Violence erupted Thursday in the city of Mahabad in the Kurdish region of western Iran, where protesters attacked government buildings, including the offices of the governor and the mayor. Security forces responded by opening fire on demonstrators, according to videos posted on social media and verified by The Washington Post.
Iranian security forces open fire on Kurdish protesters in Mahabad
The clashes came after security forces killed a young man named Ismail Mowludi in Mahabad the day before during a ceremony commemorating the 40th day since the death of Mahsa Amini, the Kurdish woman who has become the symbol of a nationwide uprising. Thousands took to the streets Wednesday in Amini’s hometown of Saqez and across the region.
The unrest in Mahabad started after Mowludi was buried early Thursday and large crowds joined the funeral procession as it moved toward the center of the city, chanting “Kurdistan, Kurdistan will be the graveyard of fascists” and “Death to the Dictator,” a reference to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
A video posted online showed a large crowd chanting outside a burning building. Another showed protesters pelting the entrance to the Mahabad governor’s office with rocks as shots ring out in the background.
The semiofficial Tasnim news agency denied that security forces used live ammunition and blamed the violence on protesters: “Some in this group take advantage and in their path they attack and throw rocks at any office or institution that they see and destroy public property,” the report said.
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Protesters across Iran have mostly avoided targeting government buildings, even as they have continued to take to the streets in the face of intensifying violence by security forces. The crackdown has been especially brutal in Kurdish areas, which have long been neglected by the Iranian government, and where residents have described a “military-style” occupation over the last six weeks.
Mowludi’s death on a day of mourning appears to have emboldened the protesters, encouraging them to take out their anger on state institutions, according to Rebin Rahmani from the Kurdistan Human Rights Network.
“The people were furious,” he said.
By nightfall, demonstrators had taken control of one of the entrances to the city of Mahabad, Rahmani said, and unrest had spread to at least two other cities in the Kurdish region, Baneh and Dehgolan.
Mahabad was the capital of a short-lived autonomous Kurdish state in northwest Iran in 1946 and still holds great symbolism for Kurds.
The escalation in the west came a day after an attack on a mosque in the southern city of Shiraz, which killed at least 15 people, according to state media. Though the Islamic State claimed credit for the attack, the Iranian government has sought to link it to the protest movement — an unsupported claim that protesters have broadly ridiculed on social media.
In a clear message to demonstrators Thursday, Khamenei issued a statement calling on security forces and the judiciary to confront “the incendiary enemy and traitorous agents.”