South Azerbaijan And Iranian Turks

by Dr. Alireza Amir Nazmi Afshar

Report to the Center for Strategic International Studies-Washington DC

The Azerbaijanis are one member of the larger Turkic nations. The area that is currently called Azerbaijan has fertile land and pleasant climate. Therefore, for many centuries it had always been the destination of many immigrant tribes. After passage of the nomads, called the Medes, from the north through the Caucus plateau, a smaller group of Medes established a local government in southern part of Azerbaijan in 705 BC and named it Medes the Minor. One hundred fifty years later, the government of another nomadic tribe that migrated from the northeast Caspian region to the same plateau replaced Medes the Minor. This plateau would later be called Persia and Cyrus the Great is the man who established the Persian Empire in 559 BC.

The Turkic tribes and nations are native to central Asia, north/west and southwest of Caspian Sea. One of three languages that the Elam inscriptions were written in has Aral-Altai roots, proving the Turkish presence/influence in the area for approximately six thousand years.

Alexander the Great did invade the Persian Empire; however, Azerbaijan resisted his heirs as rulers. One of his commanders, Aturpat led this resistance. Some scholars believe that the name Azerbaijan is the Arabic version of Aturpatkan. During this period other Turkish tribes were also immigrating to Azerbaijan. At 642 AD, Moslems invaded Iran and after that some central Asian Turks conquered Persia and established their dynasties. The Seljuks were the first Turk dynasty who expanded Persia’s territories all the way to the Eastern Roman Empire. They also moved a famous Turkish Tribe, Oghus/Oghur to Azerbaijan.

There were two other massive Turkish immigrations to Iran specially Azerbaijan. In those periods Azerbaijan was the center of power and two cities, Maragheh and Tabriz, each for certain periods were the capital cities of Iran. Later in the Gajar dynasty (1794-1925) Tabriz was the residence of crowned princes until Reza Shah over- threw the Gajar dynasty and started the Pahlavi regime.

The issue of Azerbaijan should be studied in 2 different dimensions:

1.The historic issue: The presence and rights of Azerbaijanis in their native, historic land as well as the rights of other Turkish minorities who have moved there from all over the Eastern plateau for political or cultural reasons.

2.The current and legal issue: The natural, humanitarian, and legal rights of Azerbaijanis as the present inhabitants of the area, regardless of their past. Azerbaijanis are denied the very simplest of their natural and God given rights. In a territory that comprises one third of the land and population of the country, Azerbaijanis are forbidden from being educated in their native language. The same abhorrent scenario applies to the other ten million Turks living in various parts of Iran, including 6 million in Tehran. In addition, the government-controlled media does no t include printing, publishing or airing in our language. The lack of education and presence of media in our own language means the government’s chosen language is being imposed on us and little by little our children are losing our own language, history, culture and customs. Innocent people are being arrested, tortured, whipped, imprisoned, and often killed for practicing this very basic kind of a human right.

In the following brief presentation, I will not focus on the first question of history, but rather on the current legal and human rights of South Azerbaijanis.

Legal issues of South Azerbaijan

Azerbaijanis are treated as second class citizens and are forced into an unwanted and unfair absorption into the government imposed culture.

For thousands of years, Iranians of various ethnicities were living in harmony with each other through their historical ups and downs. From the very early years of the Persian Empire, Azerbaijan was among the most important, most populated and the most desirable part of the very large and multinational nation. Each territory had sovereignty over its social and governmental affairs. Because of this multi-ethnic and multinational make up of the country, Cyrus the great called himself “The King of Kings”. Each territory was comprised of a tribe, which shared one history, background, language, culture and custom. These territories that lived in harmony and peace under the great kingdom were called Satraps.

After the Islamic forces conquered the Persian Empire at 643 A. D., they chose to leave this multination system in place and to simply add to it their Islamic laws. This took the form of assigning to each Satrap local commanders, called Hokkam (the plural of Hakem, meaning the ruler, commander) for 300 years.

Likewise, when the Turkish dynasties took power after the Moslems were expelled, they allowed territories to keep their language, rights and dignity. In 1828, after a long struggle and war with Russia, Azerbaijan was divided and north of the Araz River, now the Republic of Azerbaijan was taken over by Russia.

After, the First World War, this part of Middle East was the center of ongoing struggles and fights. Leaders of France, Ottoman Empire and Russia individually and collectively were discussing and negotiating the possibility of invading India, then a British colony. England, fearing such act, was well aware that just two centuries before, under Nader Afshar (founder of Afshar dynasty), Iran had invaded India. England’s desire was to turn Iran to a defending wall against the desires of those who wished to invade India. Of course Ahmad shah was not qualified or dependable man for this mission and the British policy makers did not have much confidence in him.

Reza Shah was the production of this need and necessity. General Ironside of England met with Reza Shah, then a Kazak commander, in Qazveen. He was facilitating Reza Shah and his four fellow commanders to take over administrative power. The brokers of this transition were Seyyed Zia Tebatabaie a pro English politician and Mr. Riporter, an Indian citizen. Mr. Riporter and his family later played significant roles in Reza Shah and Mohammad Reza Shah’s decisions. General Ironside, at this meeting had two requests from his new agent, Reza Shah. The first request was the Gajar dynasty not be overthrown but for Reza to work as commander in chief and prime Minster within this dynasty. The second request was to never give a chance to Azerbaijan to lead the country. During the period of British colonialism or its intention of colonialism, Azerbaijan had always been the leading force of national resistance - few notable examples are, resistance against the granting of the country’s railroad rights to England, granting of country’s tobacco rights to England, dividing the country to three and/or two zones 1917and 1919 (North under Russia, Center under Iran and the South “Oil Region” to England, in 1917 or alternatively, dividing it into two zones, the north under Russian and the south under England 1919). Most interesting of these nationalistic uprisings were those for the enforcement of the constitution around 1908 AD. Azerbaijanis, especially Tabrizis, spearheaded this movement. The passion for freedom and liberty was very high. The force and impact of this just movement was so high, that Mr. Baskerville an American citizen working in Tabriz as an instructor, a true freedom lover, joined the movement against Tehran’s forces and fought with Azerbaijanis against the Tehran Government. Unfortunately this honorable American, lost his life in fight against Evil, but his name always will be remembered as a martyr of freedom, and will remind the Azeri Turks of American philosophy and belief.

Of the two issues that the British General requested from Reza Shag, the first one was ignored. Very shortly after the coup, temptation of power and thoughts of self-importance persuaded him to over throw the King and crown himself as the King. He called his dynasty the Pahlavi dynasty. He did keep the second promise to General Ironside. By choosing the Name Pahlavi, he aimed to relate himself to the pre-Islam Sassanid Kingdom. He declared war against everybody that was not of Persian ethnicity, directly targeting Azerbaijanis and other Turks living in Iran.

He also, committed himself to ridding Islamic customs out of the society. (After fifty years, for the reaction of anti-Turk, anti-Islamextreme policies, Iranians paid dearly and the free world is still struggling to understand and reverse what happened to Iran. The main reason for Tabriz’s uprising one year before the Islamic revolution was not the love of the Islam; rather it was the hatred and anger against the racist regime of the Pahlavi dynasty.)

Reza Shah, using people’s dream for peace and security, centralized all authorities and called the nation Iran (land of Arian). Trying to find easy escape goats for the country’s shortcomings, he focused on both Islam and Turks as his targets. Islam was equally shared by people of all ethnicities, but targeting Azerbaijanis and other Turkic ethnicities was prejudice, racism, discrimination and inhumane.

Very soon, all the power hungry statesmen were incited to promote ancient Persian pride, and superior “Arian” race, and to blame everything on Non-Arians. They raged massive propaganda against Azerbaijanis and other ethnic minorities such as the Kurds, Arabs, Lors, and Balouchs etc. Changing and twisting history, creating a false sense of ethnic/race pride, and fuelling the flame of hatred, he created clubs, associations, and institutions to prove that in this haven of Arian Nation; Non-Arians were the cause of all economic and societal problems.

For thousands of years in this multiethnic country, different ethnicities had lived in peace, respecting each other’s culture, language and identity. After Iranians accepted Islam, there were always three main languages in the country. Arabic was the language of religion and science, since they had translations of Greek and Roman works of science and philosophy. Farsiwas the language of the administration and literature/arts. Turkishwas the language of the imperial courts, politicians and army.

By the end of the 19thcentury, when the constitution was being drafted, Farsi was named the “common” language and the preservation and promotion of other language was strongly suggested. Reza Shah changed the “common” language to the “official language”, ignoring rights of all non-Farsi speakers, which account for 65% of the population. His ethnic war did not stop with just ignoring the ethnicities; his short sighted, racist followers committed themselves to the destruction and forced assimilation of these ethnicities and languages. Arabic language, being the language of Koran, faired better, even though the Arab minorities were just as strongly targeted for humiliation and assimilation.

There was another reason for Reza Shah to hate the Turks. The previous dynasty (Gajar) was a Turkic dynasty, and all the well-known politicians were from the Gajar dynasty. This list included men such as Doctor Mossaddeqwho had the courage to resist Reza Shah. Reza Shah without any education, and political experience was naturally feeling threatened.

Reza Shah was so inspired by Hitler that he even dressed like him. He could not cause the devastations of the Nazis but he would do all he could to cause an ethnic, linguistic and cultural eradication. He destroyed the economy of Azerbaijan, tried to destroy the people’s identity, culture and worse of all, their language. He knew if the language and education were taken away, slowly the forced assimilation would result. His love and inspiration for Hitler caused the invasion of Iran in the Second World War by the alliance forces. Reza Shah was not trusted by the alliance forces because of rhetoric about the “Arian Nation” and his passion and his strong admiration for Hitler’s deeds in creating a “pure Arian nation”. Reza Shah was sent to exile and his son was sworn in by the parliament to take over the throne.

His son Mohammad Reza had his struggles and was forced to leave the country by the nation’s nationalist leader, Dr. Mossaddeq, a prince from the Gajar dynasty. Kermit Roosevelt coordinated this infamous British and American coup. After the so-called “White Revolution” dictated by the White House and the United Nations, and soon after by America’s new policies during the cold war, Mohammad Reza Shag attracted support from the US statesmen. Unfortunately, he wasted this support unproductively and destructively. For instance, he celebrated Iran’s 2500years of Kingdom in a disgustingly extravagant and lavish fashion while most people in this poor country watched. He crowned himself the “King of Kings”. He also took the title of“AriaMehre”meaning the “Shiny Sun of the Arian Nation”. This was the “carte blanche” to the well-trained puppets of his government to squeeze the Azerbaijanis and other Turks out of life, respect, culture, identity and economy.

When he took the throne, Tabriz still was the most important city economically after Tehran. When he left the country at the Islamic Revolution, Tabriz ranked 17thin Iran. Any activity by Azerbaijanis toward their identity, language, and culture was labeled as pro-communist. People were imprisoned and killed under accusation of being Soviet spies. The history proved the opposite however.

Please note our national and ethnic problems and expectations in the following report regarding Iran given to UN.


A. Introduction
1.In his last several reports the Special Representative has been urging the Government to establish a national minorities policy. In this report he wishes to place this initiative within the international context. To begin with, the Special Representative would refer to Commission resolution 2001/55 of 24 April 2001,which “reaffirms the obligation of States to ensure that persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities may exercise fully and effectively all human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities”. The Special Representative notes that this resolutio n was adopted without a vote. In this regard, he would also draw attention to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO on 2 November 2001.

2.The Special Representative believes there can be no doubt that the treatment of minorities in Iran does not meet the norms set out in the Declaration on Minorities or in article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. See in this regard the concluding observation of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, following its examination of the initial report of Iran, that the treatment of minorities in Iran is one of its “principal subjects of concern” (E/C.12/1993/7 of 9 June 1993). The Special Representative takes note of the writings on this subject of one distinguished Iranian legal scholar that the Iranian Constitution, in articles 15, 19 and 20 and elsewhere, in part expressly, in part implicitly clearly establishes the right of all Iranians to equality and fair treatment, and that this right has not been implemented in practice. The Government must commit itself to addressing urgently the status of minorities in Iran as a whole and to bringing the conduct of Iran in this regard into line with recognized international standards, as well as with the Iranian Constitution.

3.The Special Representative hears frequent reference to what is described as the Government’s implicit policy of assimilation. It is asserted that such a policy was introduced first by Reza Shah, prior to which time Iran had been in practice a multicultural society. The Special Representative has earlier observed that the original draft of the 1979 Constitution did acknowledge that Iran was a multicultural nation in naming the main ethnic groups that made up the country. He would also note that as seen in the 1995 Copenhagen Declaration of the World Summit for Social Development, the right to be free from attempts at assimilation is emerging as an international norm.

4.The Special Representative believes that at the first level the rights of minorities consist not only in the right to be free from discrimination but, put more positively, that there is now an obligation upon Governments to protect minorities against discrimination and procedural unfairness. At a second level are certain positive rights, such as the use of minority languages in education and the media, and basic civil and political rights such as fair trial, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and of association. The Special Representative draws particular attention to the provisions of the Declaration on Minorities in this regard.

5.Information reaching the Special Representative suggests that very little meaningful action is being undertaken by the Government to this end. The use of minority languages in the media is sporadic rather than substantive; the use of minority languages in the educational system seems minimal.
6.Finally, the Special Representative has referred to the need to involve the minorities themselves in the preparation of a national minority policy, a right articulated in the Declaration on Minorities. Whether or not it is accurate to characterize the prevailing atmosphere as one of Persian chauvinism, as some minority activists suggest, it is clear that the situation is discriminatory in many respects, as well as being incompatible with existing and emerging international norms. The Government necessarily bears heavy responsibilities in this regard and needs to make an urgent start on a national minority policy. For his part, the President is quoted as declaring that “Iran belongs to all Iranians”.

C. Ethnic minorities

The Azeris

7.The Azerbaijan Turkic-speaking people of Iran (the Azeris) are recognized as the largest ethnic minority and may indeed be the largest ethnic group in the country. It appears to be accepted that about 12 million of them live in the north-west and that in the country as a whole there may be as many as 30 million. It is asserted that the Azeris have lived on the Iranian plateau for thousands of years and that they predate the entry of Persian tribes to the area.

8.The complaints brought to the Special Representative concern the use of the Azeri language and that the unwelcome prospect of Azeri cultural assimilation is accelerating (see annex III). More particularly, Azeris are asking for the teaching of “proper” Azerbaijani Turkish along side Persian in schools in regions predominantly inhabited by Azeris, production in and the broadcasting of “proper” Azerbaijani Turkish on radio and television, the allocation of one television channel for Turkish language broadcasting, the creation of schools of Azerbaijan Turkish language and literature at universities throughout Iran (it is noted that while Azerbaijani Turkish is not taught at the University of Tabriz, seven other languages are taught) and the facilitation of the creation of Azerbaijani Turkish cultural centres.

9.The representations reaching the Special Representative also refer to harassment and imprisonment of Azeri cultural activists, such as Dr. Mehmud Ali Chehregani, whose circumstances were described by the Special Representative in earlier reports and whose imprisonment was the subject of urgent representations by the Special Representative to the Government. He has since been released. The Special Representative has received copies of open letters to the President signed by various groups of Azeri personalities, such as members of the Majilis and writers and poets, demanding fair treatment for Azeri culture. Their letters have taken the President to task for unimplemented campaign promises on cultural freedom; they complain of “cultural and ethnic insults and humiliation” from government media sources and they invoke article 15 and article 19 of the Constitution.


The following is a list of specific complaints received by the Special Representative:

Denial of cultural autonomy; Harassment and imprisonment of cultural activists;

The banning of the use of the Azeri language in schools;

The use of Farsi-Azeri hybrid, rather than pure Azeri, on television and radio;

Teaching in schools that the birth of the Iranian people came with the arrival of the Persian tribes and that the Azeri people are Iranian Aryans, forced to change their language upon the arrival of the Mongolians;

Changing or distorting Azeri geographical names;

Refusal to register a child with an Azeri name.