One such group, the Azerbaijan National Resistance Organization (ANRO), says it is in agreement with other groups over the right to self-determination by Iran’s estimated 22 million Azeri minority. Photo: UNPO.org
WASHINGTON DC – Turkish-speaking Azeris in Persian Iran face severe discrimination and deprivation of language and cultural rights, fuelling calls for an independent homeland, according to political groups struggling for greater Azeri rights.
One such group, the Azerbaijan National Resistance Organization (ANRO), says it is in agreement with other groups over the right to self-determination by Iran’s estimated 22 million Azeri minority.
“In general, none of the political parties have a dispute over the original purpose of the movement, which is to protect the territorial integrity of south (Iranian) Azerbaijan and enjoy self-determination for south Azerbaijanis” said Babek Chalabiyanli, the organization’s spokesman in Washington DC.
He said the group is engaged in a “civil and non-violent struggle,” whose primary purpose is the “protection of Azerbaijan's historical territorial integrity and gaining the right of national self-determination.”
Azerbaijani Turks in Iran are denied the right to education in their native language and their region suffers from poverty and unemployment, while natural resources from the region are “looted” by the Iranian government, Chalabiyanli claimed.
Activists complain that Iranian Azeris – like Kurds and other ethnic minorities – do not have the freedom to use their ethnic names for children and businesses, and that their regions are overlooked when it comes to government investment.
Chalabiyanli said that the United States and other countries – such as Turkey and Azerbaijan -- have so far failed to stand up for the rights of Iranian Azeris, who have been alone in standing up to a decades-long process of “Persianization” by the Iranian government.
Karim Asghari, ANRO’s foreign relations officer, complained that both Turkey and Azerbaijan had failed to support Iranian Azeris, despite a shared language and culture, because of their own internal issues.
“It’s hard for Turkish-dominated countries like the Republic of Azerbaijan and Turkey to support the cause and grievances of south Azerbaijan,” he said, adding that Russia also was opposed to the cessation of Iranian Azerbaijan because of its own national interests.
“Recent nationalist movements of Azerbaijan are rather new, and their pace picked up after the fall of the Soviet Union,” Asghari said. He said the movement is aiming for complete independence from Iran.
He lamented that the Western media did not cover the suffering of Azeris in Iran. “One of the reasons is Iran itself, as it’s a closed country and hardly relevant news about Azerbaijan attracts attention in the West.”
“An independent Azerbaijan ceding from Iran will change the entire political landscape and calculations of the region that may not be in the interest of powers like the United States,” Asghari said.
Mahboub Amrahy, member of the South Azerbaijan National Liberation Front (GAMAC) and Ankara Representative US-based GUNAZ TV, said that the Iranian government severely discriminates against all ethnic minorities.
“The Iranian regime is a fascist regime because Turks, Kurds or Arabs cannot enter the (political) system with their identities, but a Persian is not only entitled to every right but can even claim to be a nationalist,” he told Rudaw.
Iran’s ethnic Azeris mainly inhabit the country’s northwestern provinces which border Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iraq.