Azerbaijanis in Iran: Consequences of persecution and discrimination

by Ben Madadi

Among nationalist Azerbaijani circles of the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan it is believed that the population of Iran's Azerbaijanis is around 30 million or even greater. That would make some 42% of Iran's population. It is of course a gross exaggeration that serves no purpose, even the purpose it has been promoted for; to make Iranian Azerbaijanis feel they are powerful so they can rise, or resist, against their unfair conditions. However it more likely serves the purposes of the opponents of Azerbaijan as a whole because of simply giving exactly the same false sense of power, which creates an atmosphere of complacency among Iranian Azerbaijanis rather than a sense of dissociation from the Iranian regime and its policies.

Azerbaijani nationalists are probably simply unaware rather than intentionally making up hugely exaggerated numbers. Azerbaijanis, those who consider themselves to be Azerbaijanis (that is the definition, but those whose one or both parents are Azerbaijanis but do not consider themselves to be Azerbaijanis ARE NOT Azerbaijanis, PERIOD), are almost all the inhabitants of the provinces of East Azerbaijan, Ardebil and Zanjan. And some 60% or so of the population of West Azerbaijan are probably Azerbaijani Turks, the rest being mostly Kurds. Then there are the provinces of Gilan, Qazvin, Tehran, Hamedan, Markazi and Kurdistan where the Azerbaijani population probably totals some 20% of the whole. Tehran's Azerbaijani population may also be around 20% but if we take into account the parentage and ancestry of Tehran's population, more than 30% of them must be originally from Azerbaijan.

However areas where Azerbaijanis are in the minority they are in a disproportionate cultural disadvantage compared to the Fars (ethnic Persian) population, due to state policies of Persian/Fars chauvinism and assimilation, and their children are very likely to adopt a Persian culture and ideology rather than preferring marginalisation as being part of an ethnic minority. This in time reduces, and has already reduced, the Azerbaijani population of Iran in areas where they have become minorities. So, the trend is, and has been for decades, against the Azerbaijanis and their proportion of Iran's population is on a steep decline. The proportion may have been some 30% during the rule of the Qajar (who had migrated from Ganja in present-day Republic of Azerbaijan to Mazandaran while keeping their Azerbaijani identity alive) who were Azerbaijani Turks (and considered themselves to be) and it can easily be 20% now, and falling.

So, how did this happen that such a powerful nation (if we may call them so), the Azerbaijanis, became such an insignificant one, under the pressure of almost disappearing in time? One third of the Azerbaijanis were lost to the Russians, now freed, and the remaining two-thirds are in the state of an identity-theft long in the process of completion.

It is astonishing that modern Iran, where currently almost everything is supposed to be Fars (or Persian) and any talk of anything but Persian culture, language, and traditions is either banned or seen as taboo, has been built, protected and cherished mostly by Azerbaijanis, not Persians. Persians (ethnic Fars) have usually been silent participants in the making of events in a brutal world of the years 1100 to 1900, ruled by Turks, mostly Azerbaijani Turks. Modern Persian nationalism that took over Iran almost eight decades ago by Reza Pahlavi's coup has re-written Iran's entire history, manipulated everything and given an extremely elusive image of a nation (supposedly a united Iranian nation) in which Aryan/Persian RACE has been the cause of any good, and everything else has been irrelevant or evil! This policy and ideology has been pretty much exactly copied by the clerical regime that currently rules Iran.

Manipulating history in third-world countries where there is little sense of reality, but more of conspiracy, is nothing abnormal. People have got used to conspiracies so much even natural news or events are almost always interpreted as conspiracies.

The Persian Empire, or what is known in the region as Iran, disappeared after the invasion of the Muslim Arabs, until the Safavid, Azerbaijani Turks from Azerbaijan proper (the Iranian part), re-established it over pretty much the same area the historical Persian Empire had lied. The Safavid preserved their Azerbaijani identity for a very long time, though as it is well known, the Azerbaijani Qizilbash, who brought them to power and protected Iran against its enemies, were unhappy about the Fars (Persians) participating in the leadership after the capital had moved to Isfahan, a non-Azerbaijani city, and feuds broke out. Feuds that have probably always existed though Azerbaijani and Fars, fearing the numerous Ottoman Turks, united under the Iranian flag in order to protect their SHIA religion and dominion. There was no talk or idea about Iranians being Persians, Aryans, or anything alike.

It was the Azerbaijanis, the Safavid family and the Qizilbash, who for almost two centuries protected Iran, built its capital in central Iran, Isfahan, and gave Iran its most beautiful city to this date. The only non-Azerbaijani (or non-Turk) Iranian rulers have been the Zand who were not able to take northern Iran and only ruled southern and central Iran, who were mostly Fars populated. And the Zand state fell by the Qajar onslaught, who were again, as mentioned earlier, Azerbaijani Turks themselves.

Neither the Fars nor the Turk of Iran, take pride in the Qajar family, for one reason or another, or maybe just luck. Their rule has been associated with loss of huge territories, and some Iranian pride, to some of the world's powerful empires othe time, more specifically the British and the Russians. Nevertheless the Qajar kept most of Iran together, built Iran's current capital city, Tehran, and just like the Safavid, considered both Fars, Turk, and other Shia citizens as being Iranians (they did discriminate against the Kurds). Both the Safavid and the Qajar protected and cherished Persian (Fars) literature and more often wrote in Farsi rather than in their own language (even the Ottoman Turks usually wrote in Farsi rather than Ottoman Turkish, especially their poetry), simply because they considered Farsi to be more beautiful, in a literary sense, which can hardly be denied.

I have no wish to insult the Iranian Fars (Persians), or to try to diminish their significance or importance, in making the modern Iran, however it is a very well known fact that it was not just the ruling families of Iran but also most of the fighting forces (the army) who were Azerbaijanis. Those folks built the modern Iran and protected it against outsiders.

And the same Azerbaijanis have, for several decades, lost the country they so heavily participated to build to some Nazi-nostalgic Aryan/Persian extremist nationalists! Ever since the non-Azerbaijani (so they considered themselves to be, although they had partial Azerbaijani genes, from their mothers) Pahlavi took over, to this date, Azerbaijanis have become ETHNIC MINORITIES, who don't even have ethnic minority rights. Their existence is more like a nonsense to what is preferred to be an ARYAN/PERSIAN state. They are treated like undesirable, but tolerated (as long as they behave) guests in the country they mostly built.

Well, it is true that they got pretty much, very badly, screwed, and they know and accept it. As they say, shit happens! The post-Pahlavi time has even tried, and mostly succeeded, to erase the true identity of the Azerbaijanis by giving them a new name, Azeris, or Azaris; something that my parents, when heard, thought I was speaking a foreign language. Using Azerbaijani language has been banned, and acknowledging being Azerbaijani, or Azerbaijani Turk, can end you up in prison, tortured or killed.

Many Azerbaijani-rights activists have indeed been killed, hanged, tortured, disappeared and at least intimidated. Little is known about them and most Iranian human-rights activists have ignored the faith of the Azerbaijanis who have been killed by Iranian regimes. Many Azerbaijanis have been forced to flee their country for simply acknowledging their existence and true identity. Iran's so-called ISLAMIC regime has even aided and is still aiding Christian Armenia, while Armenia has occupied 20% of the Republic of Azerbaijan!!

Azerbaijani presence among the Iranian politicians may be presented as extraordinary and significant by giving the example of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, though he does not speak Azerbaijani as his langauge at home, or almost anywhere else (though he can, at least to some degree) and does not consider himself to be Azerbaijani, even if both, or one of, his parents seem to have been originally from Khamene (in Iranian Azerbaijan) who migrated to Khorasan. The fact of the matter is that Azerbaijanis have largely been distanced from Iranian politics in the past 80 years or so and their presence has not been proportionate to their percentage of the population.

And the results have been obvious. Iranian Azerbaijan, for the past decades, has received the least investments and development funds from the Pahlavi, or Islamic, regimes, and as the result Azerbaijanis have largely moved to Tehran and other non-Azerbaijani cities for search of better lives. Almost all Azerbaijani families in Iranian Azerbaijan have at least about 1/4 of their relatives in Tehran, Karaj and other non-Azerbaijani cities.

In Iran's intoxicated and manipulated spheres of talk or even academia, belonging to a nation or group is linked to the ugliest and most disputed word of all, the RACE, while true belonging to a group or nation is about choice, not race, especially when it is a collective identity. After-all Iranians, Turks (Middle-Eastern type, not central Asian type), Europeans, Arabs etc are all Caucasians, scientifically speaking. There is no Aryan RACE, except within the intoxicated minds of post-Pahlavi, still dreaming, nationalist Iranians, and Afghans. And some neo-Nazis, pardon me forgetting! I think they have formed virtual, Internet, clubs where they regularly discuss.

Where is this process going to reach and what is to do with it? The wrongs that have been done to nations within countries, Kurds in Turkey and Iran, Azerbaijani Turks in Iran, and other smaller nations, are burdens on the preferred nations on whose names they are done. Persians in Iran on whose name the Azerbaijanis and others have been pressured and discriminated against are not entirely guilty because the acts have been done by authoritarian regimes, not democratic ones. However there are many extremists out there and the Internet is full of them who for the mere expression of being an Azerbaijani will accuse you of pan-Turkism, Turanism, treachery and so on.

There is indeed a significant proportion of the population of Fars/Persian in Iran who do support Iranian policies of national persecution and discrimination. Maybe they are sincere in their pursuit of what they have been taught at home and school. While pan-Turkism (whatever that may be) is the worst of any possible and imaginable word, pan-Fars-ism (whatever that may be too) is considered sacred and noble! While Turan-ism is the most evil of all evils, Iran-ism is the greatest of the great, especially when it is written Arian-ism.

Playing with words in order to placate and intimidate is nothing new. Those who give these apparently horrifying titles shall read some history, without the usual Persian/Iranian interpretations, and understand that maybe it was the same 'torke khar' (who are indeed 'khar' because they have proved to like giving rides) that saved Iran from the some perceived Turanism or pan-Turkism. Could they imagine their Aryan folks having fought against the Ottoman Turks? There are some Aryan/Persian folks left outside the Iran that Azerbaijanis have mostly built, and they are called Afghans and Tajiks! Their Aryan/Persian glory is exported to the outside world every single day, after having been processed in Pakistan, sometimes labelled as Heroin, other times as Cocaine, Crack and so on. Not that there is anything wrong about being a Fars/Aryan/Persian, but there is no disputing realities.

Iran was not supposed to be a country of the Persian, or the Aryan, nation, because the Persians are just about half of the population, or maybe less, and there is neither an Aryan nation or an Aryan race to build a country upon. But it could be just like any country, a union of peoples or nations, where there is no preferred one, and each nation within the country can decide about their own affairs in case they wish to. Breaking up countries is too costly and not worth any attempt, but discriminatory policies of authoritarian regimes are creating the right atmosphere that over time lead to social discontent that can overflow and cause serious problems at any moment. And the preferred nation, Fars in Iran's case, may be seen as the guilty silent participant of a huge injustice for many generations.

The intention of this article is nothing but to point to a problem that exists, and many people may not be aware of it. The current regime of Iran does not care about human rights whether the human-being is Fars, Turk, Kurd or whoever. So there can be no talk about human rights while there is nothing even distantly similar to human rights in an Iran in which, just like the Middle Ages, individuals are hanged in public so the leaders can be feared.