Khadija Ismayilova

I was looking for something in my old emails and found this letter. I wrote this within a discussion in one yahoogroup. I had an argument with one person who questioned legitimacy of the South Azerbaijan Issue – she had questions if this is what they – South Azerbaijanis want? If they are really underrepresented in Iranian society, do they want schools in their language, do we help or hurt by speaking out these issues. etc.

Here is my answer.

I try to be very careful with presenting the idea of South Azerbaijani's national identity, as northern Azerbaijani.

However, my own experience helped me a lot to understand their problems.

I don’t know if you lived in Soviet Azerbaijan. I did. I was a child and when my parents were discussing which school I should go - Russian or Azerbaijani, I asked a question: Why my brother goes to the Russian school. My dad's answer was: "it will be very difficult for him to achieve a success in career if he will have Azerbaijani education".

Apparently my parents did not see any need for career growth of girls in the family so all my sisters and me were given to Azeri school.

However in Azerbaijan SSR we had a certain degree of choice. Do Iranian Azerbaijanis have this?
When I first met a person speaking about Azerbaijani's rights in Iran , my questions were very similar to yours. Do the majority care and why they just can not simply have Persian education? Why those Azerbaijanis represented in higher levels of society are happy with system and these "extremists" are not.


I was in Iran then. It was 1992 and I saw families suffering from identity crisis. Parents were trying to speak to their children in Farsi, because children from Azerbaijani families had difficulties in school. humiliated for their accent, they could not be as successful as their Persian mates in literature, history. All my relatives were "A" students in math and physics.

So I turned back to the discussion in my family and got the whole idea.
You have to switch your identity to become successful in Iran .
That is what those in elite did.

Psychology of elites by Boal (if I am not mistaken) says that elites can not represent the nation because they lost their strings with it. As simple as that. Moreover, their success in career becomes a source for frustration in masses. They stop seeing the root of the problem; they think that they are losers. Namely the assimilated elite with switched identity is a source of frustration, because masses blame themselves in being losers. (We were not able to switch our identity, so our kid will not be lawyer or politician, engineering will be the best scenario)


Again I remember discussion between me and my Russian educated cousins about national identity in Azerbaijan back in 1989. They used to start with epithets like "extremists", "nationalists" etc and end up with concerns, so what they are going to do with their Russian education in Azerbaijani Azerbaijan?

So as I understand, that is what makes elites to be resistant to the idea of preserving identity. That is why some assimilated Azerbaijani Turks in Iran say they don't care. and now we come to your question: whether they could be considered as representatives and why and if the other prospective should not be considered as more or even equally representative.

My understanding of human rights says the language and identity is something that comes with your family, but is a matter of choice. And my question is: whether this choice is given?


I think that the freedom of choice is limited if:
there are more opportunities for dominant language speakers like in Soviet Azerbaijan
and off course there is no freedom of choice if:
* there are no schools in Azerbaijani like in Iran
* people teaching Azerbaijani in their houses, reading Azerbaijani books are jailed (I have examined court documents and can prove this)
* people are sentenced for panturkism (while panturkism as a crime is not defined in the Criminal Code of IRI)
* people get extra prison term for refusing to speak Farsi in the court (while according to law he has to be provided with translator)


How many people do care about identity? Good question.
Let's go back to 1945-46 or as late as May 2006. Even after major crackdown in May 2006 intimidated and harassed Azerbaijanis do not give up.
February 22 after the large wave of arrests in all Azerbaijani cities, there was a rally in Tebriz and guess what they were demanding? Schools in Azerbaijani. The main slogan was:
"Turk dilinde medrese olmalidir her kese".
I have seen those videos and let me say numbers are impressive and I have no doubt saying that these people have more rights to be considered as representatives of nation than handful of those who do not even call themselves Azerbaijanis (turks)and represent Iranian elite with its fascism-smelling Aryanism.

Pan Iranian nationalism has become a state policy starting from 1925 when Pehlevis put the end to a thousand years long Turkic dominance in this area.


Imposing an identity is not an easy job, and Iranian government deals with this uneasy task.
All Azerbaijani classes in schools, opened after Shariatmadari revolt, were closed.
Journalist from Iran - Human Rights Watch award winner Insafali Hedayat says there are 35 official and twice more unofficial prisons in Azerbaijani cities of Iran.

Hedayat is federalist. His career language is Farsi. He says unofficial prisons are for politicals, most of whom are identity demanders.

There are some newspapers and even TV and radios, opponents argue. Yes there are. Because you can not impose your Aryanism and anti-Azerbaijani ideas in the language that MAJORITY in Azerbaijani regions (especially in rural areas) do not speak.

I was involved in one frequency mapping project and was a witness of the fact that all transmitters of Sahar TV with its anti-Azerbaijani propaganda are tuned for airing in Azerbaijan Republic . And off course, the criticism of Azerbaijani government is aimed at convincing Azerbaijanis that independence did not serve to the best of Northern brothers.
Newspapers in Azerbaijani are using words "Northern Iran " when they write about Azerbaijan Republic .


One of my Persian colleagues was unhappy with "panturkists/nationalists" in Iranian Azerbaijan. "I went to Tabriz and they did not speak to me in Persian" he said. "If they will have schools in Azerbaijani they will not study Persian at all", he said.
Poor guy, he could not buy food in Tabriz market.

Well, I felt sorry for the guy. But Tabriz merchants did to him what the governments of Iran have been doing to them since 1925. The government has deprived them of choice, so merchants in Tabriz did to the guy.


But what if they would have choice?
may be as in my family, they would have girls studying in Azerbaijani and boys in Persian?
May be they would have chosen to study in any other language: Kurdish, English, Russian, French, Amharic?

But that would be their choice and I strongly believe that loyalty to any language is strictly directed by market rules. If there is more information available in Persian, I am sure, that Azerbaijanis will learn Persian, may be not as the first language but the second one. That is what the freedom of choice is about. And those who are under arrest in Iran or harassed for their cultural rights activity want this freedom of choice.


Speaking of "who advocates for what":

First of all I did not understand the confusion of terms Azeri - Northern Azeri and South Azeri in your message. To my opinion no matter North or South, Azeris are Azeris and they do care about each other's problems. North Azerbaijanis care about cultural rights of Southern Azerbaijanis and Southern Azerbaijanis care about Karabakh.)

I am in contact with Iranian Azerbaijanis every day because I write about their rights. I do it because I do care. I do it because I understand. I do it because I am journalist and they are part of my audience.
I do care not only because I am Azerbaijani. When I speak about it to my American colleagues, they care too.


I was lucky to open my eyes to the problem and look for where the roots are. I was able to understand, because I am one of them. I was able to understand because we in the North have passed through this.

I was lucky to meet dozens of people who were able to explain me their personal tragedies, laying out the overall picture of cultural oppression.

I am not one of those who like to speak about victimization of nation. I concentrate on human stories, but there are too many of them.

I would not call it cultural genocide because this word irritates me. But I am definitely able to see the trends and this looks like chauvinism big time.

Sorry for this long answer, just thought that I need to write it