Iran is a multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual country. Persians (Farsis), Azerbaijanis (Azerbaijani Turks), Kurds, Arabs, Loris, Beluchies and Turkomans have lived in Iran for thousands of years. Until the 1920s, they all retained and promoted their unique culture, history and language, without harming each other’s identities. However, the inception of the Pahlavi dynasty’s supremacist policy in the 20s has endangered this semi-harmonious way of life.
With his alleged national unity policy, Reza Shah Pahlavi designed a plan, forcing all non-Persians to sacrifice their ethnic identity and language, in order to fulfill his vision of purely Persian Iran. Unfortunately, his successors, including the Islamic Republic, followed and perfected his inhumane conduct. Subsequent results have been brutal against all persons not of Persian descent. Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Loris, Beluchis, Arabs and Turkomans have been under tremendous Persianization. Iran’s reformist leader, President Khatami, deceived the global community with his talk of “dialogue between civilizations,” meanwhile suppressing the people of Iran by ignoring Human Rights in general and Azerbaijani Turks in particular. However the reaction of World Human Rights’ organizations to this assimilation and rather cultural genocide has been very slow and ineffective due to lack of objective information from South Azerbaijan (Iran).
More than 25 million Azerbaijanis are on the verge of losing their language and rich cultural heritage, which they have preserved for thousands of years. They are paying heavy tolls to obtain Iran’s purported “national unity.” This “national unity” with “Islamic” and fanatically supported theocratic government is determined to annihilate Azerbaijani national and ethnic identity, the Iranian government has participated in forced assimilation and other methods of Persianization to create a monolingual “national unity.” We would like to briefly highlight some of them:
Policy on Language
The Constitution of Islamic Republic of Iran in the article 15 claims: “The state and common language and script of Iran is Persian. Documents. Correspondence, official texts and text books shall be in this language and script. However, the use of local and ethnic language in the press and for the mass media and the teaching of their literature shall be allowed, besides the Persian language.”
The Constitution Revolution in 1905-1911, the Democratic movement in 1945-46 and subsequent agreement by the Iranian government to guarantee ethnic rights as well as the constitution of Islamic Republic have for some degree taken ethnic grievances into consideration. However, the Iranian governments have all been against honoring their promises and the constitution.
The Iranian government has banned the Azerbaijani Turkish language in schools. Education is available only in the Persian language. Many first grade school children struggle to understand school books written in Persian. Those children unaccustomed to Persian suffer high drop out rates. To prevent this, some parents teach their children Persian as their primary language, rather than their native Azerbaijani Turkish. Said Persian instruction usually comes at the expense of children’s mastery of Azerbaijani Turkish, thus children are encouraged to replace Persian with their mother tongue for social and job advancement.
Television and radio broadcasts help to propagate the hybridized Azerbaijani Turkish, considered a local language. So-called “local languages,” however, are rarely used and thus marginalized, with Persian predominating Iranian media. Azerbaijani Turkish ,in fact, has no place Islamic Republic’s midia.
Discrimination operates in other ways, as well. In cities like Tabriz, where Azerbaijanis comprise more than 99% of the population, the judiciary and government systems still must operate solely in Persian. Incredulously, proceedings for a lawsuit comprised of a Azerbaijani plaintiff and an Azerbaijani defendant in a Azerbaijani city, with an Azerbaijani judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer, must be conducted in, not Azerbaijani Turkish, but Persian.
The Iranian government’s destruction of language is one part of the multi-pronged attack to eliminate Azerbaijani ethnic identity. If this policy persists, Azerbaijani identity is doomed to perish.
Policy on History
Azerbaijani Turks have been living in the Iranian plateau for thousands of years. Their history dates back to 5,000.BC . Their contributions to humanity include the creation of peaceful civilizations and the invention of the first alphabet, cuneiform, and written laws. Persian tribes migrated to the southeast and central Iranian lateau some 2700 years ago. Before Persian entry existed the Sumerian, Ilamaite, Assyrian and Mead civilizations, among others. Their histories should not be excluded from Iranian history lessons in schools, but, as it is, Iranian schoolchildren are taught to believe the birth of the Iranian people comes with the arrival of the Persian tribes. This revisionist history alleges that Azerbaijanis were actually Iranian Aryans forced to change their language, upon the arrival and subsequent rule of the Mongolians 800 years ago. Stemming from this distorted history is the argument that Azerbaijanis should forget their language, that is, the language of foreign invaders, and accept Persian as their true and original language. Moving Westward, Mongolians first had to conquer predominantly Persian areas, before occupying Azerbaijan. Mongolians had no impetus or wherewithal to arbitrate which portion of the Iranian plateau’s inhabitants should accept their language and which portions should be left untouched.
Contrary to the claims of the Persianization policymakers, Azerbaijanis, like the Persians, Arabs and Kurds, had their own distinct language, culture and governing bodies well before the arrival of the Mongolians. Iranian children’s history books should reflect all ethnic groups’ historical roots, rather than the Persian-only revisionism. Policymakers bend history to create the allusion of inclusiveness to fool Azerbaijanis into thinking they are a people without history.
Policy on Historical Monuments and Geographical Toponyms
The Iranian government has attempted to destroy monuments not serving their assimilation policy or has left them to be destroyed naturally. Furthermore, they have changed or distorted geographical names, in efforts to eliminate Azerbaijani Turkish names in Azerbaijan. Iran has not tried to preserve any historical monuments, deliberately destroying some. Recently, the Iranian government bulldozed a vast expanse of the 700-year-old Erk Castle in Tabriz, leaving on the central grounds in tact. Bulldozing was said to make room for Friday prayers.
In further attempts to erase Azerbaijani culture, the Iranian government has repeatedly fractured Azerbaijan into increasingly smaller administrative territories and eliminated the name “Azerbaijan” from most of the aforementioned areas. Over the last 60 years, parts of Azerbaijan have been divided into five Azerbaijani-controlled areas, with some outlying areas partitioned to other non-Azerbaijani governingbodies. Portions of the once-Azerbaijani territory have since been redistricted into the provinces of Gilan, Merkezi Tehran, Qazvin and Kurdistan. Of the five Azerbaijani-controlled regions, three, Zanjan, Hamadan and Ardabil, no longer retain the name Azerbaijan.
Within these provinces, names of geographical sites and cities have been altered, translated into Persian or reassigned derogatory names. In either case, actions have been made to remove all original Azerbaijani meaning and historical references.
Sample of Names translated to Persian
A river formerly known as Aji Chay is now known as Telkhiyye Rood
A river formerly known as Qara Su is now known as Siyah Rood
A region formerly known as Qara Dagh is now known as Siyah Kooh or
A mountain Formerly known as Goy Dagh is now known as Kuh Sabz
A district formerly known as Devechi in now known as Shotorban
A city formerly known as Qoshachay is now known as Mianduab
Sample of Names Misrepresented (to make it look as if it is Persian)
A mountain formerly known as Savalan is now known as Sebelan
A region formerly known as Serderi is now known as Serdrud
A district formerly known as Yam is now known as Peyam
A mineral Fountain formerly known as Erkoyun is now known as Erkevan
Sample of Some Assigned Derogatory Names
An area formerly known as Akhma Qaya is now known as Ahmeghiyyeh
“Akhma Qya” in Azerbaijani Turkish means “giant rocks on the move” while “Ahmeghiyyeh” in Persian refers to “stupidity, land of stupid people”
An area formerly known as Sari Qaya is now known as Sareghiyyeh
Sari Qaya in Azerbaijani means “Yellow Ston or Yellow Rock” while “Sareghiyyeh” in Persian refers to a “place of thieves and robbers”
Sample of Names simply replaced
A city formerly known as Savuc Bulaq is now known as Mehabad
A city formerly known as Sulduz is now known as Neghedeh
A town formerly known as Tufarqan is now known as Azer Shehr
Policy on Economy and Migration
In comparison to Persian areas, Azerbaijani-inhabited regions have been purposely underdeveloped. Most heavy industry is concentrated in central Iran, chiefly occupied by Persians. The government has fostered a better climate for investment in central Iran. Most Azerbaijani businessmen flee to central Iran, seeking better returns on their investments. In turn, Azerbaijanis in increasing numbers relocate to central Iran to find work. Having migrated to primarily Persian areas, Azerbaijanis appropriate Persian language and culture. Already, more than ten million Azerbaijanis live in central Iran, with most unable to speak Azerbaijani Turkish. The Iranian government uses the economic situation to promote its agenda of Persianization.
Policy on Original Azerbaijani names
The Iranian government Prevents Azerbaijani parents from naming their newborns with meaningful Azerbaijani names. Said parents are often asked to translate their favorite Azerbaijani names into Persian . Difficult to translate names are asked to be replaced with a “common Iranian name” Birth certificates are given to infants with a government approved name only.
Sample Azerbaijani names that must be translated before issued a birth certificate
Aynaz (Azerbaijani) to Mehnaz (Persian)
Gozel (Azerbaijani) to Ziba (Persian)
Deniz (Azerbaijani) to Derya (Persian)
Azerbaijani names such as, Sevda, Sevgi, Aygun, Altan, Turkan, Yashil,
Gungor, Tomriz, Sevil, Chichek, Qaflan, .. are not allowed while all
last names have been Persianized.
Political Parties and Associations
Every attempt in rallying against injustices towards ethnic rights have been denied. All political parties and associations must be nationwide, approved and licensed by the government. Political associations concentrating on ethnic issues are shut down immediately. Groups or individuals defending ethnic rights are arrested and either charged with “spying for foreign countries” and executed or imprisoned and tortured. Parliamentary representations are under strict scrutiny. Any candidate campaigning on human and ethnic rights is disqualified and arrested immediately. Numerous petitions to Iranian authorities by Azerbaijanis( i.e. academicians, university students and journalists) to lift the ban on Azerbaijani language have been ignored.
Iran is a multiethnic, multi-culture and multilingual country and signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by United Nations General Assembly resolution 217 A (III) December 10, 1948. Iranian governments have been engaged in destruction of ethnic identities and forced assimilation of more than 30 million Azerbaijani Turks. While most articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including articles, 1, 2, 19, 20-1, 21-3, 26,3, 27-1, have continuously been violated by Iranian governments, the victimized Azerbaijanis are looking for help from the same universal body, the United Nations, that adopted and proclaimed these resolutions.
On December 18, 1992, The UN General Assembly (A/RES/47/135) reaffirms that on of the main purposes of the United Nations, “Declaration on the Rights of the Persons Belonging to the National or Ethnic, Religion and Linguistic Minorities,” as proclaimed in the charter of the United Nations, is to achieve international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion. Article 1, 2 and 4 of said resolution declares:
1. States shall protect the existence and the national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity of minorities within their respective territories and shall encourage conditions for the promotion of that identity.
2. States shall adopt appropriate legislative and other measures to achieve those ends.
1. Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic
minorities (hereinafter referred to as persons belonging to minorities) have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any
form of discrimination.
2. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to participate effectively in cultural, religious, social, economic and public life.
3. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to participate effectively in decisions on the national and, where appropriate, regional level concerning the minority to which they belong or the regions in which they live, in a manner not incompatible with national legislation.
4. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to establish and maintain their own associations.
5. Persons belonging to minorities have the right to establish and maintain, without any discrimination, free and peaceful contacts with other members of their group and with persons belonging to other minorities, as well as contacts across frontiers with citizens of other States to whom they are related by national or
ethnic, religious or linguistic ties.
4. States should, where appropriate, take measures in the field of education, in order to encourage knowledge of the history, traditions, language and culture of the minorities existing within their territory. Persons belonging to minorities should have adequate opportunities to gain knowledge of the society as a whole.