Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran



The 1983 Collective Punishment of Kurds in Iran:
The Forgotten Stories
Exiled Kurds from Bukan and Mahabad in Damghan, Semnan Province.
The exact date and location of the image are unknown.
Collective and kin punishment, that is the punishment of an entire group on account of the acts of individual(s) who are members of the group [1], has been implemented in various forms by the Islamic Republic of Iran for decades to increase the cost of dissent and deter dissidents. Threats, detentions, imprisonment, pressure to collaborate with authorities, bans from university, and economic pressure on families of political and civil society activists, executed dissidents, and even journalists based outside Iran have become a fact of life due to their frequency [2]. Collective punishment of Iran’s Kurdish minority, sometimes deadly, has often been under-reported if not unnoticed. For example, the massacre of Qarna in 1979 was a case of collective punishment that resulted in the killing of over forty unarmed civilians of all ages in the village of Qarna by the Revolutionary Guards due to their proximity to the location of a deadly clash with a Kurdish armed group [3]. The massacre occurred during a time of political crisis, with increasing armed confrontations between the government and Kurdish opposition forces [4]. Other forms of kin punishments however, such as the mass exile of families of Kurdish activists in 1983 and the social and economic hardship imposed on them, have been almost entirely neglected.   

Forty years ago, in 1983, 1,300 to 1,500 Kurds, as estimated by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in a contemporary report, were forcefully displaced and lived in hardship for approximately two years without court proceedings or advance notice. Some 300 families were subject to this punishment through September of that year, according to FIDH. They include nine families forced in March from Saqqez to Pulad Shahr, and 43 families forced on June 14 from Mahabad to Rafsanjan, Danujan, Yazd, and Seman - all destinations more than 1,000 kilometers away [5].

According to research by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), the displaced individuals included families of Kurdish political prisoners and those affiliated with Kurdish opposition parties, prominent people in Kurdish cities, and several individuals who were neither politically active nor affiliated with the activities of the opposition parties.

ABC has conducted interviews with several individuals who were victims and/or eyewitnesses of the displacement, specifically from Mahabad and Bukan to Damghan. Their testimonies expose the hardship that was inflicted upon scores of Kurdish families because of this forced displacement, despite their lack of involvement in political activity. In several testimonies, the victims describe the deportations as taking place unannounced without any recorded charge or warrant.

Mohammad Farhadzadeh, a native of Bukan, was a 15-year-old student when his family was exiled from Bukan to Damghan. In the spring of 1983, a few months before the exile, his uncle, who served as a peshmerga  militant with Komala, was killed [6]. Mr. Farhadzadeh (interviewed by ABC on January 24, 2021) described his experience during the deportations:
“In early July, 1983, a blue Peykan car [made in the Persian year] 1358, which everyone in the city knew belonged to the Ministry of Intelligence, delivered a letter to my father saying … ‘…Your son, Khalid Farhadzadeh, is one of them [a counter-revolutionary hostile to the revolution] and has taken up arms against the Islamic Republic. We urge you to encourage him to come back and talk to him so that he can return to the arms of Islam and live under the shadow of Islam,’ he said. The letter also said, ‘If your child does not return, you will see the consequences.’

One time at 8 p.m., 10 guards stormed our house and tried to take us with them. I was able to escape and reach my grandfather. He was one of the elders and confidants of Bukan… But that night, dozens of Revolutionary Guards similarly went to the homes of about 25 or 30 families and deported all of them, most of whom as far as I know had children who were members of Komala or the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, to Damghan. These families were only able to take with them limited personal belongings such as some clothes. They were first put in IRGC cars and then transferred to Damghan by bus at around 3 A.M.”
In several cases, families that were displaced did not have any knowledge of where they were being transferred nor did they have any time to prepare. Zanyar, a Mahabad native and son of an exiled individual, was a primary school student at the time of the transfer of families from Mahabad to Damghan. At the time, four of his brothers were active with Komala [7]. According to Zanyar (interviewed by ABC on November 4, 2020):

“In the city, the news of executions and who was executed was circulating (see footnote 4). After a day or two, someone came to our house and told us that my father had been deported by bus along with some others. We did not know how he was exiled or where he was exiled. They didn't give them any time or time to let us know where they were being transferred. We didn't even have a chance to say goodbye to them.”

The deported families were unaware of how long they would be displaced from their homes or whether their homes would be intact upon their eventual return. Mr. Farhadzadeh reported that several homes in Bukan were confiscated and converted into the headquarters for the IRGC, and several other homes were looted and destroyed, leaving families with few possessions to their name. 

Upon their arrival to Damghan, several witnesses told ABC that they were sheltered in poor living conditions, including being forced to live in close quarters alongside other families in an abandoned school. Ms. Hafsa Dabaghi, a Mahabad native, worked as a primary school teacher at the time her family was exiled from Mahabad to Damghan for a period of approximately 20 months. According to Ms. Dabaghi (interviewed by ABC on January 2, 2021), the families did not receive any food, supplies, or financial assistance during their time in Damghan. 

Mr. Ali Karimi, a native of Mahabad, served as a peshmerga militant with Komala at the time families were exiled from Mahabad to Damghan. Mr. Karimi’s parents were active supporters of Komala in Mahabad, and his sister Narmin Karimi, was executed on November 2, 1983 in Orumieh Prison. Mr. Karimi, whose parents were both arrested and deported to Damghan, told ABC (in a January 24, 2021 interview):

“They had taken them to Damghan and held them in prison for a few days until they had found a school for them and settled them there…. They spent the first 3-4 days in jail and then evacuated a school for them, and all those families were housed in that school like animals. In those classes they cooked, washed and lived.”

These living conditions, along with the stress of the deportation, made it particularly difficult for children and older students to focus on their studies. Mr. Farhadzadeh told ABC:

“Other people were like me, and other teenagers who were my age and were deported in exile were unable to study well during the exile because of the mental pressure…they were just like me in terms of education, and by giving these orders, they caused us all to fall behind and paralyzed us.” 

In Damghan, the families also faced hostility and discrimination from the local community members. Zanyar described this experience of discrimination in Damghan:

“Naturally, it was very hard for us to hear the news at that moment and we didn't want to leave our home and our city. But we had to do that. It was a painful punishment for us… And they took us to a place where they had put a lot of negative propaganda against us, and nobody wanted us there. We were being disrespected. This made the situation very difficult.” 

The hostility was, in some cases, a fear response to the negative propaganda that was being spread by the government about the exiles. Zanyar recounts:
“At that time, the Islamic Republic had launched a great deal of propaganda against Kurdish people to rally people to crack down on the Kurds, portraying them as barbaric, predatory killers who cut off people’s heads. They had totally shifted people’s mentality about Kurds in the other cities. Everybody thought Kurds were rapacious and evil. The kid who sat next to me at school was terrified of me. Later, when we became friends, he told me how he used to picture Kurds as not looking like humans - that their form and appearance was different from human beings.”
In some cases, exiled Kurds faced physical attacks and denial of appropriate medical treatment. Ms. Dabaghi recounted:

“One day a car hit me. Of course, the same happened to some other exiles. Even the doctors didn't pay attention to us for a long time because we were exiled… Hezbollahis were the ones who [struck us with cars]. I don't know what happened exactly the day the car hit me… When the car hit me I fell on my back and passed out. I woke up in the hospital… This wasn’t the first time I’d been in an accident and it had happened to other exiles, too. The police  asked me if I wanted to file charges… I thought to myself, if I filed suit against the guy, he’s a Hezbollahi and the next time they’ll kill me… I didn’t stay in the hospital, they imaged me but they didn’t check me internally, or my kidneys, and they didn’t treat us exiles like we were normal people.”

The exiles also encountered professional and economic difficulties. Zanyar recounts:

My father, who worked in the water management office, wasn’t permitted [to continue his work] for three or four months, and it was the same way for other people. The thing that was encouraging and nice in this period was people’s support there. The people with financial capacity helped others. One of the people who really helped us in this period was [a man] who at the time had a… store in Mahabad and was in a good place economically. In Damghan, he bought an electronic scale and put my father in charge of it, and paid him a wage. I, who was on summer break, and another gentleman we knew [who had also been exiled]... started doing other work. [The man who had bought the scale] bought a truckload of watermelon and a truckload of Persian melons and put it next to the scale, and told us to sell them. We paid back the principal investment to him and kept the profit for ourselves. This is how we were able to cover expenses for the first few months, and after that, my father was able to return to his work. At the time I don’t think Damghan County had a separate division for water affairs, so he went to work in the Mayor’s Office.”

Over time, some of the victims reported developing better relationships with the people of Damghan. Ms. Dabaghi stated:

“At first, the people of Damghan City were afraid of us…. But despite all the hardships of exile we were more relaxed there than Mahabad. There were no more night arrests, and we were not afraid of the guards at night. The people of Damghan also established a relationship with us after some time and sometimes brought us food.”     
Mahabad and Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province are separated from Damghan, Semnan Province by more than 500 miles
Evidently, the mass displacement of the Kurdish families in 1983 reflects the broader issue of the oppression of ethnic minorities in Iran that persists today. This forgotten case also reveals a potential correlation between the Islamic Republic of Iran’s implementation of collective punishment and the stability of the state. The aforementioned historical cases of collective punishment in Iran, in addition to the 1983 deportations, were implemented in periods of severe political instability, during which the government felt it was seriously threatened by opposition groups. 

Historically, collective punishment has been implemented by totalitarian governments as a fear tactic and a measure against acts they deemed to be against the state. Under Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, for example, kin punishment was implemented as a form of collective punishment to target relatives of political enemies. Families of dissidents were sent to Gulag camps, i.e. the Soviet Union’s forced labor camps, as relatives of state enemies were also held liable and punished [8]. Similarly, the use of Sippenhaft in Nazi Germany held families of German citizens that committed acts against the state liable, resulting in the imprisonment and/or killing of family members, loss of employment and educational opportunities, and/or denaturalization [9,10]. The implementation of an extreme, widespread form of punishment in Iran via the mass displacement of the Kurdish people was a similar strategic deterrent that aimed to temper the actions of the opposition to the regime. 

Collective punishment is explicitly prohibited under international law, as established by the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols which forbid the implementation of a general penalty against a population on account of the acts of individual(s) [11]. Rule 103 of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s rules of customary international humanitarian law explicitly prohibits collective punishment, such that “no one can be convicted of an offence except on the basis of individual criminal responsibility” and collective punishments via “sanctions and harassment of any sort, administrative, by police action or other” are also prohibited [12]. The implementation of this form of punishment violates one’s right to liberty, security of person, and right to fair trial [13]. Considering the Islamic Republic of Iran's explicit violation of international law in cases such as 1983 deportations, it is critical to acknowledge the harm that has been inflicted upon victims. Calling attention to past cases of collective punishment is the first step toward holding violators to account for them, establishing a line of recourse for victims and protecting future vulnerable populations. 
Exiled Kurds from Bukan and Mahabad before the Cheshme Ali Monument in Damghan, Semnan Province. The exact date of the image is unknown.
[1] Cross, I.C.o.t.R. Collective Punishments. [cited 2023 July 3]; Available from: https://casebook.icrc.org/a_to_z/glossary/collective-punishments#:~:text=The%20term%20refers%20not%20only,form%20part%20of%20the%20group.
[2] The husband of Shirin Ebadi, human rights lawyer and Nobel Laureate, saw his bank account and retirement income frozen (https://www.iranrights.org/library/document/1045/iran-stop-harassing-shirin-ebadi).
Malek Saber Malek Raissi, whose brother was a member of a Baluchi armed group, was taken hostage at 17 and spent 9 years in prison (
https://www.iranrights.org/library/document/3113). In 2017, BBC appealed to the UN to protect BBC journalists and their families from arbitrary arrest and detention, confiscation of passports, death threats, travel bans, and defamation (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43334401). 
[3] ABC, Remembering Qarna: 38 Years Ago, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Massacred a Village of Kurdish Civilians. 2017 (
[4] On May 1, 1983, the Revolutionary Organization of Working People in Kurdistan (Komala) carried out operations in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan aiming at military targets and sensitive government sites. Based on eyewitness testimony, the operation lasted eight hours and resulted in casualties on both sides, reportedly  more among government forces. Following this, a statement signed by then-Governnor of Mahabad, Hamid Reza Jala’ipur, announced the death penalty for 59 people, 38 of whom were high school students (ABC interview, December 28, 2020; IranWire, October 28, 2020
https://iranwire.com/fa/features/42562/).Reports collected by ABC indicate at least 59 people arrested in Mahabad were put to death in June of that year, while a total of 22 were executed (chiefly for drug offenses) across the provinces of West Azerbaijan and Kermanshah (which all have sizable Kurdish populations) in May and June 
[5] FIDH, Research on the Violation of Human Rights in Iranian Kurdistan: August 9 - September 8, 1983,
[6] Several remaining members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran established this party’s Revolutionary Organization in the mid 1960s. Esma’il Sharifzadeh, Abdollah Mo’ini, and Molaavareh were among the leaders of this organization who, inspired by the Cuban Revolution, began an armed guerrilla struggle in Kurdistan. When this group was defeated in 1969 and several of its members were arrested, armed struggle was criticized and the Maoist trend was defeated. When some of its leaders were released in 1978, the Revolutionary Organization of Working People in Kurdistan – Komala was established. Based on Marxist theory, Komala was against the capitalists and landlords and encouraged workers and peasants in Kurdistan to an armed uprising against them and the central government. This organization considered the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (PDKI) as the party of the rich and campaigned against it, resulting in several armed conflicts and hundreds dead. In 1982, Komala joined another Marxist group, Sahand, which was basically a theoretical group, and established the Communist Party of Iran. Then it became called the Kurdistan Organization of the Communist Party of Iran – Komala. Years later, this organization separated from the Communist Party of Iran and faced several schisms. The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, led by Abdollah Mohtadi, Komala, and the Kurdistan Organization of the Communist Party of Iran led by Ebrahim Alizadeh, are some of these factions.
[7] This source requested his real name not be made public; “Zanyar” is a pseudonym
[8 Alexopoulos, G., Stalin and the Politics of Kinship: Practices of Collective Punishment, 1920s–1940s. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2008. 50: p. 91–117.
[9] Loeffel, R., Sippenhaft and German Society, 1933–1945, in Family Punishment in Nazi Germany. 2012, Palgrave Macmillan: London.
[10] Pine, L., Family Punishment in Nazi Germany: Sippenhaft, Terror and Myth. German History, 2013. 31(2): p. 272–273.
[11] Hague Regulations, Article 50 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 32, § 3718); Third Geneva Convention, Article 87, third paragraph (ibid., § 3720); Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33, first paragraph (ibid., § 3721).
[12] Yves Sandoz, Christophe Swinarski, Bruno Zimmermann (eds.), Commentary on the Additional Protocols, ICRC, Geneva, 1987, § 3055, see also § 4536.
[13] Doswald-Beck, Jean-Marie Henckaerts and Louise. Customary International Humanitarian Law. ICRC and Cambridge University Press, 2005.