Assessment for Azerbaijanis in Iran
Azerbaijanis have two risk factors for rebellion: they are geographically concentrated and have suffered recent government repression. However, they do no suffer explicit economic or political discrimination and are well integrated into Iranian society. By most accounts, it appears that Azeris in Iran are content to be a part of the Iranian state.
Nevertheless cultural restrictions on Azeri language use places the group at risk for further protest. There is sentiment for greater Azeri-language rights and limited sentiment for autonomy or independence. Although Azeris are generally well integrated with the Persian majority, discrimination against their language remains a looming risk factor.
A potential pitfall to the relatively stable condition of Azeris in Iran may indeed come from the ideological support they receive from non-governmental organizations and the government of Azerbaijan. Thus, the direction that Iranian-Azerbajaini relations take at the state level will likely have a great impact on the future condition of Iran’s Azeris.
The Azerbaijanis (also known as Azeris) compose about a quarter of Iran’s population, and are the largest minority in Iran. They are Shi’i Muslims by faith (RELIGS1 = 6), and in many respects are similar to the rest of the Iranian population (CUSTOM = 0, BELIEF = 0). Many prominent Iranian Shi’i clerics have been and are Azeris (the Supreme Ayatollah is of Azeri decent). The main factors that differentiate them from the rest of the Iranian population are their Azerbaijani ethnicity, and their native language of Azeri Turkish (LANG = 1). The Azeris live principally in the northwestern Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan and Ardebil, as well as in urban centers such as Tehran (GROUPCON = 2).
The Azeris of Iran have not been historically autonomous, although in 1945-1946, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan declared the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which only lasted for a year and collapsed following a withdrawal of Soviet support. Following a brief revival of Azeri nationalism after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the central authorities severely restricted the publishing of Azeri material, the instruction of Azeri Turkish, and the open organization of Azeri cultural groups—these restrictions remain in place to date (CULPO204-06 = 3). The Azeris participate in the Iranian government at the highest national levels as much as any other group, including ethnic Iranians (LEGISREP=1, EXECREP=1).
Azeri grievances primarily revolve around a desire for greater cultural freedoms, such as teaching and publishing in their own language (CULGR04-06= 1). While the dominant political grievance seems to be a wish for some decentralization of decision-making or limited autonomy, there are demands for independence or incorporation into Azerbaijan (POLGR04-06 = 4). .
Political parties demanding the advancement of Azeri cultural or political claims are banned in Iran, and it is therefore difficult to assess Azeri organizational activities and strength. However, two new organizations were founded in 2002 and 2003, both by the aforementioned dissident Mahmoud Ali Chehregani, who now resides in the U.S. The first organization is the Azerbaijani United Islamic Front, which demands “autonomous zone for Azerbaijanis in Iran”; the other is the Supreme Council of People’s of Iran, which claims to represent all minorities in Iran.
There have been reports of increased protests demanding greater cultural rights for Azeris (PROT00 = 3; PROT01, PROT02 = 1; PROT03 = 2; PROT04 = 5; PROT06 = 3; REB03-05 = 0, REB06 = 1). During summer 2004, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis reportedly protested in Tabriz the continued marginalization of Azeri culture and language. In May 2006, thousands reportedly protested the publication in a state-run newspaper a cartoon depicting Azerbaijanis as cockroaches. Multiple protesters were arrested in both incidents, and several protesters were killed by security forces in 2006 (REPNVIOL04 = 4; REPNVIOL06 = 5).
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