A Photographer Catches a Moment of Terrible Truth in Iran's Battle Against the Kurds
It was a portrait of human cruelty as horrifying as that picture of a Vietcong being executed on a Saigon street in 1968. On a dusty plain in northwest Iran, a burst of automatic rifle fire underscored again the frightening speed of revolutionary justice under the Ayatollah Khomeini. One afternoon late last month, nine Kurdish rebels and two police agents of the deposed Shah were marched before a local ayatollah, or holy man, Sadegh Khalkhali. Khalkhali—known as "Judge Blood"—is Khomeini's man in Kurdistan, sent there to mete out punishment to the rebels. After a 90-minute trial, the defendants heard their fate. They met it the same day before a firing squad from Khomeini's Islamic Guard, who cried, "Allah-o-Akbar"—God is great—as the prisoners fell.
One of the condemned was a high school student; the others were more seasoned warriors in the Kurds' long fight for independence from Iran—a struggle that has pitted them against Shah and Ayatollah alike. After sentencing the 11 to die, "Judge Blood" softened during the next trial and released 11 defendants, including six young women. A day later he doomed 21 more prisoners. In Iran several political parties protested the executions. The chastened Khomeini government embargoed this photograph—but too late to stop its worldwide distribution.
The eight million Kurds—who belong to a different Muslim sect than the ayatollahs—-have a centuries-old history of tenacious but unsuccessful struggle for self-rule in Kurdistan, an area that overlaps parts of Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Among their folk sayings is the lament, "The Kurds have no friends." Henceforth, they announced, they will kill one captured Islamic Guard for every executed Kurd.
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