Parliament of Sweden : Symposium on human rights and ethnicity in Iran

the speech of:Ayda Amir Hashimi Swedish Azerbaijanis National Federation

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentleman,
On behalf of Swedish Azerbaijanis National Federation, I would like to thank the organizer of this important symposium. We believe that the global peace, security and prosperity are not a national internal politic, they are rather a global matter. Consequently, the responsibility to shed light on human rights issue in Iran is not solely an intern matter for nations living in Iran. So any effort by any organization in order to improve the status of human rights in Iran will be highly estimated not only in Iran, but also in whole region. Once again, we would like to thank Moderat Party for their commitment for such an important issue.

As you know, Iran is a multi-ethnic country and its constitution provides only qualified commitments to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of ethnic identity. But, in practice, these qualified provisions have proved to be no protection against what has become widespread, institutionalized discrimination.

Azerbaijanis together with the Farsi speaking people are by far two Iran's largest ethnic groups. Azerbaijanis are making up as much as 38 percent of population. According to the International Linguistics Center, SIL, which is also granted formal consultative by UNESCO 37.3% of Iran's population are Azerbaijanis. The United Nations human rights report on Iran notes that "there may be as many as 30 million, or 40 percent" ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran. On the other hand, the chauvinistic government of Iran is not interested in having an unbiased statistic on ethnic groups since diversity is not seen as a resource, rather as national security risk.

Regardless the official statistic on ethnic groups, Azerbaijanis have played important role in development of Iran. Let me give you a background information to illustrate the situation of Azerbaijanis.

Approximately 190 years ago- as a result of the war between the Gajar and Russian Tsar Empires in accordance with Gulistan treaty of 1813 and Turkmenchay treaty of 1828, Azerbaijan was divided into two parts. The northern Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991 (the part that we today know as Republic of Azerbaijan), meanwhile southern Azerbaijan managed to establish an autonomy government in only one year between 1945-1946. Azerbaijanis in South have always been the main actor in political changes in Iran. For instance, Azerbaijanis played a key role in nationalist-democratic opposition dating back to Iran's 1905-11 Constitutional Revolution or actively took leading role on overthrown the Shah of Iran in 1979.

South Azerbaijan consists of Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Zenjan provinces, and the areas of Astara, Gazvin, Hamadan, Markezi and other ethnic territories. The main grievances of the Azerbaijanis in Iran are cultural and economic. Chauvinism as a policy has been practiced implicitly by the Iranian regime and has targeted at its core the national culture of Azerbaijanis. The Azerbaijani Turkish language has been removed from official use in all areas, including schools, courts, government structures, and the army. Specific forms of Azerbaijani cultural expression are prohibited as well. Azerbaijanis are often arrested because of protest against cultural discrimination. The case of Insafeli Hedayet -a free lancer journalist from Tabriz, Akbar Azad -another Azerbaijani writer from Tehran and Abdulaziz Azimi -a religious preacher from Ardebil demonstrates clearly the sensitivity of the Azerbaijani issue in Iran. These activists among many other Azerbaijanis have been jailed because they protested against discrimination of Azerbaijanis. They raised cultural rights of Azerbaijanis and complained about Iran's centralized "Persian Chauvinism". Interestingly, it doesn’t matter whether Azerbaijani actives are supporter of the current regime or belong to other political organizations. Any protest against discrimination is seen as an attempt for overthrown the regime.

Azerbaijanis much like Persians, Kurds, Baluchis, Arabs and Turkmens are frustrated with the current political gridlock, the country's economic malaise and lack of human rights. Indeed, Tabriz, biggest Azerbaijani city in Iran is widely acknowledged as the host of the most active and progressive democracy movement in Iran. Therefore, we believe that co-operation between all Azerbaijani organizations with other organizations in Iran will speed up democracy movement.

When Azerbaijanis debate the democratizing process in Iran, question is often about the complicity of a unitary state as a future system with ignorance of human rights. Amongst Azerbaijanis in Iran there are three main viewpoints for dealing with the national problem.

· There’s a group supporting the idea of political reform within a unitary system.

· Another group of intellectuals and political activists support the idea of a federal system, a territorial model of federation based on ethnic identity. The idea is that the language use will be used to assign the territorial units.

· And last but not the least, the third group which is represented by political organizations and groups, which support the independence of South Azerbaijan and the idea of a United Azerbaijan –including Southern Azerbaijan, Republic of Azerbaijan, of course with Nagorno-Karabakh (the territory of Republic of Azerbaijan which has been ockupied by armenians). These groups argue that Iran has never been governed by a democratic system, therefore it makes quite difficult for minorities to have a peaceful co-existence in post-Islamic system.

Today, I am representing Swedish Azerbaijanis National Federation (AFI) covering 24 Azerbaijani associations in Sweden. All those three main viewpoints for dealing with the national problems are being represented in our organisation.

We believe strongly that the world communities should support the human rights of ethnic groups in Iran since the rights of ethnic groups is the key issue for democratising process in Iran. There can never be a democratic country if the national interests of ethnic groups are not met there.

Swedish Azerbaijanis National Federation calls in a broad coalition between political democratic organizations in Iran and organizations representing different national minorities. This coalition in co-operation with international supports, can be a proper forum to develop a cross over talk between all organizations interesting in to establish democracy in Iran.

Moderaternas Samling party by arranging this symposium has shown their interest and commitment in such important issue and hopefully will continue to shed light in this matter.

The conclusion is that beside other ethnic groups in Iran, Azerbaijanis also suffer hardly from discrimination and it is up to international and national communities to conduct a peaceful dialogue to increase the awareness about such important issue in Iran.

Thank You for listening.

22 november 2004