East Kurdistan’s Youth Caught up in Iran’s Dirty Games

headshotIt has become common knowledge that substance abuse among young adults in Iran has become one of the biggest problems youth in the region face today. Published epidemiological studies in international and domestic journals show that drug use and abuse is a serious mental health problem in Iran. Heroin, opium and cannabis are the most often used illicit drugs, but there are new emerging problems with anabolic steroids, ecstasy and stimulant substances including crystal methamphetamine.

Substance abuse contributes to theft, murder, suicide, violence, and divorce in Iran. Widespread availability of drugs may be one reason for drug abuse among Iranians because Iran’s eastern neighbor Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of heroin and opium. However, the problem of drug abuse in East Kurdistan, the Kurdish region occupied by Iran, is shown to be a lot worse with its greatest effect on the young male population.

When assessing the situation of the youth in any country, their development and progress can be measured by the level of access to and the quality of the education system. This is no different in Iran and its Kurdish region. Without a doubt, the enforcement of studying in a language other than the mother tongue coupled with the economic, political and other discrimination that child experiences growing up have reduced Kurdish participation in the national political discourse in the last thirty-three years.

In 2003, a Human Rights Watch report summarized the situation: “Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities remained subject to discrimination and persecution. The lack of public school education in Kurdish language remained a perpetual source of Kurdish frustration.”

The instability and security concerns demonstrate economic development or investment both by the state and the private investor creating high unemployment rates. The segregation of Iran and Iranians in flawed policies has created national divisions, and the Kurds have always been active to secure equal rights. In response, the Iranian regime has violently suppressed Kurdish aspirations.

Specifically, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against the Kurds on August 19, 1979 and many Kurds were killed at the hands of Sepah Pasdaran and Khalkhali, the Revolutionary Judge. In elections, the Kurds have either supported candidates who were not favored by the regime or showed low turnout. They see little or no point in engaging with a system that only discriminates against them.

In East Kurdistan in April and June 2005, crowds celebrating the liberation of South Kurdistan (KRG) were met with violence, arrests and detentions. They had gathered to celebrate the success of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and South Kurdistan President Massoud Barazani.

This caused an increase in already heavy military presence in East Kurdistan

Similar reactions were evoked when people took to the streets in March 2012 during Newroz (New Year) when celebrations in North Kurdistan (Occupied by Turkey) turned violent. It is no surprise that after the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009, the “Green Movement” failed to capture the imagination in Kurdish regions, since Green or not, so long as the present system is in power the youth of the region see no hope of change for the future.

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Tehran is a signatory to the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The head of the Prisons, Security, and Correction Organization said in July 2001 that out of the 170,000 prisoners some 68,000 are incarcerated for drug trafficking and another 32,000 are imprisoned for drug addiction.

He also stated that drug related arrests had increased the overall prison population by 25 percent. It is estimated that some 150-200 petty dealers and users are arrested in Tehran every day, but some are released because of the shortage of prison space. With an increased rate of arrest of drug smugglers, dealers and trafficking, substance abuse is still at an all time high in East Kurdistan. There have been many hidden and unpublished stories of youth, men and women, being kidnapped off the street and taken away by groups only to be injected with drugs and released back into the streets.

I believe that the Iranian government releases the illicit substances into the streets of Iran and Kurdistan as a method of control. Through internet filters, social media and international media blockage they are trying to avoid a repeat of the 1979 Revolution but this time with the Islamic regime.

With the help of illicit drugs many youth are taken out of education and put behind bars. Under the influence of drugs many will commit crimes which will lead to their execution. When I visited East Kurdistan in 2004 the problem was already at a peak with people saying that every household had at least one drug addict in Kurdistan. Others told stories of how the government released a batch of women’s lipsticks made in Iran which had micro razor blades embedded in them that were infected with HIV into Kurdish regions.

I cannot find any published source to confirm these claims, nor are there any statistics of HIV and AIDS in East Kurdistan which can corroborate any outbreaks. However, chemical weapons have previously been used to decimate entire Kurdish villages under Saddam’s regime, and it is not unrealistic for Iran to perpetrate similar massacres against Kurds using a biological weapon such as an AIDS epidemic.

Tara Fatehi is originally from Sine, Eastern Kurdistan and is currently pursuing a PhD in Medical Science at Adelaide University in Australia. She hopes to help raise the plight of the Kurdish people to the world and one day travel home to a free Kurdistan.