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For over a thousand years, Turkic tribes have lived in what today is Iran. The Seljuk Turkish Empire also used to control areas of Iran. Ertugal Bey, the son of Suleyman Shah, the leader of the Turkic Kayi tribe and the father of Osman I, a predecessor of the Ottoman Turks, are recorded in the history books as ruling not just Sogut along the Byzantine frontier but also some areas of Iran. In 15th century, Azerbaijani Turkic dynasties like Garagoyunlu and Aggoyunlu ruled Iran. Up until 1925, the Azerbaijani Turkic dynasties such as Karakoyunlu, Akkoyunlu, Safavids, Afshars and Qajars actually controlled Iran.
In 1501, the Safavid Empire of Azerbaijani Turks took over the country. Although they were in competition with the Ottoman Turkish Empire, as they were Shia and the Ottomans were Sunni, Ismayil, the founder of the dynasty, was from Ardabil city of Azerbaijan and the Safavids continued to play a dominant role in the country, even after their reign ended. Isa Habibbayli, the President of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan, claimed that Iran was essentially a Turkic state, noting that not just the Seljuks and Safavids, but also the Khorezmshahs, Ghaznavids, Atabeks, Aggoyunlu, Garagoyunli, Timurids, Afshars and Qajars all were Turks.
According to him, “Persian chauvinists seized power only in the twentieth century in Iran. But for centuries, the language of communication in Iran was not Persian, as the current regime in Tehran claims, but Azeri Turkic. And now in Tehran, Mashhad, and other large cities, representatives of different nationalities speak the Azerbaijani language, even though the Azerbaijani language is being deliberately ousted in Iran.”
Habbibayli claimed that Azerbaijani is the language of the people in Iran, while Persian is the language of the elite: “Nevertheless, as the leader of Azerbaijanis across the world, President Ilham Aliyev rightly said that the Azerbaijani language remains only at the level of everyday life because it is not taught in schools in Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which opens schools, radios and churches and publishes newspapers for small Armenian communities, must recognize the right of many millions of Azerbaijanis to receive an education in their mother tongue.”
According to him, “Depriving more than 35 million Azerbaijanis living in Iran of the right to study in their native language is unacceptable and completely contrary to human rights and humanity in general. The rights of South Azerbaijanis must be restored. They must be provided with all of the freedoms in which they are entitled.”
In 2011, Former Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi proclaimed: ““We speak almost the same language. Forty percent of Iranians speak Turkish. This is a big link between Turkey and Iran.” However, the connection between the Turkic peoples and Iran used to be stronger. According to Iran: A Report on the Human Rights Situation of Azerbaijani Turks, “After the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty to power in Iran in 1925, the government pursued forced assimilation policies. This led to a decline of Azerbaijani influence in the country’s government and politics significantly. The Islamic regime, just as the previous monarchy in Iran, has downplayed and willfully ignored the differences between Persians and Azerbaijanis. The Islamic regime did not hesitate to crack down on the Azerbaijani Turk protestors throughout its history, using heavy weapons to crush uprisings such as the protests in Tabriz in 1981 that led to the murder of hundreds of Azerbaijanis.”
And in the wake of the Iran protests, the Azerbaijani community has also suffered significant losses. According to Sina Yousefi, the vice-chairman of the Human Rights Commission of the Azerbaijani Lawyers Association, the number of detainees only in Tabriz were more than 1700 protestors in the first two weeks of the protests alone: “This number would be significantly higher if it included all of the Azerbaijani cities. It is challenging to collect data regarding the true estimate of the people arrested since the government shuts down the internet and threatens the victims’ families from coming forward.”
The Azerbaijani community had good reason for joining the Iran protest movement. According to the report, “Iran’s constitution upholds discrimination and apartheid against women and ethnic minorities, notably Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds, and Turkmen Turks. Women and minority groups have been denied fundamental human rights. Non-Persians are not permitted to be educated in their native languages. In addition, women are unable to choose their own clothing as they are required to wear the hijab regardless of their religion.”
“The weight of discrimination on women’s marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other parts of their lives are widespread and often the very reason why women are oppressed,” the report added. “Women from minorities, besides gender discrimination, also suffer other forms of inequalities, including ethnic discrimination. It makes their social status inferior to the status of Persian women in the Iranian society. For example, discriminatory economic policies against non-Persian ethnicities leads to educational, economic, and social deprivation amongst minority women.”
And today, Azerbaijan has good reason to support the struggle of Azerbaijanis living in Iran to obtain freedom. Sabir Rustamkhanli, a member of the Azerbaijani Parliament, proclaimed: “The President of Azerbaijan previously voiced his opinion about the rights of Azerbaijanis living in different countries of the world to read in their mother tongue. He returned to this issue for the second time at the international conference held at ADA University. This is actually a response to the steps taken by Iran over the past 30 years. The president expresses his opinion in this way, expecting diplomatic ethics. However, for 30 years, Iran has helped our enemies, participated in the destruction of Karabakh, laying ruins, and looting our villages. Moreover, he trampled on the rights of about 40 million southern compatriots and gave way to the enemy over their lands.”
The time has come for there to be a free and independent South Azerbaijan once again. The time has come for all South Azerbaijanis to obtain the right to speak, work and study in their mother tongue. The time has come for there once again to be a national South Azerbaijan government, which will break away from the mullahs in Tehran and restore the glorious Turkic legacy to what used to be Turkic controlled lands since antiquity.