Largely peaceful demonstrators in the Iranian city of Isfahan called recently on their government to withdraw from Syria and concentrate its efforts instead on its own disfranchised people.
“Let Go of Syria; Think of Iran,” was the slogan chanted in rhyming Persian by hundreds of marchers last Friday. It was chanted, ironically, at the annual Quds public rally, which is held every year on the last Friday of Ramadan to mark commitment to the liberation of Palestine.
Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has been seen as virtually the only regional super power in the Middle East without a formidable internal opposition that could effectively destabilize its regional grip.
While Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and even the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have constantly been dealing with separatist or extremist groups within their borders, Iran has successfully been able to sideline or dismantle powerful political parties and their armed wings such as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq and the once influential Communist Party, the Toudeh.
When it comes to the Kurdish resistance movement in Iran however–which seems to be reignited recently–the story has taken a different path.
“I think the main reason behind the resumption of clashes is Iran’s aggressive attitude towards Kurds in general,” said Ilham Ishiq, a political commentator in Turkey, referring to last month’s deadly confrontation between Iran’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDPI) and its elite guards known as the Pasdaran.
“But I also think that there is a third party involved which wants to stir chaos in the Islamic Republic,” Ishiq added.
Iran was abundantly clear some weeks ago about where to look for blame as low-ranking Iranian officials quickly condemned the clashes as “regional interference” and “regional powers’ proxy wars.”
Iranian lawmaker Rohulla Hazratposh from West Azerbaijan province where the clashes had taken place explicitly told the Majlis (parliament) that Saudi Arabia was behind the “chaotic action” in order to weaken Tehran’s position in neighboring Iraq.
“We have detailed information about Saudi officials visiting the Kurdistan region with the purpose of destabilizing the northwest of Iran,” Hazratposh told the Majlis days after the clashes.
Six Kurdish peshmarga and four Pasdaran troops were killed in the fight that took place in a village near the Kurdish town of Shno on June 16. At least two other deadly standoffs between the two groups have killed dozens more on both sides since April this year.
“Iran is actively interfering in domestic affairs in the region. Tehran has created its own paramilitary groups in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon, through which it influences the politics in these countries,” said Ishiq, who believes the recent armed conflicts were reactions to Tehran’s interventionist policies.
“The clash was a response to the reinforced position of Iran in the Kurdistan region and Syria,” he says.
The KDPI has firmly denied any outside influence over its recent decision to mobilize its forces deeper inside Iran and maintained it seeks a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question.
“We redesign our plans according to our internal needs and any regrouping of our troops is based on our own decisions and not because of any outside influence,” said Rostam Jihangir, a senior member of the KDPI.
Iran has in the past sought to enter the Kurdistan Region’s rewarding energy and construction sector from which it has conspicuously been absent largely due to the KRG’s long-term bonds with Iran’s rival, Turkey.
Tehran has also offered to connect the Kurdistan Region’s oil pipeline to the Iranian network, which could carry Kurdish oil to ports in the Persian Gulf for further export into world markets.
Political pundits close to the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), however, have lately blamed Iran for the deadlock in the regional parliament accusing Tehran of violating its non-interference pact with Erbil.
“Turkey’s relations with Iran have worsened,” said Muhammad Yanmish a professor of political science in Dijle University in Turkey.
“It is possible that due to Iran’s continued support for the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] and Ankara’s failure in Syria, Turkey would seek to destabilize Iran through the Kurdish groups,” Yanmish said.
Turkey is historically less interested in regional unrest, which could easily destabilize its own fragile political bedrock, particularly when Kurdish groups are empowered as a result.
“If the clashes in Iranian Kurdistan continue, we should see a shift in the role and position played by Tehran in this region,” said Ishiq.
“But in any case, it is too soon to see its impact on the Turkish-Iranian relations.”