In defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners, Speech of Fakhteh Zamani in U.S. Congress

I am here to address the plight of Turks living in Iran, whose basic human rights have been consistently violated and whose voices have been silenced.

The Turks, with a population of over 20 million, make up the largest minority in Iran. They are located mainly in the North and Northwest of Iran. The Turkish language is also spoken in Northeast and Central Iran, as well as in the capital city of Tehran. All of these people live under the Iranian Islamic regime, with severe violations of their social, economic or political rights.

Since 1920’s the policy of the Iranian government, both the Pahlavi dynasty and the Islamist regime, has been one of forced assimilation and discrimination against non-Persian populations. After the 1979 revolution, the new regime further divided Azerbaijani administrative regions, removing the name Azerbaijan from large portions of the Azerbaijani land (e.g., the Eastern Azerbaijan province was split into East Azerbaijan and Ardabil provinces in 1993, etc.). In fact, the government has extended this massive persianization of names to not only include the names of geographical locations but also the names of children on birth certificates, in the sense that the Azerbaijani parents are not permitted to name their children with traditional Azerbaijani Turkish names.

The suppression of Turkish language lies at the core of the government’s attempt to assimilate Azerbaijaini Turkish people. The government has arrested men and women for simple acts such as possessing Turkish books, organizing  Turkish language classes and attending festivals to preserve their culture. To date there are absolutely no school books that are allowed to be published in Turkish language. Nearly all the literature for kids is in Persian. And there is not even a single school for millions of Turks to read and write in their language.

Another means by which the government attempts to suppress the human rights and freedom of expression of Turkish people is through the media. The only TV and radio programming available in Turkish language is the limited coverage by the state-run stations, which simply translate state news and propaganda into strongly Persianized Azerbaijani Turks called “Fazeri”. Fazeri (just like Spanglish) is a mix of Azerbaijani Turkish language with heavy infusion of Farsi language. Of course, the two languages are radically different – they are from completely different language groups. This tactic has accelerated the cultural and linguistic assimilation of Turks and, according to the masterminds behind this, will eventually make Turkish less relevant and lose a status of a language, being relegated into a “dialect” of Persian;

Azerbaijanis Turks are routinely and openly insulted on radio, television and in the national press (all media in Iran is state-run). They are depicted by intellectually-challenged characters and dehumanized by being shown as “donkeys” and “cockroaches”. In general, Turks are associated with backwardness, due to their lack of fluency in Farsi language (the official language of Iran). This discrimination is motivated by the need to assimilate and repress the Azerbaijani Turkish minority, and has been documented, researched and analyzed at length by such Western scholars as Dr. Brenda Shaffer, Dr. Alireza Asgharzadeh, etc.

On May 12, 2006, Iran Daily, an official state newspaper, published a cartoon portraying Turks as cockroaches. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis Turk across the country took to the streets to show their protest in peaceful demonstrations. In retaliation, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s anti-riot units, Special Forces and Basij militias attacked the protesters. At least 27 were killed, hundreds injured and many blinded by bullet spraying riot guns. Iranian Intelligence Services then launched a massive detention campaign; hundreds, including teenagers, were arrested.

The Western media has stayed largely silent on the issue of violations of the rights of Turks in Iran. Few outside of the country know about the atrocities committed against Azerbaijanis in Iran. Amnesty International, the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and recently the State Department are among a few who have expressed concern for the safety of detained Azerbaijanis, asking the Iranian government to respect human rights and their international obligations.

Azerbaijani activists are in constant struggle for basic rights, such as the right to education in their natural mother tongue. They are not permitted to assemble in public places or in their own houses on dates important for the Azerbaijani nation’s history, such as honoring national heroes like Babak, Sattarhan, Baghirhan, as well as national leaders like Pishevari. Azerbaijani human rights activists are constantly arrested and mistreated in Iranian prisons. Even members of the Azerbaijani clergy, who have been trying to raise awareness about some of the most basic human rights, have been imprisoned.

The Azerbaijani Human rights activists lack resources to challenge the oppressive Iranian regime using the very basic means of communication while risking their lives. The movement for national rights in Iran lacks international experience or any support from outside, but still constitutes the strongest challenge to the Iranian regime. The US policy toward Iran is Tehran-centric; while the biggest challenge for the Iranian regime is in the provinces where ethnic minorities are concentrated.

We are asking for support to reach Turks and other minorities in Iran. They need to know that the world is paying attention to them. They need to know that putting their lives at risk for equal rights is not in vain. They need hope. And they are looking to the international community for it.

Knowing they have international support will give them the strength to continue fighting for equal rights. And that means greater stability and democracy for Iran and the wider Middle East. Iranian minorities are agents of change in a country that needs it badly. They are struggling for a positive transformation in Iran; and they need all the help they can get.

US Congress to focus Iranian Azerbaijanis
[ 14 Mar 2008 11:34 ]

Washington. Husniyya Hasanova –APA. US Congress has held a hearing on the situation of Turks and other ethnics residing in Iran, as well as Kurds, Bahais, Arabs, Belujis, APA US Bureau reports.

Congressman Mark Steven Kirk (Illinois, Co-Chair of Iran Working Group) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) and representatives of 20 Congressmen attended the hearing. Mrs. Fahta Zamani, head of Association for Defending Azerbaijani Political Prisoners said despite that Azerbaijanis were the biggest people of Iran, Mullah Regime violated their common rights and did not let them receive education and speak in their native language. She said Azerbaijani Human Rights activists were persecuted in Iran and 20 of them had been arrested on the false accusations. The Human Rights defender said local population was sensitive in respect of own language and history, recently Azerbaijanis held large-scale protest actions against describing them as cockroach in one of the Iranian newspapers. Representatives of other nations living in Iran have also spoken at the hearing.

Numerous Azerbaijanis also attended the congressional hearing devoted to the situation of Iranian ethnics. Co-founder of recently established USAzeris Network Adil Baguirov told APA US Bureau, 77 congressmen, 22 senators and 83 local media organizations had been informed via Network about the congressional hearing during a day