67. A number of interviews and communications from non-governmental organizations report that Government policies and actions hinder the educational, economic, social and cultural development of Azeris. They assert that the native language of Azerbaijanis is not represented in available media, including newspapers; that a number of Azeri educational and literary journals, like the monthly journal Dilmaj, have been closed since 2007; and that Azerbaijani language websites are prohibited. Likewise, Azerbaijanis are reportedly prohibited from teaching in their mother tongue in primary and secondary schools, resulting in one of the highest illiteracy rates among an ethnic group in the country. They also report that artists are prohibited from organizing or participating in cultural activities and that Azerbaijani businesses cannot operate under Azerbaijani or Turkish names.
68. Reports received also suggested the arrest and/or harassment of individuals that attend cultural and political events at locations such as Babek Castle in the town of Kalayber. Reports maintained that demands for language rights are continuously refused and viewed as “unpatriotic”, and that individuals that openly criticize government policies often face punitive measures such as arrest, detention, prosecution and harsh sentences for crimes against national security and the regime.
69. The Special Reporter continues to draw attention to the effects of development policies on communities surrounding Lake Urmia, which is located between the East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan regions of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has been reported that the redirection of water from the lake is predominantly responsible for a rapid fall in water levels, resulting in the loss of more than half the lake’s water.51 It is feared that, in addition to increased pressure on agriculture, dwindling supply will result in devastating environmental consequences that will have lasting effects on the densely populated region surrounding the lake.
51 United Nations Environment Programme, “The drying of Iran’s Lake Urmia and its environmental consequences”, February 2012.