The great protest movement which arose after the elections for the tenth cycle of the presidency have been going on for two weeks in which Tabriz has been the greatest absence in these protests. Of course, it is not only the Azerbaijani Turks, but the Kurds, the Arabs, the Baluch, and the Turkmans, too, were absent from these protests. Now that a bit of the turmoil of the days after the elections has subsided, it is appropriate to however briefly analyze the reasons for this lack of a presence of non-Persian nations in the movement of protest against the Islamic government. Click here to see the rest of the article.
Someone who has a little knowledge about Iranian contemporary history knows well that during the past hundred years, Azerbaijan in general and Tabriz in particular has always been at the center of struggles for democracy, class justice, and freedom. The Constitutional Revolution,1 although it later deviated from its essential course, won due to the manly firmness of the people of Tabriz, led by the Secret Society and Sattar Khan and Baqer Khan.2 In the course of the Islamic Revolution, too, the uprising of 29 Bahman in Tabriz3 was the biggest blow to the body of the Persian-centric Pahlavi regime. The Turks of Azerbaijan had a decisive presence in the leadership cadre of anti-regime groups and organizations. Ayatollah Shariatmadari was most beloved in Azerbaijan as an Azerbaijanist and anti-velayat-e faqih4 clergyman.
The Role of Azerbaijan in the Revolutions
Although Azerbaijan had the greatest participation in the revolutions of the past century, it obtained no benefit from them. Azerbaijan, whether under the Pahlavis or under the Islamic Republic (both reformists and conservatives), suffered double oppression. Its economy and industry were weakened and its cultural and linguistic manifestations was ridiculed, humiliated, and discriminated against. Most of the humiliating jokes and films were made against Azerbaijanis. The capital invested in Kerman in the course of the period of reconstruction [after the revolution] was three hundred times as great as that invested in the provinces in which Turks reside. Azerbaijan’s share in these revolutions’ fruits has been backwardness, humiliation, discrimination, prison, and death. Because it has not been recognized, the Turkish language, which is spoken by nearly a majority of the Iranian people, is on the way to oblivion.
The Role of Persian Politicians and Intellectuals on the National Question
Unfortunately, despite the Constitution’s explicit support, Persian politicians and intellectuals do not consider Iran to be a multinational country, but composed of ethnic groups and subcultures. Despite the widespread protests of the Azerbaijani nation in Khordad 1385 = June 20065 and the perspective which is enshrined by the slogan, “Haray, haray, I’m a Turk!”, the Persian politicians and intellectuals are trying to cut this nation from its national and linguistic Turkish character by calling them “Azeri”. The Persian politicians and intellectuals have always tried to deal with the national question through censorship and dismissal.
The Appearance of a Conspiracy against Non-Persian Nationalities
The government and political organizations in the government and out have always cast a suspicious eye on the non-Persian nationalities’ demands and have never had been able to look at these demands democratically. Although the right of nations to self-determination is a democratic and recognized right all over the world, the posing of this right by non-Persians is considered to be tantamount to secessionism and in one unethical move, have drawn up ranks against nationalist movements. The use of one’s mother tongue is a definite human right. Yet the demand for the recognition of non-Persian languages in Iran, particularly Turkish, is considered to be tantamount to separatism. This has resulted in Persophone and centralist intellectuals, while censoring the news about human rights in the non-Persian regions, expressing their satisfaction with the arrest and torture of Turks and [other] non-Persians who are defending their national character.
The Censorship of Azerbaijan and the Rest of the Non-Persian Nations
Over the past few years, several large protests by the Turks and other non-Persian nationalities have taken place among the Arabs, the Baluch, and the Turkmans against the discriminatory and humiliating regime. These were met with suspicion by the intellectuals and the governmental and non-governmental reformist organizations and were heavily censored. The general uprisings of Khordad 1385 (June 2006) which erupted in Tabriz and twenty five [other] cities of Azerbaijan against the linguistically and racially discriminatory policies of the Ahmadinejad government were strongly censored or treated unkindly. While dozens were killed and hundreds were wounded and thousands were hustled off to prison, the reporters and news sites for the most part were silent in the face of this. Not a single intellectual or political current took a stand against the regime’s violence. Not even a single meeting of a hundred people took place anywhere [else] in Iran. Not a single reformist site published news about the events in Azerbaijan. The protest meeting of a million at Babak’s Castle6 was boycotted and distorted. The voice of thousands of Turks who defend their identity went unheard. Students who defend their Azerbaijani character were subject to the severest torture in solitary confinement. In Tehran, in one iftar party alone, over twenty Azerbaijani intellectuals were arrested and hundreds were arrested in demonstrations in World Mother-Tongue Day,7 and not a single Persian and centralist intellectual took a stand in favor of this civil movement of Azerbaijan and against the repressive regime. Articles by Azerbaijani intellectuals were censored and, with the exception of one or two leftist sites, no reformist site published them.
Silence is a Sign of Mistrust
For those who have neither eyes to see nor ears to hear, one cannot explain Tabriz’s silence. Tabriz’s silence is a sign of a lack of trust in the reformist and democratic currents in Tehran. Tabriz’s silence is a firm answer to the reporters like those of the BBC who always pursue an anti-Turkish policy in their programs. Tabriz’s silence is a protest against the censorship of Azerbaijan and the ignoring of its just demands. The time of blind support to ambiguous nation-wide centralizing movements is over in Azerbaijan. Some have thought that since Musavi is a Turk, Tabriz would surely be in the front line of the protests. But Tabriz’s silence confirmed its maturity. This silence showed that being a Turk was not enough to win support. Tabriz’s silence was a sign of distrust in the Laughing Sayyed [Khatami] and his supporters who, making anti-Turk jokes, tried to destroy Azerbaijan. This silence will continue as long as this silence does not change the orientation of the reformists and the opposition groups within the government and without.
Is There a Solution?
The only way to deal with the Azerbaijani nation’s lack of trust in Tehran is for the opposition to recognize Azerbaijan’s national rights. Two fundamental and democratic rights of the nation of Azerbaijan, i.e, the right to self-determination and the recognition of the Turkish language, must be recognized. These are two basic rights, without which democracy would have neither meaning nor significance in Iran. Recognizing these two rights does not mean recognizing secessionism or the liquidation of Iran. Perspectives which breed ambiguity must come to an end. The nation of Azerbaijan wants true freedom and democracy in Iran. A democracy in which the national and linguistic rights of all the nations in it are recognized and respected. Non-Persian nationalist organizations must be able to have part of the representation of the nation of Azerbaijan, which has been determined to win these rights. It is not true that every party must necessarily exist in Tehran and act in the interests of Tehran. Iran is not only Tehran. It is if the demands of the nation of Azerbaijan and other non-Persian nations are supported that the great flood of the non-Persian nations will be loosed, and the dynasty of the dictatorial system ruling Iran will be uprooted. Otherwise, even the pleadings of people like Hasan Shariatmadari8 on the Voice of America will solve nothing. Without Tabriz, democracy will find no place in Iran, and without Tabriz, no movement will succeed in Iran.
1 The struggle for a constitutional monarchy which broke out in late 1905 and effectively came to an end in 1911.
2 The author meant the Secret Center, which was a group of constitutionalists in Tabriz influenced by revolutionaries from Baku, which, according to some, was the guiding force behind the constitutional movement in Tabriz. Sattar Khan and Baqer Khan were leaders of the militias which defended Tabriz for eleven months while the city was besieged by the anti-constitutionalist forces. The author uses their titles, both of which mean “Captain of the People”.
3 The February 18, 1978 uprising sparked by an insult to Khomeini published in an Iranian daily.
4 The doctrine that the ultimate ruler of the country is the properly-qualified religious scholar. See this article from Wikipedia, for example.
5 The first massive demonstrations by Azerbaijani Turkish groups.
6 Commemorating the uprising of Babak Khorramdin against the early Islamic conquerors. Since this uprising occurred in what is now Iranian Azerbaijan, he has been adopted by Azerbaijani nationalists as a hero to their cause. ُThese demonstrations started in July 4 and 5, 1999. By 2006, the central government looked at them with some alarm and mobilized basijis, Revolutionary Guards, and plainclothesmen to try to break up the rally. The figure of a million is a plain exaggeration. For a Persian-language summary, see this link.
7 Taking off on a UN-sponsored declaration, Azerbaijani nationalists held rallies.
8 The son of the late Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmatdari. He has some interest in Azerbaijani politics, but sees his role as participating in the politics of Iran at large.