The assimilation of millions of Turks in Iran’s contemporary history left them uncertain about their ethnic affiliation. The most important concern of the Turks in Iran is identity-based and cultural. The Turks want to be able to assert their Turkish identity and be able to express its cultural components without sanctions from the state. The Turks want to pursue the natural rights that make up their Turkish identity and to exercise those rights as Turkish citizens of Iran, not Persian subjects. Most importantly, they want to be treated as political equals of the Persians. The Turks want what the Persians have. Nothing more and nothing less.
The assimilation and repressive policies of the Iranian – Persian state created a population that makes up one-third of Iran’s population in an identity chasm. On the one hand, some vague idea of Turkishness persisted, the majority of the Turks did not realize what this identity really was or how it was diferent from a Iranian – Persian identity. Turkishness mostly became limited to Turkish being spoken as a native language in Turkish homes in Azerbaijan. All other aspects of a Turkish individual’s life necessarily developed in the same way as for Persians. If one was to receive an education, it had to be in Persian, making most of the Turks more proficient in the Persian language. Children learning Persian in schools brought the language to their homes and it slowly replaced Turkish as the language of communication. The harsh restrictions on displaying the Turkish identity and culture exacerbated the problem and created a thoroughly assimilated Turkish population that successfully mixed into the Iranian society.
Currently, many Turks are indistinguishable from Persians and a considerable portion does not even speak Turkish, especially if they have migrated – voluntarily or as a result of state policy – to regions outside of Turkish regions and Azerbaijan. Furthermore, many Turks have assumed a stronger attachment to their identity as a Iranian citizen than their ethnic Turkish identity. As a Persian, a Turkish individual had and still has greater opportunities and many choose to live as Persians. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, Googoosh a very popular and beloved musician, Ali Daei; retired football player and former national team coach, Dr. Reza Baraheni the writer and Behrooz Vosooghi an actor and a director are just a few notable Turks in Iran who have reached important positions in Iran. These individuals, while aware of their Turkish ethnic affiliation, pursued their lives as Iranian citizens rather than Turkish individuals. The assuming of a Persian identity it is not necessarily a conscious choice to reject their Turkish identity but rather a outcome of the sociological and political conditions in Iran.
The absence of a Turkish identity not only demonstrates the success of the government’s assimilation policies against the Turkish population, but it also ensures that these policies do not create an aggrieved minority that could pose an opposing presence to the Iranian government. Many Turks who fall into this category are viewed by those who support the Azerbaijanis struggle as “Turks who have not accepted their Turkishness.
Among the minority in the Turkish population where the Turkish elements of identity persisted and Persian assimilation policies created a group of disaffected individuals confused yet curious about their identity. Turkish awareness grew as a reaction to these policies and the largest problem affecting the Turks is that of an “identity problem” or more specically a “national identity” problem. According to Turks, the entire Turkish struggle and movement is provoked by the policies of the Iranian state. The ambiguity regarding the Turkish identity in Iran presents the most important issue in the Azerbaijan issue and it is the Turks’ most serious problem. Since the starting of Pahlavi khandan and starting in the 1920s the assimilation politics divided Turkish language and culture.
Eventually, the Turks grew aware of their Turkish identity and the South Azerbaijan National Movement’s role is instrumen- tal in making the Turks recognize their ethnic identity and the effects of Persian policies for that identity. The South Azerbaijani movement achieved this by organizing these previous identity ambiguities under a distinct Turkish identity. As the awakening of Turkish identity was set in motion, the Turks begin to recognize that they were being restricted on their Turkish cultural rights. Displays of Turkish culture, be it in language, music or literature, had long been denied to the Turkish population yet because the Turks felt more strongly as Iranian citizens, these restrictions on Turkish culture and rights had not been perceived as grievances in the mind of the Turks. As the Turkish identity, separately from a Persian one, developed, the Turks began to demand the rights that accompanied this distinct cultural and ethnic identity.
Perhaps the most important contribution of the South Azerbaijan National movement is that it presented a notable challenge to the Iranian government.The Turkish identity could no longer be ignored, leading to a legitimization of the Turkish struggle. Everyone is aware that there are different ethnic groups in Iran and if you don’t recognize these groups, their culture, they will feel put down and this will create a reaction.