In an interview with Al-Arabiya, Jila Mostajer, a Kurdish civil rights activist who has been covering the news in Kurdistan, discussed the ongoing strikes. She said, “Merchants who are at the heart of strikes call for immediate and unconditional opening of trade borders. They are also calling for the removal of new tariffs because of their inability to pay customs duties.” Mostajer claimed the in the early days of the protests, officials like Mr. Lahoni, governor of Javanrud, stated that they would not do anything about it, and that this issue is entirely directed from Tehran. “But as strikes spread, Saeed Jalili, national security adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a sudden visit to Baneh to invite protestors to end the strike in Kurdistan,” she said.
After the visit, some 18 strikers were arrested in Baneh, Saqqez, Marivan and Ja-vanrud. Only one detainee was released.
Reports received by Hengaw Organization for Human Rights allege that the Iranian government has not taken any practical steps to address striker demands.
Threats of water and electricity cuts, as well as cancellation of business licenses, forced some storekeepers to remain open.
10 Kurdish members of Majles sent of letter to Iranian President Rouhani, demanding the borders be opened, explaining the way this measure has affected the economy of Kurdistan.
Mamostata Muhammad Adib thanked the people for their solidarity and for refraining from violence during the strikes. He announced the support of clerics’ community.
Adib addressed the government, “If you accept us as citizens of Iran, you are obliged to respond to our demands. Otherwise, we will resort to other modes of protest.”
Meanwhile, other clerics claimed that the protestors were agents of the foreign countries attempting to bring instability to Kurdistan.
The strikes began 13 days ago, when the borders of the Western regions between Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey were closed. They originated in the cities of Baneh and Marivan. Other cities, such as Pi-ranshahr and parts of Sardasht and Saqqez, Maku, Javanrud, parts of Urmieh and Sarpol Zahab joined within 3 days.
When President Rouhani visited Azerbaijan recently to address citizens in Tabriz football stadium, attendees carried red cards as a sign of protest against border’s closure and border tax increase.
According to Mostajer, she and other human rights organizations are tasked with delivering the message of Kurdish strikers, and make their demands known to the world. “I believe this time strikes will continue until a change is made. In previous years strikes usually would end under the pressure and intimidation and everything would go back to the way it was. People know if they stop now nothing will change,” she said.
Border carriers, or Kolebar (weight carriers), is an extremely dangerous and physically demanding job. They carry merchandise on their backs, and cross the border from Iraqi Kurdistan to Iranian Kurdistan. Becoming a kolebar is the only source of income for thousands of Kurd citizens. With the increased border tax, 80,000 kolebars have lost their jobs. In the annual report of the Kurdish human rights watch organization, Hengaw , is says that during the first half of the past year, 150 Kurdish porters were killed by Iranian border control.
Iranian Kurdistan is extremely poor and underdeveloped. Without any alternative, closing the borders will only result in a worsening economic situation, and consequently more strikes and instability, and may create a formidable challenge for the regime in Tehran.