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Some are separatists
On reviving the question of Azerbaijan

By Aidin Fathalizadeh Gharehshaban
August 11, 2003
The Iranian

Fresh discussion regarding Azerbaijanis in Iran has been ignited. Such is evident here at by the three recently published articles, "Are there any questions?", "Azeri Nationalism is Iranian Nationalism", and "We deserve better". Most Iranians abroad (Azerbaijanis and well as Persians) must be asking why this is?

I, for one, am no definitive authority of matters such as these, but I may be able to shed some light on this issue. Recently, in fact just this past July, Mahmudali Chehreganli, leader of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement (SANAM), announced that "the federal government of Azerbaijan will be proclaimed within 18 months in Iran" (according to his website,

Chehreganli, a linguistics professor, was elected as a parliamentary representative from the province of Azerbaijan and was imprisoned for three years following his outspoken opposition to the current Iranian regime. He has been in exile ever since working to garner support for his movement. Chehreganli recently toured the United States and is currently in the Azerbaijan Republic.

Every year, on what is known as Tavalode Babak, Azerbaijanis gather at Babak Qalasi (Babak's Castle), to celebrate their Azerbaijani culture (Babak Khoramdin lead a group of warriors who fought off the Arab/Muslim invaders from taking Azerbaijan for 21 years in the 9th century). During this anniversary, Azerbaijanis gather at the castle to sing, dance, recite poetry, etc. . .

This gathering has been looked down upon by the Islamic Republic. The government identifies Khoramdin as a "kafar" who slaughtered thousands of Muslims and whose life should not be celebrated. In the past, the government, fearful of a build up of Azerbaijani nationalism, has set up rallies and demonstrations in some Azerbaijani cities dissuading the people to partake in the annual gathering. Government officials have gone so far as to arrest participants.

This past month, near the beginning of July, supporters of SANAM attended Tavalode Babak. Chehreganli himself was not at hand, but his presence was definitely felt. The group venerated Azerbaijani figures such as Sattar Khan, Babak Khoramdin, and Kor Oglu and denounced what they deemed to be the "mullah regime" as well as "Persian chauvinism."

The Iranian government is aware of the danger a revival of Azerbaijani pride may pose. The government, for instance, has urged the Azerbaijan Republic to banish Chehreganli from Baku. History has exposed the power that proud Azerbaijani people have.

On December 12, 1945, the National Parliament of Azerbaijan in Tabriz challenged the puppet government of the Shah in Tehran by declaring the Autonomous Government of Azerbaijan, a government under the "premiership" of Mir Jafar Pishevari designed to safeguard the autonomy of Azerbaijan. A similar Kurdish government was setup a few months later.

As of today, separatist notions have not been adopted by the majority of Iran's Azerbaijanis. There are, however, some who do embrace such sentiment. A revival of Azerbaijani nationalism is defiantly possible; some may argue that such a revival is already underway. What all this means only time will tell. But it is quite evident that Azerbaijanis will play a prominent role in shaping Iran's future.

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