I spent some time with the resistance movement of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, based in Iraqi Kurdistan. Kurds have long been suppressed and persecuted in Iran which resulted in the foundation of this party in 1945. Still Kurds don't have basic human rights and are treated as 3rd grade citizens, not participating as a human in the society of Iran. The unrest is growing in Iran, not only among the Kurds, which is visible by the recent waves of protests in November 2019. Dissatisfaction about the cruel and conservative leadership of the dictators that run this theocracy is rife. One of the few reasons the regime is still standing is due to their incredible intense militarization of the country, with which they control their citizens, and many conflicts in the Middle East. The situation is likely to reach a major confrontation point in the near future; revolution is in the air and war is likely imminent. The party is preparing for this situation by training their members military and politically. This seems not unnecessary, as of 15 June 2020 the Iranian Revolutionist Guards started shelling Iraqi Kurdistan to fight the Kurdish opposition groups, illustrating that the fight is still very much ongoing.
These are the training camps where new recruits who just came from Iran are trained before they officially join the Peshmerga,  which is how Kurdish resistance fighters are called (as well as the Kurdish armed forces). As Iranian agents try to infiltrate the party, a thorough background check of every recruit is required. The party is banned and labeled a terrorist organisation in Iran which is why they are based and train in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the only safe haven for Kurds. In Iran they have to operate underground and in secret in the mountains and villages.
Besides military and physical training, recruits also have to attend classes about politics, history, diplomacy and public speaking for example. Political knowledge plays an important role and recruits are expected to be up to date on politics of surrounding countries but also of Europe and US policy, political systems and how the international community acts.
The reasons for people to join the party are manifold. All of them could not deal with the immense injustice that they were facing in their life. The Kurds in Iran, as well as the other minorities, suffer from heavy oppression, discrimination, persecution and abuse. It is no wonder that when you are facing political and socioeconomic discrimination, impeding your access to university admissions, job opportunities, housing, land rights, business licenses, and being severly limited in your freedom of expression and cultural identity and facing arbitrary arrest with disproportionately heavy sentences, not rarely amounting to executions, frustrations run high.
General Mokhtar Sorhabi. Peshmerga for 24 years and is now a 'mamosta'; a trainer for new recruits.

''The reason I became Peshmerga is that I could not stand the cruelties that my people had to endure anymore. My work consists of training and educating the Peshmerga's. We have to be able to defend ourselves and the citizens, which is why we have military lessons. Diplomacy is important and we have political relations with Europe and other opposition parties. We are open to negotiations with Iranian authority but this is impossible. The last experience we had with this saw our party leaders killed at the negotiation table, in Europe.''

The murder of the revered Dr Ghassemlou and two of his friends happened in 1989, in an apartment in the outskirts of Vienna where they were holding talks with envoys sent by then Iranian president. Despite evidence on the direct involvement of the Iranian regime in the assassinations, the government of Austria sacrificed justice for its country’s political and commercial interests and allowed the three suspected killers to leave Austria without ever being questioned by the Austrian authorities.

''We do feel alone in this battle. Everyday Kurdish people are being murdered in Iran and the European governments are well aware of this. But self interest and economic interest is more important. I feel bad that this is the case, that we are alone and have no friends in this. But as long as people are keeping silent and not helping us, our motivation for waging this battle is heightened.''
Aijub Fatholai is 28 years old and a new recruit who has joined the party for a month now.

''I have a 1000 reasons to join the movement, my life in Iran has been very hard. I left my own fatherland, I left my own family and my friends behind to join the resistance. For as long as I remember from my childhood at school I’ve been experiencing the cruelty and injustice, just because I'm a Kurd. Maybe you have heard about it. But I have seen it and lived it.  As a Kurd living under the Iranian authorities, you are considered a non-existing human, the lowest ranking in the entire society. For 13 years at school I heard nothing else than that I'm inferior.''
''I lost both my parents when I was 8. The government didn't care for me. I had to steal food and sleep in sheds or on the street for 13 years. The town I come from has a lot of oil, but the Kurds have not seen one cent of it. I had my own land which has oil beneath it. They took it from me and I never received any money. Besides, I'm denied many jobs as well. We are being subordinated in every way, not allowed to make money or study something like engineering or chemistry.''
''Our culture is denied as well. It is not allowed to wear our traditional clothes. If I go to any government or public institution, I can't speak Kurdish. No one will answer you. It is even forbidden to learn your own language. Even when I listen to Kurdish poetry, they will connect it with political activity. Once I wore Kurdish clothes to a public building and soon 20 guns were pointed to me, saying arrest that man, he is a terrorist. Now that we are here (Iraqi Kurdistan) I can say everything to you that is on my mind, but it is not like that over there. You will never be allowed to say what you want in Iran.''
"I experienced so much hardship and suffering, a novel wouldn't be enough to describe it all. All this under the Shia religious government. I'm an atheist, because if there is a god, where is he now? Why do we have to suffer so much, why doesn't god see this? Under this regime I've never learned what it is like to be a human, to have respect for others. It has always been nothing but hatred and destruction. What is wrong with being a Kurd? Why does a Kurd has to be tortured so much just for being what he is? Do I have 3 ears instead of 2? Do I have crooked arms instead of straight ones? Am I not a human like you?''
Faredun Tabei, 36 years old. Pictured with the portraits of fallen comrades in the background.
''In our daily live we see us Kurds being excluded from everything, we belong nowhere. We don’t have our own rights, even those rights that every human should. Because we are human as well we should have those rights, but no, since we are Kurds they have denied those from us. ''

''If you live there you must accept that much cruelty. You must witness everything but don’t say anything. See what is happening to you, what is happening to your people, your family. And just accept it. I have spent 8 years in prison for resisting the regime. After my release, I thought this is no place for me to live anymore and I decided to join the party. So me and my wife divorced on purpose so that she wouldn't get in trouble for being the wife of a Peshmerga. The regime is not afraid of killing people. They do it daily, over the simplest things. Lots of people go to prison. Family’s being teared apart. When you are doing this resistance, you must pay for it. The only thing I want to reach with this, is freedom. I have 2 children of 11 and 7 years. If I do this I can say that at least I tried my best for the future of not only my children, but all the children of all the Kurds''.
''I don't want that people when they think of Kurds, they see a person with a gun. We are a peaceful people. We are only carrying guns out of defense, we have never attacked somebody,  we have never been the aggressor. ''

''I don't know how long this fight will take but I believe that we will succeed someday. On that day that we reach our goals, I'm looking forward to go back to my wife and children, rest my head on my wife's lap. Sleep without fear for the future,  fear of what will happen tomorrow. What will happen to my children's future. We just want to live without worry and with peace in our heart''. 
People who join the movement come from all demographic backgrounds. As young as 18 or already having multiple kids, woman or men, all of them found it so unbearable to live as a Kurd in Iran that they had to do something. The Kurdish region in Iran is deliberately held back in development. Shiites are allowed to take away oil and earn loads of money with it, drug addiction is deliberately stimulated by government so people won't be able to protest, and nothing has been invested in the area after the government steered the Iran-Iraq war in the 80's to largely take place in Kurdish area's. 
Fahmide Hosseini, 25 years old. Joined the party since 2 weeks.
''I have multiple reasons for joining, but mostly it is the cruelty of the regime, the discrimination and the social injustice. I’m a Kurdish Sunni Woman in Shia male dominated Iran, we endure a lot of pressures first of all because we are Kurdish, then because we are women, then because of our religion. I was born with these 3 elements that make me the person I am and just for that I endure so much cruelty and pressure, I don't want to live through that anymore. Back in Iran, I was supporting the guerrilla Peshmerga's over there with whatever I could. The government got suspicious of me being part of the resistance there and I was being watched all the time. For me that was the time to leave and join the party. I am not here just for myself, but as the voice of all Kurdish women in Iran.''
''As Kurd you have no participation and rights in Iran society, but as a Kurdish woman it is even worse. In this party I have the ability to express myself and the opportunity to do what I'm good at, whether you're man or woman. I'm present as a human and as woman here. ''

''I think the party is going to reach these goals and we’ll rise as human, as women. I feel the peace inside of me that I’m trying to reach, I can envision it. I will be continuing till we reach these goals. I will be ready to take every responsibility to serve my people. We must reach for our rights for ourselves, not wait for others to help us. If we want our rights as women we must fight as women. After reaching these goals I want to spend the rest of my life in my own country with my own family in peace.''
Recruits drinking tea together after attending a lesson about public speaking.
Saman, 25 years old, works in PR.  Quit his studies and joined the Peshmerga when he was 18. 
Saman pictured here with his close friend, coincidentally also named, Saman, 26 years old. 

When we were sitting there with Saman and Saman, having a lunch of sandwich with spaghetti, pickles and lot's of mayonaise, making dirty jokes and talking about women like 25 year olds do, I thought to myself that this could just as well have taken place in my homecountry of the Netherlands, with my friends. I realised that we are just the same, yet our lives so different, during lunch only indicated by the ak-47 standing against the wall.
Playing the daf, a traditional Kurdish/Persian instrument 
I got a taste of daily life of the Peshmerga's at the compounds. It was great to see that it is not at all a only grave and seriousness atmosphere. Outside the interviews, conversations soon abandon from politics to soccer, food, music, girls etc. Everybody is eating together and joking around. At night, friends come together to make beautiful Kurdish music.  One evening it was my birthday and luckily the guys made sure I did not have to spend it sober. 
''There is no use in getting depressed all the time about our situation. You will not make it if you are like this all the time. It is important to laugh and make jokes, even in this situation'' says Saman.
Kawe Bahrami, military commander. Has been Peshmerga for over 40 years and led big wars in Iran.

''I don’t know how long this fight will take, but I believe we will succeed. Iran is the head of and biggest sponsor of international terror; they must be stopped. They are the number one reason for the instability and chaos in the middle east. With their big influence in politics and militias they have a lot of control over the Middle East with the purpose of creating chaos to strengthen their position and to spread their Shia religious ideology worldwide.''

''We as Kurds are a peaceful people and are searching for peace. We are against terrorism and have respect for every religion and ethnicity. But the Islamic republic of Iran is against every religion, every nation, every ethnicity. Instead of this authoritarian, theological regime, we want a democratic federal system in place, which we refer to as Democratic Socialism, that represent all nationalities living in Iran and guarantees equal rights for everyone.''
Mohammed Saleh Qadri, Erbil representative

''Iran is internally suppressing it’s people and externally destabilising the region. We need help from Western countries to support the Iranian people in their fight against the regime. We have the same values as western countries, which is why we are disappointed with their lack of support for the Kurds. That’s why we say in Kurdistan we have no friends but the mountains. The most important thing is the will of Kurdish people to fight against dictators. We do believe in ourselves, even though there is no support from other countries. We have a strong will and will always fight against dictators. Generation after generation we continue this fight and we will achieve our rights one day. ''

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