One of the primary roles of the Iranian regime’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is to suppress the voice and beliefs of any opponent. For the past four decades, many people across Iran have been the victims of the IRGC’s cruelty.
This article will examine their role before the nationwide protests in 2017-2018. In the first days and months after the revolution, the IRGC expanded the regime’s dominance by repressing the people in Turkmen Sahra, Kurdistan, Khuzestan, and Tabriz.
At that time, the IRGC’s members committed a wide range of atrocities. Dozens of innocent people were killed, and many forcefully disappeared. Families were destroyed, and many others were forced to leave their homes and the regions they had lived in all their lives.
On June 21, 1981, a public protest led by the regime’s main opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which was antitheses to Khomeini’s decision to establish a totalitarian regime, was heavily repressed by the newly founded IRGC. Many people were killed, dozens were arrested, and in the following years, they were executed.
On May 30, 1992, following the destruction of citizens’ dwellings in Mashhad which led to public protests, a child was killed by the regime’s security forces. The incident provoked the people’s anger, and they started a massive rally that continued until the next day. On that day, the IRGC interfered and initiated a broad repression. The number of deaths and injured people is still unknown.
On August 3, 1994, the uprising of the people of Qazvin occurred. It began with the people’s protest of the regime’s decision not to recognize Qazvin as a province with the centrality of Qazvin City as its center. The protest quickly turned into a massive anti-regime demonstration. The people of Qazvin protested the government’s discriminatory policies and called for more attention to the situation taking place in their city.
The uprising of the Qazvin people continued for two to three days until the regime’s forces brutally suppressed the protests with mass executions and arrests. As the police could not regain control of the situation alone, the IRGC interfered. The number of casualties is still unknown, but estimation suggests that 50 people were killed, and more than 3000 were arrested.
In March 1995, the people of Eslamshar revolted against the regime. At that time, this city was one of the poorest regions in Iran, with a population of 350,000 who faced many livelihood problems. Among these problems were unregistered housing and agriculture fields and the need for drinking water and electricity, to name but a few.
Most sources mention that Thar-Allah Headquarters, one of the security bases of the IRGC in Tehran, is responsible for the repression of this uprising. It was Thar Allah’s first operation since its formation. As with earlier incidents, there is no exact number of people arrested, killed, or executed.
The next occasion the IRGC played a significant role in the repression of Iranian citizens was in July 1999 when the Iranian student protests, also known as the Kuye Daneshgah Disaster, occurred. It was the most widespread and violent protest following the formation of the regime. The protests began after the closure of the newspaper Salam, which belonged to the regime’s so-called reformist faction.
In the aftermath of the protests, more than 70 students disappeared, and many were killed. The regime arrested more than 1000 people, and the fate of many detained remains unknown.
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the current speaker of the parliament and the former commander of the IRGC air force at that time, said, “There is an image of me with a baton in hand. We went to the street to clean it up. Where it is necessary to act radically, we are those who will beat, and we are proud of that. I did not ask myself whether I am an IRGC commander.”
Many IRGC commanders involved in the repression have held important government positions, some still to this day. Among these people are Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the current speaker of the parliament; Gholam Ali Rashid, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces; Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of IRGC ground forces and later commander-in-chief of IRGC; Qassem Soleimani, Commander of the 41st division of Thar-Allah and later the commander of the Quds Force; Mohammad Esmail Kothari, the deputy of Thar-Allah headquarters in Tehran and later a member of the 8th parliament; Ali Fadavi; Hossein Hamedani; Ismail Qaani, current commander of the Quds Force; and Ali Fazli, Commander of Thar-Allah Corps.
Saeed Hajjarian, a well-known regime figure, previously spoke about the role of IRGC in suppressing student protests. He stated, “I went to Khatami’s office for a task when Mr. Safavi (commander of the IRGC) called Mr. Abtahi and said that our red line is Jumohori street, we will hit anyone who will pass this street.”
In 2008, after the nationwide demonstration of the people against the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the regime’s president, people took to the street calling the re-election fraudulent and shouting, “Where is my vote?” The protest gradually became a full-scale anti-regime demonstration, with people chanting, “Death to the dictator!”
According to official statistics, at least 4000 people were arrested, hundreds were injured, and at least 112 people were killed. During the protests, which lasted for about ten months, the IRGC again played a significant role in the suppression.
On December 29, 2012, Mohammad Ali Jafari, then commander of the IRGC, spoke about the role of the IRGC, saying: “The protests after the 2008 presidential election in Iran was the scene of confrontation between revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries. Its danger was far more than the danger of an 8-year war (referring to the Iran-Iraq war) for the revolution and Islam.”