It has become common knowledge that substance abuse among young adults in Iran has become one of the biggest problems youth in the region face today. Published epidemiological studies in international and domestic journals show that drug use and abuse is a serious mental health problem in Iran. Heroin, opium and cannabis are the most frequently used illicit drugs, but there are new emerging problems with anabolic steroids, ecstasy and stimulant substances, such as crystal methamphetamine. Substance abuse has shown to largely contribute to theft, murder, suicide, violence, and divorce in Iran’s society. Widespread availability of drugs may be one reason for drug abuse among Iranians. With Afghanistan, Iran’s eastern neighbor being the world’s largest producer of heroin and opium. However, the problem of drug abuse in East Kurdistan, the Kurdish region occupied by Iran, is shown to be a lot worse with its greatest effect on the young male population.
In essence when assessing the situation of the youth in any country, their development and progress can be measured by the level of access to and the quality of the education system. This is no different in Iran and its Kurdish region. Without a doubt, the enforcement or imposition of a language other than the mother tongue or in other words studying in a language other than the mother tongue coupled with the economic, political and other social discrimination’s that child experiences while growing up have reduced the participation of the Kurds in the national political discourse as has been evident over the last 33 years. Human Rights Watch summarized the situation eloquently in 2003 when in its report it stated, ‘Iran’s religious and ethnic minorities remained subject to discrimination and persecution. The lack of public school education in Kurdish language remained a perpetual source of Kurdish frustration.’
The instability and security concerns demonstrate economic development or investment both by the state and the private investor creating high unemployment rates, second to the Baloch, and lack of opportunities for the Kurdish youth. The main problem in the region is one of politics. The segregation of Iran and Iranians in flawed policies has created national divisions. The Kurds have always been active in their efforts to secure equal rights and this has been met with bloodshed and violence by the Islamic regime. The fatwa against the Kurds issued by Ayatollah Khomeini on 19 August 1979 and the murder of many at the hands of Sepah Pasdaran and Khalkhali, the Revolutionary Judge. In elections, the Kurds have either supported candidates who were not favored by the regime or showed low turnout. They see little or no point in engaging with a system that only discriminates against them.
It was no better under the Shah’s reign where all Kurdish teachings were forbidden and children were forced to learn Persian which they had to learn at school. In 1975 it is said that more than 70% of the population and 80% of women in East Kurdistan were illiterate. Health was very minimal in Kurdish cities and non-existent in villages. The book ‘A people without a country: Kurds and Kurdistan” Dr A Ghassamlou explains how in 1966 there was one doctor per 4,800 inhabitants and in several regions where more than 20,000 people resided there was no doctor at all. The Kurdish regions were severely neglected in all aspects education, healthcare, economically and infrastructure wise. Not much has improved since the change of regime in 1979; things may have only gotten worse.
In East Kurdistan both in April and June 2005 crowds celebrating the liberation of South Kurdistan (KRG) were met with violence, arrests and detentions. They had gathered to celebrate the success of Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barazani as presidents of Iraq and South Kurdistan respectively. This caused an increase in already heavy military presence in East Kurdistan; similar reactions were evoked when people took to the streets during Newroz (New Year) when celebrations in North Kurdistan (Occupied by Turkey) become violent in March 2012. Following the June 2009 presidential elections it is no surprise that the ‘Green Movement’ failed to capture the popular imagination in Kurdish regions, since Green or not, so long as the present system is in power the youth of the region see no hope of change for the future.
Tehran is a signatory to the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances and the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The head of the Prisons, Security, and Correction Organization said in July 2001 that out of the 170,000 prisoners some 68,000 are incarcerated for drug trafficking and another 32,000 are imprisoned for drug addiction. He also stated that drug related arrests had increased the overall prison population by 25 percent. It is estimated that some 150-200 petty dealers and users are arrested in Tehran every day, but some are released because of the shortage of prison space. With an increased rate of arrest of drug smugglers, dealers and trafficking, substance abuse is still at an all time high in East Kurdistan. There have been many hidden and unpublished stories of youth, men and women, being kidnapped off the street and taken away by groups only to be injected with drugs and released back onto the streets.
I believe the government of the Islamic republic of Iran releases the illicit substances onto the streets of Iran and Kurdistan as a method of control for its very politically aware youth. Through internet filters, social media and international media blockage they are trying to avoid a repeat of 1979 but this time with the Islamic regime. With the help of illicit drugs many youth are taken out of education and put behind bars instead or even worse. Under the influence of drugs many will commit crimes which will lead to their execution. The use of illicit drugs, especially in the form of needles, is most popular this then introduces a factor of AIDS and HIV transmission among users and innocent bystanders who are accidently pricked on the streets. When I visited East Kurdistan in 2004 the problem was already at a peak with people saying that every household had at least one drug addict in Kurdistan. Others told stories of how the government released a batch of women’s lipsticks made in Iran which had micro razor blades embedded in them that were infected with HIV into the population in Kurdish regions. I cannot locate any published source to sustain these claims, nor are there any statistics of HIV and AIDS in East Kurdistan which can correlate to any outbreaks. Chemical weapons have before been used to wipe out entire Kurdish populations under Saddam’s regime, a biological weapon such as an AIDS epidemic wouldn’t be too far-fetched in Iran now with its neighbors in an Arab spring, regions of Kurdistan at a height of a Kurdish revolution and immense pressure from western sanctions, the Islamic republic of Iran is desperate to control its youth and Kurdish populations to avoid it spilling into its own borders.
This article was originally written for and published by Sharnoff’s Global News.