Kurdish protest challenges Iranian government / ETA dissolution / Prospects for enlarged autonomy in Sarawak

27 April to 3 May

Closed shops in Bane.
Closed shops in Bane. Author: VOA News
WEEKLY ROUNDUP. At least tens of thousands have now been on strike for three weeks in Iran’s East Kurdistan cities. Strikers are protesting against restrictions imposed by the Iranian government on border trade with neighbouring Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq, which is vital to the local economy. Also in the Middle East, we talk about preparations for an Arab-Israeli list for the upcoming municipal election in Jerusalem. The Roundup is also focusing on the announcement of the dissolution of Basque armed group ETA and prospects for greater autonomy for Borneo’s Sarawak, after the Malaysian legislative election.


Strike in Eastern Kurdistan enters third week. Thousands of shop owners and marketers in the Kurdish regions of Iran started closing their businesses 15 April. They are protesting an Iranian government-decreed closure of the border with the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq. The decision is hitting the economy of the area, which largely depends on trade between the two Kurdistans. Kolbers are also joining the strike. Kolbers are working class Kurdish carriers who risk passing goods from one side of the border to the other —many times illegally because of restrictions imposed by the Iranian government— who often suffer accidents in the mountains or are killed by Iranian soldiers.

Kurdish sources tell Nationalia that the lack of investment by the Iranian government in Kurdistan and the militarization of the economy are two factors that help explain the Kurds’ dependence on that system of commerce, especially —but not only— among communities closest to the border. According to Kurdistan Human Rights Network data, the recent blockade of borders and the strengthening of restrictions against kolbers have led to the loss of jobs for 6 million shopkeepers and business owners, and for 70,000-80,000 carriers.

The strike has spread to several Kurdish cities, but sources tell Nationalia the protest is mainly focused on Bane (Baneh in Persian), Seqiz (Saqqez), Merîwan (Marivan) and Ciwanro (Javanrud). These sources point out that strikers are autonomously organized via Telegram, in the tens of thousands. The official Iranian version, on the other hand, claims that “foreign agents” are behind the protest.


ETA announces its dissolution. The Basque armed group has issued a statement in which it claims it has “completely dismantled all of its structures” and “has put an end to all its political activity”. ETA believes its decision will “foster a new historical phase” in which “bringing into effect the right to decide, in order to achieve recognition of our nationhood”, will be “a key part”. The president of the Spanish government, Mariano Rajoy, has reacted by saying that ETA “has been defeated” by the Spanish state and the “Spanish democracy”. ETA was founded in 1959 under the Francoist dictatorship, and split into two branches (ETA-pm and ETA-m) at the beginning of the Spanish transition, of which only ETA-m remained active. The 1959-2011 conflict between the Spanish state and ETA left a death toll of 820 in ETA attacks against civilians, police officers and the military, while the number of members of ETA and related groups killed was a little less than 300.

More autonomy for Sarawak after the Malaysian election? Opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) is promising enlarged self-government in education, health and tax affairs to the Sarawak government, one of the 13 federal states in Malaysia. Sarawak will also be given control over 50% of the taxes collected in the territory, and the 1963 Agreement will be honoured again, Sarawak being recognized as one of Malaysia’s constituent countries. The election takes place 9 May. According to polls, PH is set to receive more votes than ruling Barisan Nasional, but the Malaysian electoral system could deny the opposition coalition a parliamentary majority. Barisan has also promised more autonomy to Sarawak, however without reaching Pakatan’s promises. Sarawak, where a pro-sovereignty movement exists, existed as a protectorate and later a colony within the British Empire from 1841 to 1963.

An Arab-Israeli joint list for municipal election in Jerusalem.The list is being launched by former chairman of Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace association Aziz Abu Sarah and Israeli researcher Gershon Baskin. The proposal seeks to represent Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are usually inclined to boycott municipal elections in the understanding that the annexation of their part of the city by Israel is illegal. The current mayor of Jerusalem is Nir Barkat of Likud.