Photo Credit: Adam Jones
An elderly Azeri woman in Tabriz, Iranian Azerbaijan

Azerbaijanis are protesting the Iranian regime’s repression of the Azerbaijani language. Although Azerbaijanis play a pivotal role in Iranian society, a vast majority of them cannot read or write in their mother tongue, since this is banned under the mullah’s regime.

According to the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, “there is not one Azeri-Turkish school in the whole country, no university, no institute, not even a course teaching the language. An Azeri-speaking citizen talks in his native tongue to his family and friends, but writes them letters in Persian because he or she doesn’t know how to write in standard Azeri Turkish, so Azeri Turkish is gradually becoming socially irrelevant. Practically banned from official written form, it has been infiltrated by local and societal dialects and slang and subjected to Persian’s overwhelming vocabulary and sentence structure.”


The UNPO claims that “a group of prominent writers was arrested simply for publishing and promoting works in the Azeri language. Shahnaz Gholami, a prominent blogger and human rights activist, was imprisoned because she had been demanding the right to education in Azeri Turkish. She was charged with ‘acting against the national security of the Islamic Republic and its territorial integrity.’”

Iran Wire reported that judicial officials closed an Azerbaijani dance school in Khoy after young students participated in the shooting of a video clip in the Azeri language. For this reason, many Azerbaijanis have gone out to the streets to protest. It should be noted that South Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1945, only to be brutally repressed by the Persians one year later.

According to MEMRI, “Azeri Turks, who are predominantly Shiite, are the second-largest ethnic group in Iran. They form a majority in Azerbaijan province in Northwestern Iran.”

The South Azerbaijanis are up in arms. As a group of Azerbaijani writers, journalists, and political activists stated after a solidarity rally with the Iranian Revolution 2022 was held in Berlin: “We, as a part of the community of Azerbaijanis living in Europe, consider the Berlin protest rally to be a symbol of a fresh start for a democratic and egalitarian Iran and a stage for dialogue between all ethnicities, genders and multiple classes of Iranian society. Farsi, Kurds, Arabs, Balochis, Turkmen, Lor, Gilaki, and Mazani are standing side by side in the first line of the fight against oppression, discrimination, and inequality, and this time they will die until the complete restoration of freedom and equality.”

Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev declared recently: “There are many more Azerbaijanis living outside Azerbaijan than in the country itself. Of course, their security, rights, and well-being are of the utmost importance to us. We will continue to do everything to help the Azerbaijanis who have found themselves cut off from our country, to assist them in their development so that they preserve the Azerbaijani language, traditions, and culture, remain true to the principles of Azerbaijanism, and never cut off ties with their historical homeland.”


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Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of "Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media."