Hi, I am Megabiz a 22-year-old college student at University of Florida. After reading the articles in ethnic section, I wrote this article about the origin of Azeri people for enlightenment of your interested readers.
The memories of my childhood and teenage years are unforgettable; even though, I am now far away from my homeland Iran. As an Azeri who was born and raised in Tehran, I remember how native Tehranis would ask my father about his accent to be sure he was a Turk; his response was always negative. He would say “I am an Azeri not a Turk!” Proud of his Azeri heritage yet he never forced me to learn his mother tongue; he believed it was a sub-Turkic dialect that had penetrated into Azeri.
In the past few weeks, it has been a debate on Iranian.com about Azeris' right to read and write in their native language and to celebrate their customs as minorities in Iran. First as an Azeri, I would like to ask my own people what it means to be a minority? Since this term entered Iran in the modern era from European political system, I refer to Oxford dictionary to define the word “minority”: minorities are groups of people who are different from the entire population of a country in race or religion.
Having said this, I want to know what the origin of our race or the word Azeri is? Are Azeri people Turks? To answer this question, we should start from the ancient history of Iranian plateau. The word Azeri itself is literary related to “Azar”, which means fire in Pahlavi language. The names of Sasanid shah of Iran Azar-Narsi and the Iranian vizier Azar-Barin, are just two examples of this fact.
On the other hand, this word does not have any linguistic relation to Turkish whatsoever. This region was perhaps called Azerbaijan because of presence of many Zoroastrian fire temples in Sasanid era. Also, the word “Azerbaijan” could be an Arabic version of the ancient Persian term “Atropatekan”, which was one of Iranian provinces in Achaemenid Empire. Since the letter “P” does not exist in Arabic, it seems Arab invaders called this land Azerbaijan as they changed the words “Sepahan” to “Isfahan” and “Parsa” to “Fars”.
Let me remind you, Turks entered the Middle East and Iran in mediaeval period, and as it was said before Azeri people are not ethnically related to Turks; Azeris are just another Iranian group as are Persians, Kurds, Lurs, Baluchs and others. Even at the beginning of their migration to Iran from Central Asia, Aryans were a collection of different tribes and clans.
From the Aryan origin, Medes, Achaemenid (old-Persians), Parthians, and Sasanid (mid-Persians) ruled Iran respectively before Arab invasion. Do Azeris know that the legendary Iranian hero Babak Khoramdin had an Iranian name? Where were Turks when he rejected the cruel Arab caliph?
The first time that Turks entered our history was the establishment of Ghaznavid dynasty in modern Afghanistan. Turks were just imported army generals in Samanid court who later became leaders of Eastern Iran. Later in Seljuk dynasty, Turks invaded Iran and became the new rulers. Ironically, their capital was Isfahan, and they later became one of promoters of Persian (Iranian) culture.
The current dialect spoken in Azerbaijan has been mixed with so many Turkish words because of the presence of neighboring Ottoman Turks (modern Turkey), but it doesn't mean that Azeris are ethnically Turks. This basically means since Farsi has borrowed many words from Arabic, Persians are ethnically Arab.
Iranians until 100 years ago had forgotten the existence of Elamite, Mede, Persian, and Parthian kingdoms in ancient Iran, so how can we say we know everything about our history when our history is corrupted by Westerners. The main problem is our inability to distinguish the word “Persian” from “Iranian”. Being an Iranian doesn't mean you are a Persian since there are other Iranians.
Farsi is a division of Indo-Iranian languages as are Old Persian, middle Persian, Tajiki Persian, Dari Persian, Kurdish, Baluchi, Pashto, Ossetic, Avestian, Parthian (Pahlavi), Bactrian, Sogdian and Khotanese. Farsi itself is a version of Pahlavi language spoken in Parthian and Sasanid era, which was first developed in Eastern Iran after Arab-Muslim invasion and later was adopted by all Iranians.
During long history of Iran all Iranians have contributed to Iranian civilization. Many Azeri poets like Ohadi Maragheyi, Nizami Ganjavi, Sheikh Mahmod Shabestari, and Shams Tabrizi created masterworks in Farsi, which is truly the native language of Iran. If Westerners have Romeo and Joliet, thanks to Nizami we have khosro va Shirin. By the way, was Khosro-Parviz a Turkish sultan or an Iranian shah?
The restoration of Iranian Empire in modern era under the leadership of an ambitious 15-year-old boy known as Shah Ismail of Saffavid is the most significant Azeri contribution to their native land Iran. As we know, shah Abbas the great moved the capital to Isfahan to save Iranian integrity from Ottomans' danger, and this meant that there was no racial difference among Iranians. If Azeris were Turk, why didn't they join Ottoman Turks against Saffavids? Do we remember how our fathers sacrificed their lives with bare hands in battle of Chaldoran to save Iranian independence from her Turkish enemies?
What is the difference between a Language and a dialect? People talk about Azeri language, but ignore the fact that any language has a script. What is this imaginary Turkish script that we have never seen? Are we going to choose Latin as our script and call it our native script? Does Azeri dialect (it's better to call Turkish since it has borrowed many words from Turkish) have any script like Persian language? How could one communicate when he/she travels around the country since Iranians speak different dialects in different regions?
The Persian language has played a unifying role in Iran, and we are naïve to undermine its historical importance. It has been the official language of Iran before and After Islam, and no dialect is dynamic enough to substitute the language of our ancestors. Farsi belongs to all Iranians including Azeris and Persians.
We should come to the conclusion that we are not Turks; we are Iranians. At last, I hope everyone quits making fun Azeris. Because one has an accent, it doesn't mean he/she is an alien. Any region has its own accent like Shirazi, Isfahani, Tehrani, khorasani, Gilani and etc. This is the beauty of a language and should be appreciated. It's time for Iranians to think beyond their regional interest and hatred in order to promote their heritage and culture to exist in 21st century as a strong and unified nation. Long live Iran and God bless all Iranians.