Amnesty International: [Iranian Turks] are leading the struggle for language rights

For years, some of Iran’s ethnic minorities – Arabs, Turks, Baluch, Kurds and Turkmen – have not been permitted to study in their own languages in public schools and universities, where only Persian is allowed, or to establish their own schools. [Turks], Iran’s largest minority, are leading the struggle for the right to educate children in their mother tongue. Many activists have been detained, imprisoned, tortured and harassed by the Iranian government. Here are the stories of Iranian [Turks of Azerbaijan], in their own words.

YASHAR EYNALI, an Iranian Azerbaijani living abroad

“I feel my school education has scarred me for life. I feel spiritually orphaned. This orphanage has everything to do with the loss of my mother tongue. My teacher spoke in Persian during teaching times. [I was unable] to communicate with the teacher and [cried] whenever the teacher talked to me.”

Taken from a communication to Amnesty International, 2011

ABBAS DJAVADI, writer and broadcaster

“In Iran, nobody forbids us from speaking [Azerbaijani Turkic] at home or on the street. Even in the mosques of Azeri-populated Iranian provinces (Eastern and Western Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan), mullahs pray in [Azeribaijani Turkic]. “But Iran’s ethnic [Azerbaijanis] can barely read or write in [Azerbaijani Turkic] because there’s no education in their own mother tongue. “There is not one [Azerbaijani Turkic] school in the whole country, university institute, or a course teaching the language. An [Azerbaijani Turkic]-speaking citizen talks in his native tongue to his family and friends, but writes letters to the same people in Persian because he or she doesn’t know how to write in standard [Azerbaijani Turkic]. “[Aerbaijani Turkic] is gradually becoming socially irrelevant… it has been infiltrated by local and societal dialects and slang and Persian’s overwhelming vocabulary and sentence structure.”

Taken from Restricting_Irans_Second_Mother_Tongue/ 1497983.html

HABIB AZARSINA, journalist

“For Persian-speaking children, learning was much easier than for Azerbaijani children, who back then heard Persian for the first time in the classroom. “Ditching school was routine [for Azerbaijani children]. Parents would bring their kids back in tears. Failing school was the norm. Many kids, and their parents for that matter, would give up at the end of the sixth year. Graduating from elementary school was considered an accomplishment.”

Taken from anian-Azerbaijan.html

SALEH KAMRANI, lawyer and former prisoner of conscience. He was detained in 2006 and 2007 for his human rights work. A refugee, he now lives in exile.

“My family are summoned to the Intelligence Department every year before theBabak Castle gathering [A day at the beginning of July when Azerbaijanis gather at the castle of Babak Khorramdin, an Azerbaijani hero]. They arrest either me or one of my brothers. Recently when my brothers were arrested, the Ahar prosecutor threatened me with decades of imprisonment and then they kidnapped me. Our telephone conversations, correspondence and contacts are under surveillance.”

From a letter to Amnesty International, 2006

MOSTAFA EVEZPOOR, human rights defender, was arrested with his brothers in 2006 after calling for a boycott of the first day the new academic year and advocating the right of Iranian Azerbaijani children to be educated in their own language. He was released in October 2006.

“Most of the ordeal took place in the detention facilities of the Ministry of Information, including tormenting us both physically and mentally, as well as beating us up, [and] where I also resorted to hunger strike.

“Both me and my youngest brother were detained for 22 days and [our] middle [brother] for six days, but there was no permission for meeting with our parents. We were beaten for four days.”

“They have not proven any charge against us. They were just telling us that ‘you wanted to take part in the protest for your mother tongue’.” Taken from an interview with Voice of America Azerbaijani Service, 18 October 2006

FAKHTEH ZAMANI, founder Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran.

“This kid of a friend of ours – he saved up his allowance, gave it to the teacher and said: ‘This is like 20 words of Azerbaijani ... and I’m paying you [the fines] in advance so I can speak it.’”


“When I see that millions of children belonging to Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Baluchi, Turkmen, Arab, Lur, Bakhtyari, Gilani and other communities have schools in their own languages, that will be a good sign towards the creation of an Iran without racism.”

Taken from profile-dr-alireza-asgharzadeh.html

NASRIN BABAEI, wife of activist Oxtay (Mehdi) Babaei Ajabshir. In 2006, Oxtay was sentenced to six months in prison for his activism. He was released in March 2007.

“The accusations against my husband are: publicity against the regime, being an element of the unrest, undermining the peace and security in the country, and communicating with foreign separatists outside the country. My question is this: is it a crime to campaign to educate our children in our mother tongue, Azerbaijani Turkic? If it is, why do the authorities avoid trying my husband? And to whom should I refer regarding my sufferings? I keep receiving threatening calls from security agents… ordering me not to talk to anyone. Else, I would be arrested.” Nasrin Babaei’s letter was published online in 2006. The Iranian authorities have since blocked access to the websites it appeared on.


People belonging to minorities have the right to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without discrimination. They have the right to establish and run schools that provide education in their own language, as long as these schools comply with the minimum educational standards decided on by the state.

The state has to act to ensure that people belonging to minorities have adequate opportunities to study in their mother tongue. Schools should allow students the opportunity to learn their language and provide necessary materials and teachers. Iranian Azerbaijanis make up 25-30 per cent of the total population of about 70 million; they live mainly in the north and northwest of the country and inTehran.

Sign and send the postcard in our insert calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Sa’id Metinpour, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for peacefully campaigning for the rights of the Azerbaijani community in Iran.