One can love a city, bring to mind its houses and streets in the most distant or favorite memories; but it is only during an uprising that one truly feels they live in their own city – their own city because during the uprising, the city simultaneously belongs to “me” and to “others”; their own city because during the uprising, the city becomes a battlefield that both the individual and the crowd have chosen; their own city because during the uprising, the city becomes a confined space where historical time is suspended, and every action within it gains intrinsic value and the immediate consequences of each action become precious.

During the chase and escape in the heat of the uprising, when one charges and is driven out of places, one makes the city more their own than when playing in its streets like children or walking through the city with a young girl. In the hour of the uprising, one is no longer alone in the city.

By Furio Jesi, “Spartakus: The Symbology of Revolt

In a bold and unapologetic exploration, Zanyar Omrani’s documentary “Binke” (The Base) tears into the fabric of Sanandaj’s contemporary political landscape. Omrani doesn’t just depict history; he thrusts viewers into the heart of the furnace. From the explosive liberation of political prisoners in 1979 to the tumultuous birth of Rojhelat’s self-governance, “Binke” refuses to look away. It confronts the formidable establishment of city councils and captures the raw defiance of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s assault on Kurdistan. And let’s not overlook Jina’s fiery 2022 revolt—a fierce battle cry to reclaim the very essence of public sovereignty. This isn’t just a documentary—it’s a political cauldron of untold stories, simmering with the relentless struggle for autonomy and justice. “Binke” doesn’t just tell you the story; it grabs you by the collar and demands you bear witness.

People’s armed groups or political organizations were busy defending the neighborhoods.
Sanandaj, 17/03/1979. Photo by Michel Setboun.

Brief History of Council Rule in Sanandaj

From March 22, 1979, a meeting was held with the participation of the Provisional Revolutionary Council, chaired by the Minister of the Interior. In these negotiations, it was decided that a council for the administration of the city of Sanandaj would be determined through public elections. This demand was imposed by the revolutionary society of Kurdistan on Khomeini’s Revolutionary Council.

In these negotiations, it was decided that the gendarmerie, the city police, the Revolutionary Council of Sanandaj and the Islamic Revolution Headquarters be dissolved, and the army should not have the right to pass through the city. Accordingly, until the election of the Sanandaj City Council, and temporarily, a committee consisting of 2 delegations of the left-wing groups, 2 from Islamic groups, and a envoys on behalf of Taleghani was elected.

On March 23, 1979, a large meeting was held with the participation of tens of thousands in Iqbal Square in Sanandaj. In this meeting, the government delegation promised the release of prisoners in the barracks, punishment of the instigators and perpetrators of the Sanandaj massacre, complete removal of government censorship from radio and television, and the security of life and employment of the military. During his speech at this meeting, Bani-Sadr called autonomy the beginning of separatism. The people present at the meeting did not allow him to continue his speech by continuously chanting slogans.

In the midst of the events in Kurdistan, on March 25, 1979, a meeting was held by the Turkmen Cultural and Political Association to raise their demands and support the people of Sanandaj. Despite being announced and guaranteed by the provisional government for its organization, this meeting was violently disrupted by a pre-planned plot by armed agents of the committee and the religious current of Khomeini.

Contrary to the city of Sanandaj, where ostensibly a Dispute Resolution Committee was sent, no action was taken to address the demands of the Turkmen people. Khomeini’s armed thugs suppressed the Turkmen people relentlessly for 8 days. Many were killed and injured. The people of Kurdistan and the political forces, seeing the demands of the Turkmen people in line with their own, supported the Turkmen people’s struggles with various statements.

An earnest measure resulting from these humanitarian endeavors was the dispatching of a medical team from Sanandaj to Turkmen Sahra. On the 28th of March, 1979, the Society for the Defense of Freedom and Revolution organized a medical and support convoy to deliver critical aid to the Turkmen populace, who were in dire need of emergency support. Tragically, during its journey, the vehicle transporting the volunteers was involved in a catastrophic accident; it plunged into a river along the route between Bijar and Zanjan, and as a consequence, nine dedicated revolutionaries perished.

The death of the volunteers cast a deep shadow of mourning over Sanandaj. As the city prepared for the funeral, an overwhelming assembly, numbering in the tens of thousands, emerged from Sanandaj and adjacent areas. They congregated in a sober march of respect, simultaneously expressing their disapproval of the belligerent strategies adopted by emerging powers.

In the context of the ongoing conflict in Kurdistan and Turkmen Sahra, the referendum initiated by the Islamic Republic, which was emphatically framed by Khomeini as “not one word less, not one word more,” received a cold reception. The populace, along with various civic bodies, democratic institutions, and political groups in Kurdistan, displayed their disengagement by choosing not to partake in the referendum.

On the other hand, the local reaction led by Mullah Ahmad Moftizadeh was extremely unpopular among the people. The forces of this current were comprised of a number of Islamic thugs who supported him. Moftizadeh, who was trying to gain a position and power to act as an instrument of the regime’s repression, harassed and tormented anyone passing by with his supporters armed with clubs in the Grand Mosque of Sanandaj. They identified leftists, captured them, and threw them into the mosque’s pond. This action was not very successful. The armed forces of this religious current were preparing to attack the offices of political forces and democratic societies. The people’s support for the leftist political forces in Sanandaj made the plans and conspiracies of this current fail one after another.

In this turmoil, the entire mission of the Provisional Government’s delegation was not to end the existing pain and problems and meet the people’s demands, but a temporary effort to calm the situation. In subsequent negotiations, Major General Gharani was recognized as responsible for the massacres in Sanandaj up to that point, was removed from his position, and Major General Nasser Farbod was appointed in his place.

Following these events, a temporary 5-member committee tasked with preparing for the Sanandaj City Council elections set the stage for the elections and the participation of candidates. Independent individuals, organizations from both left and right political sides, nominated themselves for membership in this council.

The people of the city are protesting against the rocket attacks by the army in various gatherings.
Sanandaj, 25/03/1979. Photo by Michel Setboun.

The Election of Sanandaj City Council

On April 14, 1979, despite the sabotage by Mullah Ahmad Moftizadeh’s group, who objected to the election process, a vast majority of the people of Sanandaj participated in the election across 68 constituencies, electing 11 main and 6 alternate members to the City Council. The relative calm in Sanandaj and the administration by the City Council facilitated people’s involvement in managing their own affairs. Neighborhood councils were forming one after another. An open, free, and political atmosphere was created. The Islamic Republic and local reactionaries were displeased with this situation. The reins of power were not in the hands of the newly empowered reactionaries and Ahmad Moftizadeh’s thugs. They constantly tried to obstruct the existing environment.

On the afternoon of Thursday, April 24, fighter jets of the Air Force, in order to support their ground forces and create terror, bombed the surroundings of the city of Sanandaj for one hour. The army and Revolutionary Guard forces stationed in the Sanandaj barracks also, in a savage assault with cannons and 120mm mortars, shelled the city’s neighborhoods. With the onset of widespread attacks on the city, guerrilla organizations decided in a city council meeting and coordination to leave the city after 24 for days of resistance.

What is called the 24-day war of the people of Sanandaj was not actually a war in the military sense. This war had one side. A regime, armed to the teeth with fighter jets, helicopters, bombs, tanks, cannons, and organized, experienced forces left from the Shah’s regime, along with Sharia courts and field executions without trial… attacked people who lacked any kind of military organization, party organization, mass organization, and economic organization to provide for the basic needs of their families, and lacked any significant weapons and ammunition to stand against this unequal force.

During the 24-day resistance of Sanandaj against the Revolutionary Guards in 1980, Shahin Bavafa was in charge of the city’s only hospital. Faced with an increase in attacks and a growing number of wounded, and a shortage of medical staff at the hospital, she formed neighborhood medical committees with the help of the city’s people.

When the Revolutionary Guards attacked the city from land and air, the war extended beyond the streets and alleys into the homes of citizens. Sanandaj turned into a full-scale battlefield, and the number of dead and injured rose. At that time, Sanandaj was a small city in western Iran, lacking global fame and facilities, and it never managed to tell its own story of the 24-day war tragedy. Perhaps one of the few remaining images of the small hospital in Sanandaj during those days are the photographs taken by Michel Setboun, a French-Algerian photographer, of a pile of dead bodies stacked among ice blocks on the hospital’s floor. It was during this time that Shahin Bavafa, with the help of Peshmerga and ordinary people, laid the foundation for neighborhood medical committees known as “medical binkes.”

These committees were made up of ordinary people and young people who, within a few days, learned medical aid to quickly assist the injured on the spot, as the military government and street-by-street warfare often made it practically impossible to transport the wounded to the hospital.

When the Revolutionary Guards shelled the city’s only hospital, Shahin set up an operating room with all surgical tools and facilities in the basement of a residential house in the city center.

The story of Shahin Bavafa’s daily efforts and struggle, along with the doctors and nurses who roamed the alleys with white armbands treating the wounded, has been talked about in Sanandaj over the years. From the moment the Revolutionary Guards crushed the people’s resistance and took full control of Sanandaj, they closed the city’s doors to international media and denied the killings of civilians by their forces. Then, they fabricated their official narrative and, in June 1980, executed Shahin Bavafa and many young people who had served in the neighborhood medical committees during the conflict.

Decades passed without the people of Sanandaj finding a chance for public mourning or an opportunity for seeking justice. However, they found refuge in remembering the tragedy in a way that could only take place within their homes. People took refuge in the continuous retelling of the bitter narrative of the tragedy: parents seized every opportunity to recount the memories of the days of bombing and the nights of martial law to their children; at every gathering and in any place that offered a chance for collective discussion, people revisited the names and stories of those executed, the tales of unmarked graves, and the fate of those exiled. We listened to these stories and imagined what our parents had endured.

For us children, these narratives were strange because the only available story about the war in Sanandaj referred back to the city being bombed by the Iraqi army, an event we had witnessed ourselves. But the thought that our city had also been bombed by our “own” army was hard to comprehend.

This council actively and diligently carried out its duties in overcoming obstacles and solving people’s problems for 5 months until Khomeini’s nationwide assault on Kurdistan on August 19, 1979. Khomeini’s and the provisional government’s nationwide attack order on Kurdistan aimed to thwart the 1979 revolution, preventing the spread of this council-style governance, which was about to become a model for the rest of Kurdistan and other cities across the country. The actions of the provisional government, the tricks of Moftizadeh’s local reactionary current, the creation of a warlike atmosphere by the newly established Revolutionary Guards in conjunction with the untouched Shah’s army in Kurdistan, were all lined up on one front against the achievements of the people’s uprising and against the councils.

Ultimately, on August 19, 1979, with Khomeini’s order for a massacre against the people of Kurdistan, the life of the Sanandaj City Council also came to an end. He called the defenders of the councils and the preservation of their independence conspirators and infidels, and with the order for severe government and army action, issued a jihad decree. Khomeini, the provisional government, and other repressive groups were all concerned with preventing the Sanandaj City Council and other people’s councils from taking root.

Similar methods of subjugation were forcefully imposed in various other regions of Iran, particularly within labor hubs and industrial settings. The intensity of these confrontations extended to the oil company workers, who had, just a few months prior, been pivotal in the deposition of the Shah’s final regime through their impactful industrial action.

Since the formation of councils was one of the main pillars of the revolution, the new regime consented to the formation of a kind of Islamic council. These fake councils advanced the government’s programs regarding workplaces and workers’ conditions, cities and, in fact, turned into the security arm of the secret police.

Today, yet the managing affairs through councils is the main demand of the leaders and activists of the workers’ movement and other social movements across the country. What has become the horizon and outlook of the workers’ movement and other protest movements in Iranian society in recent years is the council governance at all different levels of people’s lives.

Zanyar Omrani has skillfully connected in this documentary what has happened in Kurdistan since the beginning of the 1979 revolution with the “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” movement. He has spoken about the role of criminals like Khomeini and the suppression of Kurdistan. Today is the day that Kurdistan has once again shown that it is successful in striking. Kurdistan is aware, that is the great example of the revolutionary movement in Iran, knows that the struggle is long, and until the day the political forces’ response to the need for social change is at the current level, it must proceed with caution, and striking is the best form of this policy. The day will come when organizational forces will initiate a mechanism for leading this revolutionary movement that has begun, and elevate the struggle to another level.

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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