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2 The smugglers of Iran's
Kordestan By a Special
PAVEH, Western Iran -
Learning English was a hard struggle for Hassan
Arinadi. The thickly bearded son of a respected
dervish  grew up in an isolated Sunni-dominated
Kurdish village that is also a mystical center for
Iran's remote and volatile Kordestan province.
Long days and nights of study paid off, and now
Arinadi is the local English teacher, imparting
long strings of grammatically sound if
old-fashioned English sentences to his Kurdish
When a rare foreign visitor passes
through his village, Arinadi is
first port of call. Squatting in the kitchen of
the village khaneqah (Sufi meeting house),
he prepares an endless stream of small glasses of
tea for the 100 dervishes who come every Friday
for the weekly ceremony. But since being harassed
by Iranian intelligence a few years ago, he can
speak far less than he might have liked to.
Arinadi remains vague on the details of
his brush with Iran's feared VAVAK (Vezarat-e
Etelaat va Amniat-e Keshvar) intelligence
apparatus. All he will say is that it followed his
hosting of a group of European tourists at the
Sufi retreat of which his family are caretakers.
Contacts between foreign tourists straying beyond
Iran's urban tourist triangle - Tehran, Esfahan
and Shiraz - and Iran's often-pressured ethnic
minorities are frowned on.
stunning - it ought to be on the tourist trail -
the village's position next to civil-war-torn Iraq
and restive Sunni Muslim Kurdish inhabitants
dictates its isolation. The prevailing government
philosophy ever since a Kurdish rebellion soon
after the 1979 Iranian revolution was violently
suppressed is out of sight, out of mind. During
Ashura, Shi'ite Islam's most important festival
and the commemoration of the slaying of the
Prophet's grandson Hossein by his political
opponents, there were none of the black shrouds of
mourning, self-flagellating crowds that filled
most of Iran's other cities.
It is a time
when the struggle by Iraq's already autonomous
Kurds for their own state is providing inspiration
to Kurds in neighboring countries. In the region,
a simmering Sunni-Shi'ite enmity has spilled over
into a covert war. So it is unsurprising that
Iranian Kordestan's Sunni Kurds inhabit one of the
least developed areas of the country and are
politically unrepresented in Tehran.
there was a Shi'ite shrine here, the government
would have built a huge mosque on its site and
asphalted all roads leading to it," said Abu Bakr,
the driver of an antique Nissan flatbed truck as
he negotiated the snowed-in mountain paths
connecting far-flung mountain villages.
Paveh, the biggest city in the area, the state
makes its presence felt through the armed guards
standing sentry at the fortress-like police
station built atop a hill close to the center of
town. Most public signs are in Persian and Shi'ite
imagery and names are given to schools and
hospitals with predominantly Sunni pupils and
patients. Many of the Revolutionary Guards
entrusted to control the frontier from the rampant
smuggling in goods that cuts across Iran and Iraq
come from Iran's dominant Persian ethnic majority.
"Guerrillas from the Komala or Democrats
[banned anti-Islamic Republic Kurdish secessionist
groups] would throw stones at our sentries at
night to bait them out in order to shoot at them,"
said a Kurdish soldier who served in Paveh in the
early 1990s ferrying water to the border outposts.
He was dismissed from duty after his superiors
discovered that he had been selling water to
locals whose villages had yet to have piping
Many of the politically active
Kurds are forced to lie low or flee across the
border to Iraq. There, they can pick up military
training and political indoctrination at a camp
run by Pejak - the Party of Free Life in Kurdistan
- on the inaccessible Mount Qandil. Pejak
subscribes to the teachings of now-imprisoned
Abdullah Ocalan, the former leader of Turkey's
banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Pejak's cadres are mostly educated male
and female activists, and it emerged as a force in
northern Iraq as a result of the collapse of the
Iraqi state. Ever since then, reports have emerged
linking US and Israeli covert operations with
these anti-Tehran groups.
"If reports are
true that we have third-party agents and even a
few Special Forces teams of our own inside Iran,
why isn't Tehran screaming bloody murder about
that?" asked Ray Close, a former US Central
Intelligence Agency station chief in Saudi Arabia.
"Perhaps in the past this was because they were
embarrassed to admit that they had not caught any
of our agents. But now that we have done so in
Iraq, wouldn't you expect that the Iranians are
probably launching a major campaign to grab some