelat, are protesting the Ayatollah regime and calling for its removal. This regime has caused the death of so many and is responsible for the long trajectory of suffering that numerous endure, especially minorities and women.
Deaths at the hands of the Ayatollah regime
Her name was not the first. There were countless others across the decades that have been killed by this regime.
The list is long and includes Kurdish names, Persian names, women’s names, etc. Many killed were under 30, just like Jina. Robbed of life, the names claimed by the regime continue to be written to this day.
Since the start of protests late last year, over 500 people have been killed by the regime including 70 children and 68 security forces members:
Kian Pirfalak (9), Nika Shakrami (16), Sarina Esmailzadeh (16), Mahsa Mougouyi (18), Hadis Najafi (21), Mohammad Mehdi Karami (21), Mohsen Shekari (22), Majid Reza Rahnavard (23), Hannaneh Kia (23), Majid Kazemi (30), Ghazaleh Chalabi (33), Saleh Mirhashemi Baltaghi (36), Saeed Yaqoubi Kordafli (37), Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini (39), and many, many more.
Many demand the removal of the regime, some seek the Shah's restoration
The regime is supported by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a fundamentalist security apparatus dedicated to preserving the Iranian revolution as espoused originally by Ayatollah Khomeini in the early days of the post-Shah order. The IRGC’s fanatical loyalty to the regime provides it with the necessary support to prevent transitional change and expand the influence of the regime abroad.
The Iranian people have suffered firsthand at the hands of the Basij, a component of the IRGC responsible for domestic repression and mass crackdowns across the country. This organization, headed by Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Soleimani, provides the personnel necessary for the Ayatollah’s internal police state. In any future Iran, the ruling regime and its various security apparatuses will have to be removed. The people protesting demand this in Tehran and elsewhere. They demand justice not only for Jina’s death but also for the deaths of thousands killed in the past at the hands of the Basij and the rest of the IRGC.
Among those calling for the overthrow of the Ayatollah regime, there are those that are seeking the restoration of the shah. These monarchists, found in the Iranian diasporas across Europe and the Anglosphere, and personified in the National Council of Iran’s founder, Reza Pahlavi, not only demand the regime’s removal but also a return of a shah to “guide” the country in the “right direction”. This “old guard” views the order of the former shah as a period of progress for the country, where Iran was recognized internationally, experienced economic success, and commanded respect from most of the world.
This is despite the fact that the shah engaged in similar despotic practices towards dissidents, particularly towards Kurds, Balochis, and other groups. The shah’s regime was a monarchical dictatorship that laid the necessary groundwork for a totalitarian Islamic Republic.
Fighting the continued persecution of the Kurdish minority
On the other end of the political spectrum, there are groups led by Kurdish activists in places like Rojhelat, who have formed organizations like the PDKI (Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran), PJAK (Kurdistan Free Life Party), and others. The Kurdish people have historically faced persecution not only from the shah’s regime in the past but also from the Ayatollah regime today. Kolbars, for example – people who transport goods across mountains to support their families in small villages – have routinely faced persecution. They are regularly arrested, tortured, and extrajudicially executed. The IRGC suppresses Kurdish dissidents, or anyone accused of supporting “separatism,” aiming to maintain a homogenous state identity.
Persian nationalists who only want to depose the Ayatollah but maintain the historical homogeneity of the country are robbing the rights of minorities like the Kurds and reinforcing an old order.
Iran is fundamentally a multi-ethnic nation made up of a diverse population. Minorities within the country like Kurds, Balochis, and Arabs should not feel hesitant in joining the struggle out of fear for their futures. These minority groups are largely supportive of a transition in government away from the Ayatollah regime already. Many of these groups have sacrificed children in the fight against security forces. Denying their voice in any future Iran would be a travesty.
Support for the revolution of 'women, life, freedom' in foreign interests
Public intellectuals are emerging abroad to represent the revolution on the public stage. Masih Alinejad, a prominent critic of the regime, is taking center stage to advocate for protesters. Her voice – along with the voices of thousands of women – highlights the feminist nature of the revolution. This revolution is embodied by the phrase jin, jiyan, azadi, a Kurdish expression that means “women, life, freedom.” This phrase has become the mantra of the revolution, a slogan that hangs atop the death of Jina Amini.
On the other side are foreign interests, such as Israel, the US, Europe, etc., who see this emerging revolution as an opportunity to weaken the regime’s influence in the region. This influence, as mentioned before, extends as far as Central America, but it is most prominent in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen.
The IRGC supports the al-Hashd al-Shaabi (PMU) in Iraq, the National Defence Forces and Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon, Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, Hamas in Gaza, and the Houthis in Yemen.
It also supports the regimes in Venezuela and Russia with military assistance, with its backing of the latter demonstrated recently by its supply of drones to Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. Each group and offer of support from the state is used to undermine the peace of other nations, often at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.
How international observers can help
What can the international community do to help?
Some solutions that international observers can provide include listing the IRGC as a terrorist organization. The IRGC provides the backbone for the regime’s despotism. Targeting the organization with sanctions and barring their agents from entry into EU states is an important step in dismantling the security apparatus.
The only way that these protests are likely to succeed is through both a local grassroots movement by the people and by exerting international pressure against the security apparatus of the state. Dismantling the infrastructure that keeps this regime in power is of vital importance.
Access to the Internet is another vital consideration. We have access to snippets from Telegram channels, but that comes at the expense of brave people inside the country that share videos and messages to loved ones outside the country via encrypted services. Helping to provide access is important, whether this is done through smuggling of unfettered net uplinks such as Starlink. Iranian authorities are enforcing a system of censorship to contain the extent of protests.
Protests, conversations, debates, and negotiations are all necessary to further the revolution
Facilitating the establishment of a representative body for the Iranian people will give direction to the protests. A new constitution drafted in concert with representatives of the protesters that can negotiate the inclusion of the concerns of historically disenfranchised minorities is a concrete step in the right direction.
Protest is not enough to overthrow the regime – there needs to be action in the form of conversation, debate, negotiation, and concerted action that combines various elements of unity across Iran’s vast community.
The case for a revolution in Iran is evident. The Ayatollah regime is a destabilizing force not only inside Iran but also outside the country. Supporting popular protests and aiding the transition away from the regime towards a more stable and, hopefully, more democratic multiethnic country is preferable. The Ayatollah regime poses not only a local threat but also an international threat that perpetuates suffering and instability wherever it operates.
The author is an Australian-based freelancer who writes about politics, foreign policy, and the Middle East, with a focus on minority rights. You can find him on Twitter: @StoicViper.