Letter to President Khatami of Iran

The following letter in defense of the Turkish language was written on May 5, 1998 and sent to President Khatami of the Islamic Republic of Iran after being signed by 54 Azerbaijani intellectuals living in Iran. Note that the population of Azerbaijanis living there is estimated at 25 to 30 million people or almost half of the entire population in Iran or, at least three times the population of the Republic of Azerbaijan. In Iran, the Azerbaijani language is called "Azerbaijani-Turki" or simply "Turki."

Letter to President Khatami of Iran

Turki language and literature is a major part of the culture of this land, and it deserves to be protected like any other cultural heritage of this country. Nor is this language, like Persian, confined to the borders of Iran. It has spread to various regions of the world and is used both in oral and written discourse as the language of those lands. 

As is known, Islam was spread throughout the world via three major languages-Arabic, Persian and Turkish. That is why Turkish is one of the languages of Islam. The Azerbaijani-Turki language spoken by the majority of Turkic Iranians is substantially the same as the Azeri used in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Essentially these lands were part of Iran until the Gajar period, when they became separated due to the unlawful treaties of Golestan and Turkmenchai [1813 and 1828] when the Northern part [now Republic of Azerbaijan] became part of the Russian Empire. 

All Azerbaijanis view the Persian language as the cultural bridge that connects them to all other Iranians. Azerbaijanis have been the creators of several literary masterpieces in the Persian language throughout history. An Azerbaijani style has even been identified in Persian literature.

However, one of the vestiges of the era of the Pahlavi Dynasty is the cultural prejudice related to the use of the Turki language in Iran. It is the reason for the present-day indifference by officials to one of the most integral parts of the culture of our country. Outside Iran's borders, thousands of books are published in the Azerbaijani language. 

Despite the fact that this language is taught in so many countries, unfortunately, in Iran, it is not taught in a single educational center. For example, at the University of Tabriz, in addition to Persian, degrees and courses are offered in Arabic, English, French, German, Russian, Kurdish and even Esperanto but not a single course exists in the native language of the people of this city.

At the same time, other religious minorities, such as the Armenian community, have programs in two universities-Isfahan and Tehran-where the Armenian language and literature are taught. In addition, their children are allowed to study in Armenian schools in their own language.

Furthermore, community discourse is generally conducted in a language other than our mother tongue. Our media (radio, television, and press), our commercial signs, wedding and funeral announcements and even our grave markers are in a language other than our mother tongue. And if, on occasion, something is expressed in Turki on the local radio or television, invariably the style is incorrect and incomprehensible as it is written by people who, though well-intentioned, are not specialists in the Turki language. 

Consequently, these programs are becoming more and more a humiliation to our people as they are destroying the grammatical structure of our language. In summary, our language is more properly spoken on foreign radio stations than on our own. It is a fact that Iran is the only country in the world where the mother tongue of millions of people is neglected. 

Mr. President, some would suggest that Azerbaijanis themselves are indifferent to their own language and that some of them instruct their children only in Persian. This may be true for a few, who, for example, like some Persians, encourage their children to excel in English more than their own language. Nevertheless, the preservation of the Turki language has been encouraged tremendously by the attention and affection of the majority of Azerbaijanis, its intellectuals and its honorable clergy. All over Azerbaijani and other Turkic regions of our country, the clergy address their followers and lead the ceremonial prayers in Turki. Turki is one of the oldest languages in the world and has ancient roots in Iran.

In conclusion, we apologize for our long letter, but we ask our honorable brother to consider our concerns and use his authority to eliminate the unfair and non-Islamic cultural discrimination and to follow justice in ruling about this matter. Without a doubt, neglecting our people's language and literature is against the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran (Article 15) which addresses the issue of ethnic languages. We trust that with your official help and consideration, the legitimate requests below will be achieved:

(1) The official endorsement of an obligatory educational program of Turki in all schools and high schools in regions where there is a Turki-speaking population. This should be carried out in parallel with the Persian language;
(2) The production and airing of radio and television programs conducted in Turki by people who are specialists in the language. Again, this should be carried out in parallel with Persian language programs;
(3) The establishment of Departments of Turki Language and Literature in universities;
(4) The encouragement to develop Turki literature for children via the Center for the Development of Children and Youth.


Signed by 54 of the leading Azerbaijani intellectuals in Iran, including: 
Dr. Mohammad Taghi Zehtabi, Dr. Javad Heyat (1)
Dr. Gadi Golkariyan, Professor Hamid Mohammadzadeh
Karim Mashrootehchi, Manoochehr Azizi, Behzad Behzadi (2) Mohammad Farzaneh, Samad Sardornia, Nooshin R. Moosavi

(1) Dr. Javad Heyat is a surgeon who has edited and published the "Varlig" journal for nearly 20 years. This publication, which is in Turki (Arabic script), concentrates on Azerbaijani-related topics;

(2) Dr. Behzad Behzadi is an attorney at law who compiled and edited the first extensive Azerbaijani-Persian Dictionary (Arabic script), 1,144 pages, Tehran, 1990.