The Last Barricade of Revolution: The Kurdish Resistance in the Iranian Revolution of 1979

Mansur Tayfuri

      A revolution, as a political event and a truth procedure, is not itself the truth, but it opens up a space towards the possibility of another world. We can compare it to the emission of John the Baptiste who, though he was not  Messiah himself, cried out in the desert: “Prepare the way for the coming of Messiah!”[1]. Any revolution forces us to encounter what we never expected to emerge. That is why a revolution always functions as a shock. According to Marxist classical definition, revolutions always act as the motor of history. However, looking back at the history of modern revolutions, it is more apt to follow Benjamin in characterizing the revolution as the "emergency brake" of history, a brake that stops the continuous and “predetermined” movement of time, and in this way, introduces a gap or an exception into the course of history.

      Alain Badiou, who upholds the theory of politics as a truth procedure, explores the nature of revolution as an event. In his philosophical system, Being has its own strict laws. For him, everything can be understood in terms of “the mathematics of being and the logic of appearance”; although Being is “composed of multiplicities of multiplicities at infinitum”, we can always transcend any “logical” and “ordered situation” through an Event. Badiou believes that any “historical situation” can be disrupted by a meta-ontological Event which manifests itself in the four diffract registers of politics-art- science- and love. He defines the Event in these terms:

“For me, an event is something that brings to light a possibility that was invisible or even unthinkable. An event is not by itself the creation of a reality; it is the creation of a possibility, it opens up a possibility. It indicates to us that a possibility exists that has been ignored. The event is, in a certain way, merely a proposition. It proposes something to us. Everything will depend on the way in which the possibility pro- posed by the event is grasped, elaborated, incorporated and set out in the world. This is what I name a 'truth procedure'. The event creates a possibility but there, then, has to be an effort - a group effort in the political context, an individual one in the case of artistic creation - for this possibility to become real; that is, for it to be inscribed, step by step, in the world. It's a matter, here, of the consequences in the real world of the rupture that the event is. I speak of truth because something is created that sets down, not simply the law of the world, but its truth”. [2]

    The “re-distribution” and “destitution “of places and the redefinition of the political subject are inherent to an Event, where the unexpected or the unknown enters the stage of history in the form a political body. However, an Event, despite all the emancipatory possibilities it opens up, is never necessarily exempt from all forms of impurity. 

    Almost a century ago, Ernst Bloch warned us about the dark possibilities hidden in every Event. Speaking of two kinds of crises, contemporary and non-contemporary, Ernst Bloch insists that radical forces must be very vigilant, because any revolution can intensify the non-contemporary crisis that does not belong to here and now. The early history of 20th century has shown us that this type of crises can easily lead to fascism.

    A little more than forty years ago, the “Iranian Revolution” put an end to a regime that seemed to be completely stable and lasting. And yet this revolution led to the establishment of a theocratic and despotic regime that called itself “Islamic Republic of Iran”. In this talk, we will discuss the other unrealized possibilities of this Event rather than the actual story of the fall of the shah. In order to grasp the “true content” of this revolution, we should point out that for many of its participants, the revolution was a response to deep rooted social and ethnic conflicts whose solutions demanded a totally new socio-political system. These radical aspirations led to the formulation of radical questions: “What form of power are we going to stablish?  republican, socialist, or communist?” Anything was expected except an “Islamic republic”, even the Islamists themselves didn’t expect such a fast and easy victory. And we shouldn’t forget that the whole-hearted support of some groups in the anti-imperialist left, was a determining factor in their victory.

      But beyond these debates that took place particularly in the capital city Tehran, other forms of new and creative politics were developed all over the country. Kurdistan was the most important and fecund place for experiencing these new forms of politics.

      We can follow the birth of the nascent Islamic state through a series of statements/declarations/decree made by Ayatollah Khomeini, the last of which was directly aimed at the Kurdish resistance. In these declarations, the “supreme leader” established a state of exception by referring to the history of Islam. These declarations were also the basis of the new state, both as a discourse and as a mechanism of power. Through these declarations, the country was put in a permanent “state of exception” which allowed the “supreme leader” to decide to impose his decision with regard to all important issues.

      In his speech of  August 17th 1979 in Qom, Khomeini bluntly declared:

 If right at the beginning when we defeated the corrupt regime and demolished this extremely immoral barrier, we had acted in a revolutionary manner, broken the pens of all the publications and had shut down all the corrupt magazines and publications; and prosecuted their heads; and had banned all the corrupt parties and had given their heads their due punishment; and had set up gallows in the major squares and had exterminated the corrupt and immoral, we would not have to face these troubles. […]

But it was still after these words when he expressed himself more explicitly:

“In the gentile position, God is kind and as an avenger, he is vengeful, and the Imam of Muslims too. It does not matter what the newspapers here and abroad say, we'll do what God commands us to do […]  “They are hard with the disbelievers and compassionate among themselves (al-Fath 48:29) These plotters are in the same league as the disbelievers. These plotters in Kurdistan and other places are in the same league as the disbelievers; they should be dealt with severely. The government should deal with them with severity; the gendarmerie should deal with them with severity; the armed forces should deal with them with severity. If they do not deal with them severely, we shall deal with them with severity. “

 And by this discourse he forbade all the media and political parties and said that was “the last warning” and he would act “in a revolutionary way” without “tolerance”.[3]  

       It was after two days that Khomeini ordered in 19 August all military and security forces to invade Sananadaj, the capital city of the Kurdish region, and “cleanse” the whole region from the so-called “rebels”:

Reports have just been received that in Sanandaj, the Democrat Party has laid a siege on the military forces and their logistics; and if help does not reach them within half an hour, they shall capture their weapons and ammunitions. We have been informed from the mosque in Sanandaj that the Democrat Party has taken our women as hostages. I strictly command all the disciplinary force to communicate to the barracks of the capital to dispatch sufficient force to Sanandaj and vigorously crush the rebels. The Guard Corps of the Revolution-wherever they are-should move in sufficient strength toward Sanandaj and Kurdistan-by air-and be mobilized to crush vigorously all the rebels. Delay-even for an hour-is violation of duty and shall be strongly prosecutes. I ask the people of Iran to be alert and report any violator of the forces immediately. I expect to be given the news of the general mobilization within the next half an hour. Peace [be with you][4]

       But, actually, this attack had been organized months before, though it was not put into action until this decree of the supreme leader was announced. However, long before this declaration of total war, the real fight had begun between people's assemblies and the state which had previously declared that it’s time “for people to return home because the revolution is now completed”. (In the words of Mehdi Bazargan, the first prime minister of provisional government, nominated by the supreme leader.)

        Meanwhile in Kurdistan, with the initiative of leftist militant groups, specially Komalah, popular assemblies were set up. These local assemblies of the neighbourhoods met to form assemblies of the cities, and the assemblies of the cities converged into an assembly of the Kurdish people, which ultimately formed a delegation to Tehran to discuss the rights of the Kurdish people with the central government.

        The more radical forms of resistance by these assemblies gave rise to a popular movement and, once again, proved that “people are a political construction”.[5] This began with the exodus of the entire population of a small town, Mariwan, located near the Iran-Iraq border, in response to the State’s ultimatum. Mariwan’s assembly was forced to choose between “submission and dissolution of the assembly” or “war”.

There followed two weeks of negotiation between the people’s assembly and the state’s delegation. All this happened during the July and August of 1979. However, as the spokesman of the assembly once said, one thing was clear from the very beginning: “They will attack us, sooner or later, but postponing the war, even for an hour, gives us the opportunity to organize”. One day, during the negotiations, a member of the assembly complained that the state’s demands were unfair, to which the head of local garrison responded: “Yes my dear! The army always speaks from a higher position”. This brought the first round of talks to a dead end.  An old man who was observing the negotiations with others from a window, hearing these arrogant words, said: “Then there is nothing left to talk about, it seems that we have to hand over the city to them”. The members of the people’s delegation looked at each other and declared the end of the meeting. This meeting actually happened at the office of the popular assembly of the city.

       The words of that unknown old man inspired the representatives of the people. From a window open to the ordinary people, a new form of resistance was announced. This open window, at the same time, indicates an essential difference between two kinds of political organization. If the revolution holds an open window for the people and allows everyone to participate in politics, it in fact opens the way for the realisation of another world.

      The assembly asked the inhabitants to leave the city and move towards the site of Kani-Miran. That day, the seventeen thousand inhabitants of Mariwan left the city, the vast majority of whom settled in Kani-Miran, constituting a new political entity which they called “Orduga”, or simply “the Camp”.

       This new site for resistance, the camp, is significant. The State sends its army to conquer a population that lacks a territory despite being in its territory, or, in other words, a people who is simultaneously excluded and included within the borders of the State. This is the point where the new rulers find themselves before a being who wants to preserve his form of life, that is to say, the political life that is going to be annihilated by the State. These people who organized themselves in a different form and outside of the rule of the state, who called themselves “true revolutionaries” and insisted that the “second stage of the revolution has just begun”, that is to say the stage of “fighting against the internal oppressors”, functioned as a window to another political reality that comprised the true content of the revolution.

      The people of Mariwan settled in this site and started to manage themselves. Various committees were formed to respond to the necessities of that new form of life by the camp residents. To construct buildings by wood and leaves, set up baths and toilets, provide food and education, different committees were established, even a committee to distribute vegetables named “vegetable committee”.

      A report of these days, published in a weekly magazine, shut down by the state after a few months, relates this story:

 The question is not who is wrong and who is right, because this conflict would have occurred, sooner or later, because an unbearable situation was imposed on the people of Mariwan, preventing them from deciding their fate and that of their city. This situation prevented them from continuing their fight against the feudal lords. The Kurdish people –including the Mariwan people– were always exploited by the feudal lords backed by the central states. But their fight never stopped. Five years ago, at the time of the Shah's total domination, a group of feudal lords planned to take back their land, but the people had taken over the farms without fear of the Shah's army and the security police named SAVAK. While the Shah's anti-people protectorate denounced the peasants as aggressors, the peasants confiscated the seat of the governor. Last year the struggle of the peasants took another form: they walked towards the border saying that they will leave the country. It was the time when the revolution was going to succeed in the whole country [...].

This struggle continued with the revolution. The people of Marivan resisted against the reactionaries of the old regime and on the basis of their experience of the past regime, did not accept the achievements of the revolution to be destroyed. The peasants founded "The peasant units" against feudal plots, and the towns-people also founded the people's assemblies like other cities in Kurdistan. This is one part of the ideals of the people who want to take control of their destiny, towards autonomy [...].

So gradually the fronts become clearer: peasants and workers and other oppressed social strata, with the support of libertarian intellectuals and religious men barricade against reactionary feudal and religious men.[6]

     The people remained in this camp for two weeks and managed their lives and their defence, although the oppressive gouvernement continued to force them to return to the city. The negotiations started again, and now the people had strength. Foreign and national media also arrived. News circulated throughout the country and supporters loyal to the revolution chose their side. A life formed during these two weeks that was inside and outside of the state, a life mistakenly named a “camp”. The witnesses whom I spoke to, recount those days with a remark that has a double meaning: “It was like a feast”. A feast is a time and a place in which the sovereign is no longer in power, where anyone becomes someone, “what is nothing becomes everything” and anyone can make fun of the king.      


         This people's marsh was followed by two more marches. With this exodus, the inhabitants of five other Kurdish cities began a march towards Kani-Miran. In addition to this great movement of solidarity throughout the Kurdish region, testimonies of support and material assistance from various organisations and revolutionary forces from all over Iran arrived every day during the two weeks that the exodus lasted. An expression was then invented: “Kurdistan, the last barricade of the revolution”.

     After a week of resistance in the camp, a march from Sanandaj started with 200 people, but when reaching Mariwan it was composed of almost 15,000 participants who had walked a week on foot to join the camp. On the other side form city of Saghez, almost 2000 people walked for 6 days to reach Mariwan. This image is what has remained of the revolution, when the borders between peoples, cities, towns and camp were removed, a new people was born through politics.

       Arriving at Mariwan, the non-Kurdish people who accompanied the march invented a slogan, which says “we will transform all of Iran to Kurdistan”. It is right that in this dialectic event the question of identities and territories are dissolved, if the whole became Kurdistan, then there would be nothing left of Iran or Kurdistan. And just with this dialectic, Kurd as a name for the oppressed, changes content, the residue that is the means of emancipation, as once Issaia wrote: “Only a rest will survive”.

      If the name of Kurd represents a situation related to the oppressed, if with these names we remember the resistance, from behind the chance of the revolution to remain alive, the struggle of this people will not be a struggle to be Kurd, but rather a struggle to be no longer merely Kurd, just as the proletariat does not want to be a proletariat anymore.

      Walter Benjamin, demanding a real state of exception against fascism, once said: “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “state of exception” in which we live is the rule. We must come to a conception of history that reflects this situation. We will discover then that our task is to establish the true state of exception”.

        But the real camp, where “everything is possible” as “a place of excellence of the state of exception” settles right after the abolishing of this camp. After two weeks, the people agreed, according to an agreement between the assembly and the state, to return to the city; but just after this return, repression began and the State has transformed itself to what really it is: a camp. In the other words, By including this camp, the state itself becomes an excellent camp where the state of exception is never cancelled, a form of politic that we could call Camp-State.

        When the registration of birth and nationality, the trial by which native becomes national, no longer works, a non-identical subject or a non-territorial place are included in the territory without belonging to it, and the triad “State, Nation, Territory” is threatened, then is the time for the camp as a new secret regulator which transforms the State to “a lethal machine”: “the camp is the new secret regulator of the inscription of life in the system –or, rather, the sign of the system's inability to function without becoming a lethal machine”.[7]      

      In a way we could understand Kani-Miran as a space that opens when the new state seeks to close the open space by the event. Let's talk more about the camp and from there, let's try to describe the image of the ideal man in a concentration camp system and see how Kani-Miran is a space that is in opposition to the system that wants to settle. Camp-State, could help us understand this state form another point of view.


Final Agreement between the People's Assembly and the State:

After two weeks, the evening when Sanandadj’s march increases to fifteen thousand people, it arrives at Kani-Miran. The state submits itself to some of the conditions of the people, even though everyone knows that one cannot trust them, the state is always the state, a euphemism by which the law and the state always express themselves in popular language. But this agreement is rather made to quickly resolve another form of resistance. Without any illusions, these people knew that the state seeks only war or obedience. The spokesman of the people, a young man of undeclared left movement, had already said to these comrades in a meeting that: “For sure, they will not accept this democratic island, we must invent another form of resistance, we must learn to fight, forms such as the unity of the peasants will no longer be effective, we must organize the massive resistance”.

Here are the points of surrender that the state accepted:

  1. The political, administrative and security effects of the city will remain in the hand of the provisional assembly and after the election of the next assembly, it will remain as such.
  2. The army must not interfere in the affairs of the city and will only protect the borders.
  3. Stop the propaganda and conspiracy against the people of Kurdistan and announce the truth to the people of Iran.
  4. The right to autonomy must be recognized, for all the people of Iran, as their most important right.

We condemn the collective assassination and repression that are taking place against the Arab people.

Down with the internal reactionaries and collaborators of imperialism and Zionism.

  • Declaration of Meriwan’s people’s assembly

[1] See. John, 1. 23-24.

[2] Alain Badiou, Philosophy and the Event, interview with Fabien Tarby, tr. by Louise Burchill, Polity press, 2013, p. 10.


[3] See: Sahifeh-ye Imam, Vol 9, p. 255-258.  Also in video:سخنرانی-در-جمع-مردم-%28تاسیس-حزب-مستضعفین-و-هشدار-به-گروهکها%29)



[4] See : Ibid., p. 278.

[5] Le people est une construction politique, interview with Jacques Rancière,

[6] Têhran-Mosavvâr,  N 29, 10 auguste 1979.    

[7] Georgio Agamben, “What is a camp?” in Moyens sans fins. Notes sur la politique. Traducción del italiano de Danièle Valin. Payot et Rivages, 2002.

This research has been presented at this Conference: 
International Symposium Heteronomías de la justicia. Territorialidades y palabras nòmadas, November 4-8, 2019, Institute of Philological Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.


30 Jun, 2022