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Who are Azeris?
Important to emphasize the roots of Azerbaijan

By Aylinah Jurabchi
August 8, 2002
The Iranian

The difference between the accent of Azeris from Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan is equivlant to the difference of accent between people from New York and Boston, which makes it clear that the language of the Azeris north of the Aras and south of the Aras is basically the same.

The language spoken in the region of northwestern Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan signifies that the people are of the same ethnic origin and that they are in fact one people, divided between political boundaries and influenced throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries by different countries and political ideologies.

Many pan-Iranists claim that Azerbaijanis are of the same stock as the Persians (meaning Aryan and Indo-European) and that they have been "Turkified" linguistically and not ethnically. But if we observe the language, culture and roots of the people of Azerbaijan (both north and south) we come to the conclusion that they are in fact peoples seperate by race and language from the Persians, who currently make up 51% of the population of Iran.

Azerbaijanis are descendants of the Oghuz Turks who migrated to the region of the Caucus mountains and the modern region of northwestern Iran in the 11th century from Central Asia. Prior to their migration, the area of Azerbaijan was first inhabited by the Medes who had settled there as early as 2500 B.C. and Caucasian Albanians who settled north of the Aras river in the present day Republic of Azerbaijan and was invaded by the Greeks and Arabs in the later centuries.

Other groups, including Turkish peoples such as Huns and Khazars as well as non-Turks such as Assyrians, Armenians and others had also passed through the present-day region of south/north Azerbaijan prior to the mass migration of the Oghuz in the 11th century.

The Oghuz Turks, who were composed of 24 tribes, were part of the confederation of Seljuk Turks who ruled an empire in the Middle East from the 10th to 12th centuries. During their reign, many distinct areas of the Persian empire (which they had taken over) were influxed with heavy populations of Turks and many parts remained Persian.

For example, Esfahan, which is a Persian-speaking city in central Iran, was a Seljuk capital for many years but the people's language was never changed and the ethnic structure of the people of the city of Esfahan remained Persian. Other places such as Khorasan (northeastern Iran) as well as Azerbaijan, however, were places within the Persian empire which became home to a large number of Turks who changed the ethnic structure of the original inhabitants.

This rejects the claim of pan-Iranists who state that the eminent amount of Turkish migrants in the 11th-12th centuries only changed the linguistics of the original inhabitants of Iran. If this was the case, then how come many other parts of the ancient Persian empire as well as distinct parts of the Middle East that were ruled by Turks did not see linguistic change? Pan-Iranists also claim that the Turkish race is in fact a Mongoloid race which also includes some peoples of east and central Asia such as Mongols, Koreans, Japanese and others.

Such false statements which go against archeological and historical evidence are partially made because the Turkish language is part of the Ural-Altaic language family group which also includes Mongolian but which also includes European languages such as Finnish and Hungarian.

Archeological evidence proves that the original homeland of the Oghuz Turks was an area north of the Oxus river in present day Kazakstan (central Asia) and that they spread in an area between the Caspian sea and Aral lakes within a time frame prior to their migration west to the Middle East and Europe. Turkish languages have very slight similarity to languages such as Mongolian, Finnish and Hungarian and there is no way that a Mongol could understand an Azeri by merely listening to his/her speech. Such comparison is pretty much absurd.

False claims can be made about Persians because the Persian language is made up of various Arabic words and has been influenced heavily after the 7th century by Arabic so is it fair to say that Persians are in fact Arabs because of their language or that Persians and Arabs are of the same race? The answer would be no.

Peoples considered as eastern Turks (Kazaks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Uygurs) often have facial similarities to Mongoloid peoples but also have Caucasoid features and it is often common that families have children who are siblings but look like they are from opossite races. The reason is because eastern Turks who were orignally a Caucasoid peoples such as their western Turkish brothers (Azeris, Turks from Turkey and Turkmens) mixed with Mongols after the Mongols invaded much of Asia and parts of Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Close contact between eastern Turks and Mongoloid peoples was consistant throughout the centuries. Turkmens of Turkmenistan and Iran often have blonde hair and green eyes and often have faces which resemble peoples of Mongolia and the far east, this is also because of the mixing which occured with Mongols.

A logical explanation would seem to prove that Azeris are in fact ethnic Turks that do not share the same roots as Persians, whom in the first place never settled in northern Iran but in southern Iran. The Medes, however, can be linked to the history of Azerbaijan because they were the peoples who played a role in the formation of the name "Azerbaijan" which is believed to be derived from the name of a Median satrap (governer) during the invasion of the Greeks whose name was Atropat.

The region of Azerbaijan was in ancient times described as Atropatene (the land of Atropat) and is said to be pronounced as Azerbaijan first by the Arabs in the 8th century and hence as been the name of the region. Azer/Azar in ancient Persian meant fire and the name of Atropat meant "guardian of fire" so therefore "Azerbaijan" means the land of fire.

So it is therefore important to emphasize the roots of Azerbaijan and to also maintain a strong Azerbaijani identity in Iran which would include the rights to learn Azerbaijani in schools and perhaps even an autonomous movement which would allow the region of South Azerbaijan to have greater prosperity and mobility.

There are approximately 20-30 million Azerbaijani Turks who live in Iran, primaraly in the northwestern provinces of East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardebil and Zanjan. They also live in the vicinity of these areas in other provinces such as Hamedan, Gilan, Kurdistan, Qazvin and Markazi.

Azerbaijani Turks also make up more than 30% of the popluation of Iran's capital city, Tehran, which is home to more than 12 million inhabitants of mostly diverse backgrounds. Tehran was in fact proclaimed the capital of Iran in the 17th century by the Qajar dynasty who were Azerbaijani Turks. Many national figures of Iran in the past and present in the categories of politics, sports, entertainment, science, philosphy and literature have been or are Azerbaijani Turks.

Their great role in the foundation of Iran and the prosperity of Iran during various times in history is what has made them equal Iranians in the eyes of the majority population, the Persians. However, the contributions of Azerbaijanis has almost always been for the cause of greater prosperity for the country of Iran as a whole rather than their own ethnic background.

The majority of Azerbaijanis in Iran have held great loyalty to their country of citizenship despite the fact that their cultural and linguistic rights as a minority has not always been respected by the majority of the people who are Persians.

With the independence of the Repbulic of Azerbaijan in 1991 from the Soviet Union, the level of Azeri nationalism in Iran has risen and the demand for greater cultural and linguistic rights has become a priority for most Azeris. While the independent Azerbaijan Republic is home to close to 8 million people, Iran which is home to more than 20 million Azerbaijanis has to compete with the small republic situated above the Aras river north of the region of South Azerbaijan so that it's northwestern ethnic provinces will not join the Republic of Azerbaijan some time in the future. The south Azerbaijanis are forced to live under an Islamic system in Iran while their brothers in the Republic of Azerbaijan live under the principles of democracy.

Added note, August 22, 2002:

My stance has changed greatly

Wow! I have gotten a lot of mail for some reason people are asking me if Im from Baku? actually no not at all Im a 26-year old Iranian female from Tabriz.

Thanks for printing my article although it is quite old [Who are Azeris?]. After a few trips to Baku my stance on the Azarbaijan Republic and its government has changed greatly (run by Heidar Aliyov; he is an absolute disgrace.)

Although I still strongly beleive that my people have a right to be taught how to read and write in Azari. It is sad that I can write 3-page poems in Farsi, however not able to write a 2 line bayt in Azari with the correct grammatics, because our parents were not taught it; it was illegal for them to even speak their language in the schools. They where fined heavily by the shah as students to even speak azari in the schools.

So I know a lot of people are angry... c'est la vie.

Aylinah Jurabchi

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Aylinah Jurabchi


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