Photo via Flickr, "Urmia Phone Center" by Siavash Laghai.
A Group of Azeri Activists and Intellectuals Address the Green Movement
Translator's Note: During the past few months, several online articles in Persian have attempted to analyze the participation, or lack thereof, by Iran's Azeris in the Green Movement. Some have criticized the Azeri desire for autonomy as "pan-Turkist." Others have criticized the leaders of the Green Movement for not working to safeguard the Azeris' cultural and linguistic heritage. Some who are critical of the Azeris' pursuit of autonomy point out that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, leading reformist opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi, and many other prominent Iranian politicians, theologians, and secular intellectuals over the past century have been Azeris. A large portion of Iran's Azeri population of approximately 15 million, however, do not believe that their right to preserve their culture and mother tongue have been honored by Iran's current leaders. On April 2, 2010, a gathering of 10,000 Azeris near Lake Urmia, located between the provinces of West Azerbaijan and East Azerbaijan, protested the government's lack of attention to the drying out of the lake. The protesters also demanded the preservation of Azerbaijan's cultural heritage. More than 100 were arrested. Earlier, on February 21, a group of Azeri activists and intellectuals chose International Mother Language Day to issue a statement that addressed the Green Movement. Below is the full statement without the names of the signatories. My glosses are interpolated in square brackets. -- Frieda Afary
Our Standards Concerning the Democracy-Seeking Process and the Green Movement
February 21, 2010
Eight months have passed since the start of the anti-dictatorial movement in Iran. This movement, which began by protesting the results of the presidential election, now promises fundamental changes in our society's political life by giving voice to demands for democracy and freedom...
Although this new, rising movement has been able to take advantage of means such as the Internet and satellites...to introduce itself to the world at large, it has not been able to establish itself as a nationwide movement inside Iran. Thus, so far, the burden of this movement has fallen on the backs of the urban middle class in Central Iran. Its geographical scope has been limited to Tehran and, at most, several other cities. The meaningful silence of Azerbaijan (which is famed for being the vanguard in important political developments in modern Iranian history) is a clear example of this.
The following has to be pointed out: The low level of national consciousness and the superficial understanding of the concepts of freedom and democracy among activists in prior nationwide movements made it possible to create a simple unity of the people. This time, however, the intensification of discriminatory policies, the effects of ethnic oppression on the economic face of Azerbaijan, and the passage of two decades since the new national democratic movement of Azerbaijan have greatly increased the level of consciousness. So much so that any coordination or new unity is conditionally based upon the satisfaction of the minimum demands of the people of Azerbaijan and the preservation of and respect for their independent national actions.
During the past few months, we have seen statements from leaders, intellectuals, and political organizations in defense of the [Green] Movement. All of these statements share the call for democracy, human rights, secularism, free elections, free speech, a free press, free flow of information, and nonviolence...
However, we cannot speak of democracy without specifying its form in Iran's multiethnic society. We cannot speak of free speech while we remain silent about the freedom to speak one's language (which is the prerequisite for any freedom of speech), or while we occasionally make use of a literature promoting ancient [Persia] and totalitarianism, a literature rooted in tendencies opposed to human rights and democracy. [The above] constitute some of the defects and contradictions that will ultimately lead to a rash government and limit the benefits of a temporary democracy to Central Iran.
Therefore, while we welcome this valuable movement toward democracy, we the undersigned declare that in our opinion, the political future of the country will have a proper basis for growth and sustainable development if the following principles and issues are enforced and safeguarded. If the leaders of organizations and parties that support democracy pay attention to the following standards, we have no doubt that the basis for greater coordination and harmony among the people can be created.
1. Amending or rewriting the constitution based on the recognition of the collective and individual rights of the Turks and other nationalities.
2. Guaranteeing the sustainability of democracy in Azerbaijan and other national entities through the formation and defense of state legislatures, civil society institutions, workers' unions, a free press, and state-based parties.
3. Recognizing the Turkish language through the use of the mother tongue as the language of instruction at schools and universities, and the dedication of a nationwide radio and television network to this language...
4. Guaranteeing equal rights to women in all arenas, and recognizing independent women's organizations in Azerbaijan and other national entities.
5. Condemning all expressions of inhumane violence, whether contempt, discrimination, or torture (physical or emotional). Abolishing prison sentences for dissidents, participants in civil society, and political activists and promoters of all creeds.* Categorically abolishing the death penalty.
6. Safeguarding the participation of Iranian nationalities in the central government, commensurate with their population size.
7. Cultural detoxification via the correction of textbooks and programs on the Voice and Face of Iran [Iran's radio and television network] that currently promote the superiority of a particular ethnic group and religion over others.
8. Recognition of freedom of thought and religion. Safeguarding equal rights for religious minorities and recognizing their independent organizations in the national entities.
9. Amending all laws that are contrary to the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its conventions, and supplements.
10. Decentralization and the abolition of all symbols of discrimination. The creation of equal economic, social, cultural, and political conditions through allowing the people of Azerbaijan and other national entities to manage their own affairs.
*Based on Daryoush Ashouri's suggestion, I have translated fa'alin-e aqidati as "promoters of all creeds."
Frieda Afary runs the blog Iranian Progressives in Translation.