UN rapporteur points to serious rights abuses of Azeris in Iran

BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Apr 17, 2002

Geneva, 16 April: Maurice Copithorne, a special representative of the UN Commission on Human Rights, pointed to instances of serious human right abuses of Iran's Azerbaijani population in his speech at the 58th session of the commission. Mr Copithorne said the human rights situation in Iran had remained difficult for a long time and did not seem to be improving.

In present-day Iran, a struggle is under way between the "elected and unelected authorities", he said. According to him, Iran's ruling elite continues persecuting whoever it considers to be enemies of the state and religion. Numerous security services have made a point of abducting the discontented, casting them behind bars and subjecting them to torture. Particularly deplorable is the plight of students and journalists who advocate reform in Iranian society.

Reports are arriving on the execution of representatives of ethnic minorities. Besides, the authorities are banning the use of the Azeri language in newspapers in Azerbaijani-populated provinces.

The special report Mr Copithorne has forwarded to the session participants says that Azerbaijanis are Iran's "biggest ethnic group" and may number around 30m people. They have lived predominantly in the north of Iran and on the Iranian plateau for millennia and inhabited the place long before the appearance of Persian tribes, the report says.

There is evidence that the Azerbaijani language is ignored and attempts are made towards assimilation of Azerbaijani culture in Iran. The Azerbaijani population is asking the authorities to organize education not only in Persian but also in Azeri in the provinces largely populated by Azerbaijanis. At the same time, Azerbaijanis are raising the question of organizing television and radio broadcasts in the Azeri language and Azeri-language education at Tabriz University.

The most active advocates for the rights of Azerbaijanis are persecuted by the Iranian authorities. The most conspicuous example is the professor of Tabriz University, Mahmudali Cohraqani.

Today, representatives of Iran's Azerbaijani intelligentsia are accusing the central authorities of persecuting those struggling for cultural rights, changing Azeri geographical names, prohibiting the registration of children with Azeri names, propagandizing the fact that Azerbaijanis are ethnic Persians who have changed their language under pressure from Turkic nomads.

Source: Turan news agency, Baku, in Russian 1130 gmt 16 Apr 02