EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Iranian Kurdish Party

Shervin Maslum (Photo: courtesy)

Shervin Mazlum was born on 1977 in the city of Maku in the eastern part of Kurdistan (northwestern Iran). 

She is an executive board member of the Iranian Kurdish PJAK (Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistane — Kurdistan Free Life Party and has played a key role in the party’s organization and diplomacy since its founding. 

PJAK is a left-wing, Kurdish organization based in Iranian Kurdistan. Its thousands of fighters wage intermittent armed conflict against the Iranian regime for rights for Iran’s five million Kurds. 

PJAK is considered an offshoot of the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party), an organization that has engaged in armed struggle against Turkey for minority rights. 

In 2009, PJAK was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States — the only country alongside Iran and Turkey to designate it as such — and shares the designation with the PKK.

Ironically, the PKK’s affiliate in Syria plays a central role as America’s best ally against Islamic State, while PJAK’s resistance to the Iranian regime keeps it on America’s blacklist. Also worth noting is the fact that, at present, Iran’s most infamous terror arm, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, are not at present designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. 

The following is an exclusive interview with Mazlum conducted by Clarion Project’s Kurdish Affairs Analyst, Zach D. Huff:

  1. Clarion Project: Can you introduce our readers to your party and forces, and what they have achieved for Iranian Kurds since their founding?

    Shervin Mazlum: In April 2004, a group of young women and men who were politically capable of countering the Iranian regime’s brutality and humiliation toward the Kurdish people gathered and formed the first and strongest party to advance the democratic ideology of Mr. Abdullah Ocalan, the founder of the Democratic Confederalism for Kurdistan.

    Since PJAK’s formation, they established military units for women and men in order to protect all ethnic groups living in Kurdistan. These units organized hundreds of defensive operations, causing the Iranian regime to have second thoughts when dealing with Kurdish issues.

    PJAK is also focused on education about Kurdish culture and society. We established a media network that offers a real look at the Kurds and the reality of the regime’s brutality against us, making other nations who live in Iran aware of what is happening in the country and why we, as Kurds, are opposed to the Iranian government.

    From 2014 onward, we re-organized as the East Kurdistan Free and Democratic Society. PJAK is our political wing, HPJ are the armed women’s protection units and YRK are men’s military units. There are committees addressing culture, religion and art — all under umbrella of KODAR (the East Kurdistan Free and Democratic Society).

  2. Clarion: What are some of the most notable recent operations your female fighters have engaged in?

    Mazlum: We instituted a ceasefire against the Islamic Regime of Iran since 2011, and therefore we do not conduct military operations, although there have been several defensive operations conducted by our female military units.

    In 2016, for example, there was an operation by the Iranian regime where we lost one of our HPJ female fighters, a member named Zilan Serdesht.

    The majority of our work in recent years was to make young people aware of how to avoid working for the regime’s agenda against the Kurds and instead to encourage them to join democratic forces such as PJAK or to be a positive element in the society.

  3. Clarion: How many women participate in your forces out of how many total fighters, and what is their role? Do they participate in combat operations?

    Mazlum: As the Kurdistan Free Life Party, we have 50 percent women participating in all aspects of our party. We have our own military units called the HPJ that are exclusively for women. Women have been involved in political and military committees and in defensive operations since 2011.

    We cannot disclose the numbers, but we can say hundreds if not thousands of brave women are members of our armed wing.

  4. Clarion: How do you see as the role of women in society in general? 

    Mazlum: We believe that without respecting women’s rights, society cannot function properly and build a better life for everyone in every way. Women are not only half of the society, they are the essence of being and living as human being. Without their energy, no aspect of society can go forward. Economically, educationally and culturally, they are the core of society.

    Without roles for women in society, there would be no real life.

  5. Clarion: What tactics do the Iranian authorities use in order to subjugate and control women? 

    Mazlum: They use hundreds of tactics, but the major ones are counting women as a half of men in all aspects of life — e.g., putting them in the court system as second-class beings; forbidding them to be opposed men, even when they have a right to be.

  6. Clarion: What about the rights of Kurds as a minority in general in Iran?

    Mazlum: In Iran, there are no rights for any minorities at all — the only right you have is to be follower of regime without asking questions

  7. Clarion: Are many of your fighters practicing Muslims? If so, how do they see their resistance to the Iranian theocracy?

    Mazlum: Although we do not asking our members what they believe, the majority of our members come from Muslim families. They are free to choose to practice their beliefs or not to practice.

    In terms of their opinions toward Iranian regime, they believe that this regime is using a religion as a tool to further their own political agenda.

  8. Clarion: Do you think gender equality and Islamic/Muslim tradition can be reconciled?  How? What is your view on LGBT equality?

    Mazlum: According to our political aims and our belief in human rights for all people, we must accept and protect the human right to self-determination.

    We, as the Kurdistan Free Life Party (PJAK), consider that this right is part of the basic human rights that should be protected in society.

  9. Clarion: What is your movement’s position on dealing with the Iranian regime? Must it be destroyed? Negotiated with? Do you aspire to form your own state? 

    Mazlum: We believe it is in the interest of all people who are living in Iran — including regime supporters and officials — to move toward a democratic society in which everyone will be treated equally.

    Everyone should have their voices heard by the government, otherwise we can and will create our own system, a confederation of all ethnicities and beliefs in Iran.

  10. Clarion: Five years after your founding in 2009, you were listed as a foreign terrorist organization. Why?

    Mazlum: It was a political gift given to the Iranian regime by U.S. Treasury Department. Only in the United States are we unable to operate or to collect donations. Otherwise, there is no ban on our activities anywhere else.

  11. Clarion: What is the goal of using violence, and how do you avoid harming civilians? Do the Iranian forces target Kurdish civilians?

    Mazlum: We never used force against any people in Iran or outside. It is the regime’s military that is always attacking our people and our defense units. Whenever it happens, we always act diligently not to harm innocent civilians.

    The Iranian regime not only attacks our defense units, they also attack civilians — for example, those who are working on the border of Iran and Iraq. In the last three years, there have been almost 50 cases of civilian border workers that were murdered by the regime’s forces on the border.

  12. Clarion: What is the difference between PJAK, a party ideologically aligned with the PKK, and the PYD, a Syrian Kurdish party also aligned with the PKK but a top U.S. ally? Why do you think the U.S. blacklists one PKK affiliate, but aligns with the other?

    Mazlum: We are all in alliance toward making a democratic society according to our leader Abdullah Ocalan’s philosophy. As for the policy of the United States, you may want ask them why they have a double standard.

  13. Clarion: It’s said you’re still a Marxist-oriented party; yet your ideological leader, Abdullah Ocelan, has allegedly traded those ideas for Democratic Confederalism. Have you as a party also moved in recent years to embrace individual rights, decentralized government and freer markets? 

    Mazlum: Yes, we are aligning our political goal to our leader’s theory of Democratic Confederalism, and in that context, individual rights are always preserved.

  14. Clarion: How do you work with other Iranian Kurdish parties, such as KDPI and Komala? Do you cooperate with them?

    Mazlum: We observe their policies, and if needed, we make them aware to consider changing their policies for the benefit of our people; sometimes we request visits and opportunities for discussion.

RELATED STORIES

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Kurdish PKK Cofounder

Turkey Opens War Against Kurds, Bombs PKK & ISIS

4 Policy Takeaways for the U.S. From a Month in Kurdish Syria & Iraq   

ZH
Zach Huff
Zach Huff is Clarion Project’s Kurdish affairs analyst.