SANANDAJ, ONE OF THE FOUR IRAnian Kurdish provinces, is a city of 350,000 people and far more prosperous and modern than the other capitals of Kurdistan--Suleimania or Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, or Diyarbekir in Turkish Kurdistan.
From Revolution Square to Liberty Square, an impressive crowd strolls the sidewalks of Ferdowsi Street and the ultra-modern, recently opened centres on Pasdaran Avenue, at the end of each day. This crowd includes a lot of young people--many of whom are soldiers, because Sanandaj is a garrison city--and scores are students because Sanandaj, with four universities, is the main intellectual centre of the Sunni part of Iranian Kurdistan. Sanandaj is also where most of the recently tolerated Kurdish newspapers are based and where Kurdish students have begun to meet to criticise the role of the historical Kurdish political parties and to dream of their own version of an independent Kurdistan.
"The Kurdish students meet secretly in university clubs and elsewhere in the city for passionate discussions about the future of Kurdistan", reveals one student. Informal and illegal, these discussion groups started up around ten years ago when students gathered spontaneously to commemorate the anniversaries of tragic events which have marred contemporary Kurdish history--the chemical bombing of Halabja (16 March 1988), and the murder of two leaders of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI), Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou (Vienna, 13 July 1989), and Said Charaf Kandi (Berlin, 12 September 1992).
The election of Mohammed Khatami as president of the Islamic republic in 1997 raised high hopes of change in Kurdistan--as it did in other parts of Iran--and encouraged Kurdish intellectuals to organise themselves more efficiently. They began meeting regularly for discussions on philosophy and history. "We don't have a Frantz Fanon (the French revolutionary writer of the 1960s), said one of them, but we have Ismail Besikci (a Turkish intellectual who spent over 20 years in Turkish jails for writing books on the Kurdish question). Besikci claims Kurdistan is an international colony and accuses Tehran of colonising Iranian Kurdistan to exploit its cheap manpower and its hydraulic resources."
Predictably, diverse opinions of the problems of Iran's Kurds and how best to deal with them are aired at these clandestine debating shops. Some believe a crisis of identity is looming; many of the younger people have little knowledge or regard for...