I went to Iran's East Azarbaijan Province on July 3-4, to personally witness people gathering at Babak Castle in Kalibar. The following is what I think should be considered important.
— According to regional journalists and cultural activists coming from Tabriz, the population was much less compared to last year when 57,000 showed up (adding 3,000 for some possible nomads nearby). The estimation of the poulation attending the ceremony had been relatively reliable. This was done by counting the cars or buses going there through the only two entrances.Azarbaijan).
— The maximum rate for this year was about 15,000 to 20,000, I think. Thus the 1,000,000 claimed by Pan-Turkist circles in Baku or elsewhere is, as usual, baseless and irrational. The same can be said of Radio Farda which reported the crowd at 400,000 (I do not know what sources they have used). I was told that in 2000, there were about 20,000, in 2001 about 40,000 and in 2002, 60,000.
2- Generally speaking there is not enough space there for having a 1,000,000 or even 400,000 people. There is only one narrow mountain trail leading to Babak Castle and an arena downhill which can only be a gathering place for a few thousand.
3- Most people attended with their families, enjoying natural pureness and beauty of the place and chanting non political songs and listening to traditional musics. The whole gathering can be interpreted as a protest against the clerical establishment, but definitly not against Iran as a nation and a country.
I saw a few young teens (16 to 25) bearing bands with turkist signs on them. Most people did not pay attention to them. I was told by a friend who was at the peak of the Castle that their number was not more than 200 to 300 coming from all over Iran. I saw only two of them holding Chehregani's picture. They were trying to attend the popular music gatherings to propagate for him, but people did not welcomed them.
One of the active opposition journalists in Tabriz told me that they consider Chehregani “crazy” rather than the “leader of Azari movement” as some circles would like to claim. His separatist trends are not welcomed in Azarbaijan and his travels to Baku and Ankara has led to the notion that he is anti-Iranian and a puppet of Pan-Turkist cicles in the region.
Hamid Ahmadi is associate professor of political scince at the University of Tehran.