JINA did not seek martyrdom on that day, or any day. Like any healthy, modern woman aged 22, Jina Amini sought to live life. That is, the life she and her loved ones presumed lay ahead of her with all its promise, responsibility, and joy.

With her family she was on a visit to the capital, Tehran, from the town of Saqqez in Eastern Kurdistan. The Kurds hold some freer ideas about life, setting them apart from their theocratic Iranian overlords. Kurds maintain that they are a separate people. Because they are: a separate non-Persian people, overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims of modern outlook, speaking their own language, worshipping their own way, dressing respectably by their own standards, using their own history and calendar, and having their own homeland.

Back home in Kurdistan, Jina enjoyed a bit of relative freedom, at least in matters of how a lady should appear in public. The imposed Iranian dress code has no support among Kurdish women, modern in outlook. Jina knew very well that in Tehran things were different. There the hijab was mandatory. No showing off a new hair style. No makeup either, according to regulations. And prowling about the city in vans to enforce those dictates was the government’s “Guidance Patrol”, often called the “morality police”.

Jina was prepared to compromise precisely because she was not looking for notoriety, let alone an untimely brutal end, or for martyrdom. She wore the hijab that day in Tehran. But she did not wear it just so, to the exactitude of the vigilant morality guys.

So they arrested her. Shoved her into their van, and beat her. Other detained women in that van confirm the beating they saw administered to Jina. The morality-enforcing cops in their immaculate uniforms and regulation-trimmed beards also arrested dozens of women for the same offense. But the righteous guidance counselors beat Jina hard. So hard that she collapsed into a coma and died in hospital three days later from the blows to her head. It was supposed to be just a temporary detention, for a reprimand about the proper dress code.

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Why then was Jina the only one to lose her life that day, for a skewed hijab? According to her brother, she told the officers that she was a stranger in Tehran, indirectly referring to her Kurdish identity. But no one cared. Or rather they did care a lot, lethally.

Lots of innocents the world over die unjustly and unheralded, every day. How then does a 22 year old woman become a martyr and a mere head scarf, the hijab, become a metaphor not only for oppression against all females, but for the subjugation of a whole people, the Kurds?

The next day and after Jina’s funeral procession, a protest started in Saqqez which shortly spread across Iran. This was not the first time Kurds protested. After the “Islamic Revolution” in 1979, the Kurds of Eastern Kurdistan under the leadership of Foad Mostafa Soltani (known as kak Foad), founded the first resistance movement there with a march to a camp outside of the city of Marivan against the threats and presence of the regime’s forces.

This move encouraged Kurds in other cities to openly oppose the new power in Tehran. Soon the Kurds faced the Ayatollah’s jihad fatwa against Eastern Kurdistan in August 1979. Security forces were dispatched to Eastern Kurdistan, where the fatwa led to a state-sponsored massacre and extrajudicial executions of the Kurds. Since then the Kurds have repeatedly rebelled, especially via general strikes, time after time confronting the oppressive policies adopted by the Iranian regime against their political, social and cultural rights.

Up until recently, the regime succeeded to bolster support from other parts of the country, charging Kurds with trying to break up Iran. The regime ‘otherized’ the Kurds ethnically and religiously. But this strategy has now finally failed. The murder of Jina has become a credo uniting disparate national and ethnic communities who have likewise suffered from Tehran’s policies, in common cause with the Kurds.

As usual, protests against what befell Jina have been met with force. According to the Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, 24 Kurds have been murdered and 1170 injuries reported. In the ongoing mass arrests especially at night, more than 2000 people including women have been jailed, their fate at serious risk.

The ruling power’s reaction will be unprecedented in the face of these demonstrations because the issue has become the survival or demise of the regime. Unable to quell the unrest the regime’s retaliation as always is to strike at civilian targets — including an elementary school and the Kurdish parties’ headquarters — in Southern Kurdistan (i.e., in Iraq) with suicide drones and missiles which led to the killing of 16, among them a pregnant woman and her infant, and more than 47 injuries.

To this date, the bombing has been ongoing. Violating the sovereignty of another state is to divert public opinion from the ongoing demonstrations inside Iran and to blame those protests on external Kurdish parties. As if the massive outrage at their oppressive policies within Iran needed outside incitement.

Although Jina is now a symbol for the fight of the Kurds of Eastern Kurdistan and for the Iranian people against theocratic tyranny, what the Kurds seek is their political, social and cultural rights which were confiscated under both the previous and incumbent governments. The Kurds of Eastern Kurdistan had no hand in establishing these regimes and were deprived of any political powers. No government ever included ministers representing the Kurds.

In the course of the last century, the Kurds have often been betrayed in their quest for the basic self-determination rights of a distinct people, fractured as minorities among several host states. This was the legacy of a policy adopted by the British and French in the wake of World War I, depriving the Kurds of their own sovereign state.

Putting principles aside, the big powers could not be bothered after that. Too inconvenient. The Kurds have been susceptible without their own sovereignty over the last century. Any Kurdish move to set up an independent Kurdistan has been brutally suppressed through systemic genocide and repression.

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In Eastern Kurdistan, colonization took an internal form. The Iranian regime subordinated the Kurdish areas with discriminatory policies based on ethnicity and religion. Eastern Kurdistan remains as a non-self-governing territory despite regime claims to be anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist.

Tehran has economically neglected development in the impoverished Kurdish provinces, beset with the highest rate of unemployment in a form of internal economic colonialism. Instead of investment the regime applies sophisticated security policies, including militarization and restrictions on Kurdish life.

May Jina rest in peace. Three weeks have passed since the first spark that set off an uprising which, if successful, will reverberate across the whole Middle East. Its chance of success depends on continuity in its widened scope.

But international support could be a driving force. The support of Kurds in other non-sovereign segments of Kurdistan (South, North and West) is yet another recent instance of joint action among the people who together constitute a nation in embryo: Kurdistan.

Dr Loqman Radpey is a researcher of the Edinburgh Centre for International and Global Law (ECIGL) at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.