New School Year in Iran: Mother Tongues Are Still Absent

Public Statement: Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)

September 26, 2011

Schools in Iran started on September 23rd. Azerbaijani children, however, are still barred from education in their mother tongue, the Turkish language. Despite the multicultural and multilingual nature of Iranian society, Iranian governments have been promoting Persian culture and language as the foundation of Iranian identity for many decades; the only language of instruction in the education system is Persian / Farsi and non-Persian languages are banned in education and official usage.

The Azerbaijani population of Iran is the largest linguistic minority group in the country, comprising an estimated 25-35% of the total population of Iran. They reside primarily in North and Northwest Iran, although significant communities are found throughout the country. Azerbaijanis speak a dialect of Turkish, closely related to Azerbaijani Turkish spoken in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Along with other minorities in Iran, Azerbaijanis are subjected to racism and cultural, linguistic and economic discrimination.

In 1925, when the newly appointed shah of Iran, Reza Shah, implemented a policy of cultural and linguistic homogeneity and assimilation for all nationalities in Iran, the Persian language and culture became dominant; those who spoke minority languages were barred from education and media in their native tongues. Members of ethnic and linguistic minorities such as Turks/Azerbaijanis, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmens and Balochis were forced to feel ashamed of their mother tongues and culture, and, from childhood, faced assaults in state-run media.

In recent decades, many states have significantly improved constitutional recognition of the minority languages as well as schooling in mother tongues. Moreover, several countries like Morocco, Iraq and Afghanistan have raised the status of the languages of larger minorities to the official languages of those states. However, in Iran, there has not been any improvement of linguistic and cultural rights for ethnic minorities since the domination of Persian language in 1925.

The Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran, ADAPP, calls on the Iranian government to allow education in Azerbaijani Turkish, as well as other non-Persian languages, in Iranian schools; to release all prisoners of conscience who have been unlawfully arrested for advocating for Azerbaijani linguistic and cultural rights, and to allow uninterrupted peaceful assembly of Azerbaijanis, demonstrating in favor of linguistic and cultural rights as guaranteed by Article 27 of the Iranian Constitution.

ADAPP believes that a practical recognition of non-Persian cultures and languages in Iran and a respect for the multicultural nature of Iranian society would be a significant development, not only for non-Persian communities, but also for the Persian people and the entire country.

Association for Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)
Fakhteh Luna Zamani
Executive Director
Vancouver, Canada

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