Iranian- Azeri Independent Journalist
I received a scroll today from the Iranian Azeris. It was signed by more than 17,536 Azeris from all over the world. The Azeris are one of the many Iranian ethnic groups. There are other ethnicities in Iran, including the Persians, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmans, Baluchs, Sistanies, and so on. Most Iranians believe that the Azeris and Persians are the most dominant communities among all of the ethnicities and they think that the political and economic power in Iran belong to both of these two major ethnic groups.
However, each group believes itself to be the most popular in Iran. The population of Iran is around 72 million. The Azeri political and social activists claim that the Azeri population comprises the actual majority, since they number 35 million. Even so, the ruling Persians somehow manage to relegate them to minority status.
Meanwhile, the Azeris were in power for more than one thousand years, and throughout all those centuries, they did not impose their Turkish culture and language on other Iranian ethnics. However, when the political power turned to Persian hands in the 1920s, the government imposed the Persian culture and language, designating Persian as the only official language and suppressing almost 120 languages in Iran in this relatively short period of time.
Unfortunately, there are no reliable statistics on the populations of Iranian ethnic groups. Like many other matters, it is kept under a cloak of secrecy. The Persian political system calls the Azeris in derogatory names in public and the media. In fact, the Iranian media feel free to make Azeris the main subject of a lot of jokes. The official print media and radio and television stations present them in despicable, distorted situations. For example, in May, 2006, an insulting and inflammatory cartoon was published in Iran, the daily newspaper of the official Iranian news agency (IRNA). The cartoon depicts a cockroach which talks in Azeri, instead of in Farsi, the official or newspaper’s language.
The government eventually shut down its own official newspaper, but only after a huge public protest. In 2006, outraged by the controversial cartoon and the government’s institutionalized discrimination against Azeris, the Iranian Azeris held large demonstrations in districts, cities and regions where the Azeris constitute the majority. Their main slogan was: “We are Turks!” and “The Turkish language should be official!”. They called upon the politicians of the Islamic regime to honour the Iranian Islamic Constitution’s fifteenth and nineteenth articles that allow all the ethnic groups to use their local languages in schools and universities, besides Farsi as an official language.
That national protest was as close as Iran has come to a revolution in almost thirty years. Hundreds of thousands of Azeris filled the streets. It reminded the authorities of the role played by the Azeris in the Islamic Revolution in 1978. They thought it may happen again, as it was begun by and continued by Azeris.
Therefore, the Islamic regime called thousands of its troops to quell these demonstrations. In total, the police, secret intelligence forces, Revolutionary Guards and civil militants (Basiije) killed at least eleven and arrested more than 1300 people. At least these are the two figures recorded by Iranian official news agencies.
It was the biggest demonstration in Azeri history since 1978—although there were also a lot of peaceful demonstrations from 2000 every year in the Azeri-dominated provinces. I was a journalist there and I was monitoring both sides of the action. Despite my Azeri ethnicity, my thinking is not the same as that of most Azeris. In other words, many of them support the goal of full separation in theory and practice. I am an Azeri-Iranian journalist who does not have any interest in the separation of an Azerbaijan of Iran. Nevertheless, I am an advocate of the recognition of the cultural, economic, historical and ethnic distinction of Azeris and other ethnic groups in Iran. And I am the witness of deep discriminations in these fields.
There is such deep discrimination towards non-Persian Iranian Muslim ethnics in Iran that you cannot imagine it at all, because it is not possible for you to imagine yourself as the victim of such blatant discrimination and persecution. Most Canadian-born people have not felt the effects of this degree of racism and its long-term psychological and political effects. Only the people who have grown up in such a situation can fully comprehend what it feels like to be treated as second class citizens. Only they can imagine what I am going to say.
You should thank God that you were not raised in a society like that of Iran—to feel what we endured on a daily basis. The government’s attitude towards Azeris and other ethnicities in Iran is more like the deprivation of food and goods. I have been a witness to that discrimination myself because I was not permitted to read and write the language of my ancestors, that is, Turkish. I do not know anything about my background, history and culture. But I do know the Farsi and Persian culture and history perfectly, as I was forced to learn it officially in schools and university and by every bit of education and high professional training in journalism.
Although I know very little about my background, I have studied my language on my own outside of school. I know there are a few other Iranian religious ethnic groups that have their linguistic and religious rights there. However, they are relatively small groups compared to other Iranian ethnic minorities. For instance, the Armenians of Iran have special permission to have their own schools in their languages there. It is good and I am glad that they are allowed a little bit of their human rights, but what about us and other ethnics? We Iranian Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchs, Turkmans, and Sistanis constitute huge populations. However, we do not have our human rights to read, write and study in our languages in official schools and universities.
I have written many articles on this subject, not only when I was reporting from Iran and when I was in prison as a dissident, but also since I have been living in exile in Canada. Given the growing ethnic tensions, I predict that the Iranian future will be worse than politicians estimate. The future of Iran will be full of war, blood and dead bodies—and the division of the country into small parts.
Clearly, the future will bring regional and ethnic violence in Iran and throughout the Middle East. The onus is on the world human rights organizations and individual activists to do something now to prevent a tomorrow of disaster and devastation in that region.
As an Iranian journalist living in Canada, it is my duty to make you aware and ask you to do your best for all the Iranian people who have been living for tens of centuries there together. Please be realistic about Iran’s future before it changes to a new Darfur.