VANCOUVER – Protests have erupted this week in three Iranian cities after former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami made degrading comments about the Azerbaijani minority in Iran.

On May 14th, a video emerged on the Internet which showed Khatami belittling ethnic Azerbaijanis at a gathering of Iran’s reformist politicians, referring to the ethnic group as a community of unintelligent and foolish people.

Among the identifiable attendees were prominent mullahs as well as representatives of presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, all of whom were either laughing or contributing to the racist jokes.

Thus far, four college students – Hamed Hasan Zare, Babak Minaqi, Ali Imani and Peyman Imani – have been identified among those who were arrested by federal police during protests in Tabriz. Demonstrations also took place in Tehran and Urmia. Activist groups have said they will continue their demonstrations until Khatami formally apologizes for his remarks.

“ President Khatami advocated a dialogue between civilizations, yet he entertains his fellow reformists with racist jokes against Azerbaijanis,” says Fakhteh Zamani, president of the Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners,” a Vancouver-based organization.Azerbaijani Iranians are ethnic Turks who make up between 25 and 30 per cent of the Iranian population. They are regularly discriminated against by the Persian majority. A cartoon published in the state-run newspaper Iran in 2006 compared Azerbaijanis to cockroaches and suggested various methods of exterminating them.

The public backlash against Khatami’s comments has so far not been as severe as the protests against the publication of the cartoon, but has the potential to become much more widespread unless Khatami issues a formal apology to Iranian Azerbaijanis.

Preliminary reports show that about dozens of prisoners were detained in Tehran, Tabriz and Urmia and it is believed that some may have been released. It is still unclear if the four protesters in Tabriz have released.

ADAPP will continue monitoring and reporting on any further developments that arise.

For more information contact:

Fakhteh Zamani - President, Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners