Azeris Modern Identity

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Anatomy of Iranian Racism

The Anatomy of Iranian Racism: Reflections on the Root Causes of South Azerbaijan’s Resistance Movement

Dr Alireza Asgharzadeh

In recent days many Azeri towns and cities in Iran have, once again, become the revolutionary scene of anti-racist and anti-colonial struggle against Iran’s racist and colonial order. The current movement of South Azerbaijan must be situated right at the heart of issues of racial/ethnic oppression and internal colonialism in an Iranian context. By avoiding any mention of the terms ‘racism’ and ‘internal colonialism,’ the dominant Persian discourse has provided a completely upside-down picture of social and ethnic inequality in the country, masterfully managing to deceive the international media and progressive anti-racist forces throughout the world. The fact of the matter is that without taking note of ‘racism’ and ‘colonialism’ as important social facts that do exist in Iranian society, it would be impossible to provide a comprehensive analysis regarding the current Azeri movement, along with other similar movements in Kurdistan, Khuzistan, Baluchistan, Turkman-Sahra, and other regions of the country.

Ethnic pluralism, difference and diversity have always been a defining characteristic of what is today called ‘Iran.’ Peoples of various ethnic origins, such as the ancestors of contemporary Azeri-Turks, Kurds, Baluchs, Turkomans, Arabs, Lurs, Gilaks, Mazandaranis and others have lived in Iran for centuries. The history of civilization in what is known today as Iran goes back over six-thousand years. The available archaeological/linguistic record indicates that from the very beginning the region was characterized with extreme ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity. No single ethnic group has ever constituted a definite numerical majority in the country, although the Azeri-Turks now have a relatively slight majority with a population of over 30 million.

Up until 1925, the country had been run in accordance with what one may call a traditional confederative system within which all ethnic groups enjoyed the freedom to use and develop their languages, customs, cultures, and identities. With the beginning of the Pahlavi regime in 1925, the natural trend of ethnic and linguistic plurality was abruptly stopped, and a process of monoculturalism and monolingualism started, which continues to date. The aim of this chauvinistic process has been to present the language, history, culture, and identity of the Persian minority as the only authentic language, history, culture, and identity of all Iranians.

For over 80 years, the role of the central government in Iran has been one of denying and dismissing ethnic and linguistic diversity in the country. Just as the Pahlavi regime focused on annihilation of cultural, linguistic, and ethnic differences in the country, so too the current Islamic Republic has continued with the politics of assimilation, exclusion, and racism. Under the current establishment, gender-based and religion-based oppressions have also been added to a host of exclusionary and racist practices left over from the previous regime. The racist politics of the governing apparatuses have always been accompanied by ideological and discursive support of the majority of Persian writers, intellectuals and thinkers who, due to their belonging to the dominant group, have enjoyed the privileges of monolingualism, monoculturalism, and racism in the country. To this group must be added the assimilated segment of non-Persian writers and intellectuals whose passionate support for Persian racism has even surprised the Persians themselves. In fact, such individuals of Turkic origin as Mahmood Afshar, Iraj Afshar, Ahmad Kasravi and others have been among the founding fathers of this ugly racist system.

The governing apparatuses, the dominant elite, and the farstoxicated intelligentsia have come together and sustained the structural bases of one of the most racist systems in the contemporary world. This naked racism which feeds on outdated and discredited Arayanist paradigms and racist theories of the 18-20th centuries Europe has outlived the Jim Crow segregationist system in America; it has survived Nazism, European fascism, and the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In effect, compared to its kind in Germany, Europe, the US, and South Africa, the Persian racism in Iran represents an amazing success story in terms of its durability, normalcy, and assimilatory capacity. Below are some salient characteristics of this dominant racist discourse and praxis:

1. The Belief in the Superiority of ‘Aryan’ Race

Persian racism in Iran advocates a racist and racialized view of the world where the so-called ‘Aryan’ race is seen as a superior race. Using the racist ideas of 18-20th centuries Europe as its theoretical/ideological bases, the dominant group exploits the country’s resources to promote lavishly funded research and exploration regarding the history and existence of this ‘superior Aryan race’ in Iran. On the other hand, serious works challenging the supremacy of Aryanist historiography not only do not receive any assistance but are not even allowed publication in Iran. A glaring case in point is the historian Naser Poorpirar whose recent work on the history of Sasanid dynasty was not permitted to be published in Iran. According to his personal website (, the author self-published the book in Singapore and shipped it back to Iran for distribution. Ordinarily one would expect that a study critically examining the Orientalist construction of pre-Islamic history of Iran would not encounter any kind of government censorship in the Islamic Republic. Not so. Works like Poorpirar’s are not allowed publication simply because they interrogate the Aryan/Fars-centric history of Iran, powerfully exposing its fictional, disingenuous, and dishonest character.

2. The Belief that Iran Is the Land of Aryans

Persian racism openly defines Iran as the land of these so-called Aryans who are in turn identified with the dominant Persian group, its language, culture, and identity. Through this racist process, Farsi becomes the only national/official language and the Persian culture gets identified as the national culture of all Iranians; just as Iran’s history gets appropriated to the advantage of this so-called ‘Aryan’ race by excluding, distorting, and erasing the histories, stories, and narratives of other ethnic groups. This exclusion takes place in government-sponsored research projects, schoolbooks, university texts, curriculum, allocation of research funding, etc. In short, under the racist order in Iran, to be Iranian becomes equated with being Persian. This kind of racist identification serves to foreignize and otherize those communities who are not Persian and who do not speak Farsi as their natural mother tongue.

3. The Belief in the Purification of Aryan Race of Iran through Language

Drawing on discredited European racist views, the dominant discourse in Iran equates language with race and tries to fabricate Indo-European language ties for non-Farsi speaking peoples such as the Azeri-Turks in an attempt to show that over a thousand years ago they spoke an Indo-European language and are therefore Aryan. As such, they should cleanse themselves of their inferior linguistic/ethnic/cultural identity and become one with ‘the superior Aryan race’ by speaking the language of this race: Farsi. This kind of racist reconstruction of prehistoric (imaginary) languages essentializes race-based and language-based identities and prioritizes them based on a fabricated history of origins, arrivals, etc., giving rise to the absurd idea about who has come earlier than whom, who has come first, who has come second, who has come last, whose language was spoken earlier than the others; and who, as a result, should have mastery over others. These kinds of non-sensical absurdities serve to create unnecessary competitions among various ethnic/national groups which lead to animosity, mistrust and lack of cooperation among them, while leaving them vulnerable to be colonized and assimilated by the dominant racist order.

The Iranian racist order openly proscribes non-Farsi languages in the country, banning them from becoming languages of education, instruction, learning, correspondence, and governance. By banning non-Farsi languages, the dominant group violates minoritized communities’ identities; subjugates their minds, and brutalizes their spirits. It supplants the indigenous names of geographical landmarks, cities, towns, villages, and streets; appropriates ancient heroes, historical figures, literary figures, scientists, movie stars, popular singers, dancers, and artists belonging to the marginalized communities. It prevents non-Farsi speaking communities from naming their children as they wish, using their own indigenous languages, cultures, names, words, signs, and symbols, forcing them instead to use names and symbols approved by the dominant discourse and praxis.

4. The Practice of Anachronism in Interpreting Works of History, Religion, and Literature

Using an anachronistic method of analysis, the hegemonic discourse in Iran offers purely racist and racialized interpretations of history, historical events, and classical texts such as the Avesta and the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi. It interprets these ancient texts in accordance with modern racist theories and notions which were not in existence at the time these texts were written. The anachronistic reading of these texts becomes central to the maintenance of racist order in Iran in that such a reading legitimates the ownership of the country by a single race, just as it privileges a single language, history, culture, and identity. Anachronism gives a historical justification for contemporary oppressions, exclusions, and annihilations in Iran.

5. The Belief in Essentialism and an Essentialist notion of Iranian-ness

The dominant order in Iran promotes an essentialist notion of identity based on race and language. Instead of viewing identities as shifting, non-fixed and fluid categories, the Iranian racist order assigns fixed identities to individuals and communities based on their degree of ‘Iranian-ness’ (Iraniyyat). Under this essentialist and essentializing mentality, those speaking an Indo-European language are considered to be in possession of authentic Iranic identity and hence ‘more Iranian’ than those speaking a Semite or Turkic language.

The dominant order plays the race card to create hostilities among marginalized communities, seeking to prevent the formation of any semblance of solidarity among them. By identifying some of them as ‘true Iranians,’ ‘real Aryans,’ and ‘the authentic owners of Iran,’ it engenders a policy of divide and conquer, while sowing the seeds of mistrust and animosity among different ethnic groups. At the same time, it prevents a sensible census from taking place based on ethnicity and language, fearing that an ethnic-based and language-based census would reveal the true size and number of both Persian and non-Persian communities in the country. Just as such racist notions as ‘the true owners of Iran,’ ‘the real Aryans,’ and similar mumbo-jumbo are emphasized to an inflated and inflammatory degree; so too the real issues and concerns such as the need for ‘conducting of an ethnicity/language based national census,’ ‘opening of ethnic studies departments in the universities,’ and ‘researching ethnic groups and ethnic relations in the country’ are de-emphasized, degraded, and dismissed.

6. The Belief in the Systematic Practice of Racism

The Iranian racist order uses the coercive force of governing organs to marginalize, criminalize, and punish the activists advocating the cause of minoritized communities, labeling them as traitors, secessionists, agents of foreign governments, etc. During the cold war period, it was customary to label anti-racist activists as communists and KGB agents. Nowadays such activists are labeled as agents of CIA, Israel, Zionism, Turkey, and even the Republic of Azerbaijan. Through such practices, the dominant order refuses the legitimate demands of minoritized communities for equal treatment, justice, and fairness. It brutally suppresses any ethnic-based and language-based activity, forcefully denying and condemning the right for self-determination of various nationalities. On the economic front, the government channels the country’s resources to building infrastructure, factories, and development projects in Persian populated cities such as Isfahan, Shirza, Yazd, and Kerman, while the non-Persian regions of Kurdistan, Baluchistan, Azerbaijan, and other areas more and more plunge in poverty and deprivation.

Resistance to the Racist Order

Thus, it is in this anti-racist, anti-colonial context that the current South Azerbaijani movement and the movement of other minoritized communities must be approached. It is under a racist and colonial condition that sites such as history, historiography, language, literature, and the education system have become main arenas where the battle for domination and subjugation of the marginalized Other is waged. The dominant group uses these privileged sites to maintain its oppressive power base; to legitimate its dominance and privileged status, and to justify its oppression.

Simultaneously, the marginalized uses these very sites to question, challenge, combat, and eventually subvert the oppressive dominant order. For instance, in the linguistic battleground, the dominant bans the minoritized languages and uses its language to supplant them. The marginalized, on the other hand, seeks to reclaim and revitalize her/his excluded indigenous language so that s/he is empowered to self-express, self-identify, and self-determine. Just as the dominant uses history to deny a historical legitimacy to the marginalized Other, so too the marginalized uses her/his own version of history to reject and repudiate the history which is constructed for her/him by the dominant. The dominant uses the education system to enforce its assimilatory and racist policies. The marginalized redefines the purpose of education and schooling to bring about inclusivity, equity, equality and fairness for all.

While the marginalized uses all in its power to fight racism and oppression, it is important to realize that her/his battle is an uphill struggle in which s/he has very little access to strategic sites such as history, literature, language, and the education system. These are the sites that have detrimental impacts on the outcome of the battle between the colonizer and the colonized. And these sites are controlled for the most part by the dominant. If the dominant is left to its devices, there is little chance that the marginalized will eventually eliminate the bases of colonialism, oppression, and racism. As such, it is imperative that progressive forces everywhere take note of these anti-colonial, antiracist struggles and support them in any way they can.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Who are Azeris?

Who are Azeris?
Important to emphasize the roots of Azerbaijan

By Aylinah Jurabchi
August 8, 2002
The Iranian

The difference between the accent of Azeris from Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan is equivlant to the difference of accent between people from New York and Boston, which makes it clear that the language of the Azeris north of the Aras and south of the Aras is basically the same.

The language spoken in the region of northwestern Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan signifies that the people are of the same ethnic origin and that they are in fact one people, divided between political boundaries and influenced throughout the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries by different countries and political ideologies.

Many pan-Iranists claim that Azerbaijanis are of the same stock as the Persians (meaning Aryan and Indo-European) and that they have been "Turkified" linguistically and not ethnically. But if we observe the language, culture and roots of the people of Azerbaijan (both north and south) we come to the conclusion that they are in fact peoples seperate by race and language from the Persians, who currently make up 51% of the population of Iran.

Azerbaijanis are descendants of the Oghuz Turks who migrated to the region of the Caucus mountains and the modern region of northwestern Iran in the 11th century from Central Asia. Prior to their migration, the area of Azerbaijan was first inhabited by the Medes who had settled there as early as 2500 B.C. and Caucasian Albanians who settled north of the Aras river in the present day Republic of Azerbaijan and was invaded by the Greeks and Arabs in the later centuries.

Other groups, including Turkish peoples such as Huns and Khazars as well as non-Turks such as Assyrians, Armenians and others had also passed through the present-day region of south/north Azerbaijan prior to the mass migration of the Oghuz in the 11th century.

The Oghuz Turks, who were composed of 24 tribes, were part of the confederation of Seljuk Turks who ruled an empire in the Middle East from the 10th to 12th centuries. During their reign, many distinct areas of the Persian empire (which they had taken over) were influxed with heavy populations of Turks and many parts remained Persian.

For example, Esfahan, which is a Persian-speaking city in central Iran, was a Seljuk capital for many years but the people's language was never changed and the ethnic structure of the people of the city of Esfahan remained Persian. Other places such as Khorasan (northeastern Iran) as well as Azerbaijan, however, were places within the Persian empire which became home to a large number of Turks who changed the ethnic structure of the original inhabitants.

This rejects the claim of pan-Iranists who state that the eminent amount of Turkish migrants in the 11th-12th centuries only changed the linguistics of the original inhabitants of Iran. If this was the case, then how come many other parts of the ancient Persian empire as well as distinct parts of the Middle East that were ruled by Turks did not see linguistic change? Pan-Iranists also claim that the Turkish race is in fact a Mongoloid race which also includes some peoples of east and central Asia such as Mongols, Koreans, Japanese and others.

Such false statements which go against archeological and historical evidence are partially made because the Turkish language is part of the Ural-Altaic language family group which also includes Mongolian but which also includes European languages such as Finnish and Hungarian.

Archeological evidence proves that the original homeland of the Oghuz Turks was an area north of the Oxus river in present day Kazakstan (central Asia) and that they spread in an area between the Caspian sea and Aral lakes within a time frame prior to their migration west to the Middle East and Europe. Turkish languages have very slight similarity to languages such as Mongolian, Finnish and Hungarian and there is no way that a Mongol could understand an Azeri by merely listening to his/her speech. Such comparison is pretty much absurd.

False claims can be made about Persians because the Persian language is made up of various Arabic words and has been influenced heavily after the 7th century by Arabic so is it fair to say that Persians are in fact Arabs because of their language or that Persians and Arabs are of the same race? The answer would be no.

Peoples considered as eastern Turks (Kazaks, Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Uygurs) often have facial similarities to Mongoloid peoples but also have Caucasoid features and it is often common that families have children who are siblings but look like they are from opossite races. The reason is because eastern Turks who were orignally a Caucasoid peoples such as their western Turkish brothers (Azeris, Turks from Turkey and Turkmens) mixed with Mongols after the Mongols invaded much of Asia and parts of Europe in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Close contact between eastern Turks and Mongoloid peoples was consistant throughout the centuries. Turkmens of Turkmenistan and Iran often have blonde hair and green eyes and often have faces which resemble peoples of Mongolia and the far east, this is also because of the mixing which occured with Mongols.

A logical explanation would seem to prove that Azeris are in fact ethnic Turks that do not share the same roots as Persians, whom in the first place never settled in northern Iran but in southern Iran. The Medes, however, can be linked to the history of Azerbaijan because they were the peoples who played a role in the formation of the name "Azerbaijan" which is believed to be derived from the name of a Median satrap (governer) during the invasion of the Greeks whose name was Atropat.

The region of Azerbaijan was in ancient times described as Atropatene (the land of Atropat) and is said to be pronounced as Azerbaijan first by the Arabs in the 8th century and hence as been the name of the region. Azer/Azar in ancient Persian meant fire and the name of Atropat meant "guardian of fire" so therefore "Azerbaijan" means the land of fire.

So it is therefore important to emphasize the roots of Azerbaijan and to also maintain a strong Azerbaijani identity in Iran which would include the rights to learn Azerbaijani in schools and perhaps even an autonomous movement which would allow the region of South Azerbaijan to have greater prosperity and mobility.

There are approximately 20-30 million Azerbaijani Turks who live in Iran, primaraly in the northwestern provinces of East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardebil and Zanjan. They also live in the vicinity of these areas in other provinces such as Hamedan, Gilan, Kurdistan, Qazvin and Markazi.

Azerbaijani Turks also make up more than 30% of the popluation of Iran's capital city, Tehran, which is home to more than 12 million inhabitants of mostly diverse backgrounds. Tehran was in fact proclaimed the capital of Iran in the 17th century by the Qajar dynasty who were Azerbaijani Turks. Many national figures of Iran in the past and present in the categories of politics, sports, entertainment, science, philosphy and literature have been or are Azerbaijani Turks.

Their great role in the foundation of Iran and the prosperity of Iran during various times in history is what has made them equal Iranians in the eyes of the majority population, the Persians. However, the contributions of Azerbaijanis has almost always been for the cause of greater prosperity for the country of Iran as a whole rather than their own ethnic background.

The majority of Azerbaijanis in Iran have held great loyalty to their country of citizenship despite the fact that their cultural and linguistic rights as a minority has not always been respected by the majority of the people who are Persians.

With the independence of the Repbulic of Azerbaijan in 1991 from the Soviet Union, the level of Azeri nationalism in Iran has risen and the demand for greater cultural and linguistic rights has become a priority for most Azeris. While the independent Azerbaijan Republic is home to close to 8 million people, Iran which is home to more than 20 million Azerbaijanis has to compete with the small republic situated above the Aras river north of the region of South Azerbaijan so that it's northwestern ethnic provinces will not join the Republic of Azerbaijan some time in the future. The south Azerbaijanis are forced to live under an Islamic system in Iran while their brothers in the Republic of Azerbaijan live under the principles of democracy.

Added note, August 22, 2002:

My stance has changed greatly

Wow! I have gotten a lot of mail for some reason people are asking me if Im from Baku? actually no not at all Im a 26-year old Iranian female from Tabriz.

Thanks for printing my article although it is quite old [Who are Azeris?]. After a few trips to Baku my stance on the Azarbaijan Republic and its government has changed greatly (run by Heidar Aliyov; he is an absolute disgrace.)

Although I still strongly beleive that my people have a right to be taught how to read and write in Azari. It is sad that I can write 3-page poems in Farsi, however not able to write a 2 line bayt in Azari with the correct grammatics, because our parents were not taught it; it was illegal for them to even speak their language in the schools. They where fined heavily by the shah as students to even speak azari in the schools.

So I know a lot of people are angry... c'est la vie.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Was Babak Khoramdin an Azeri?

Azeris Claim that Babak Khoramdin was an Azeri. Here is a text from Wikepedia.

Wikepedia Text:

In recent years, there has been debate on ethnic origin of Babak, even so trying to fit an anciant figure to this or that nationality goes against any objectiveness. Some Turkish nationalists claim that Bâbak was an Azeri-Turk. On the other hand, Persian nationalists retain the established opinion that he was Persian and that at the time of Bâbak, the Turks had not yet migrated to Azerbaijan.

From the Turkish point of view, it is said that Babak's name can not be shown as a proof of his alleged Persian roots, because it was not his real name. Names of some of his lieutenat's such as Tarkhan who was a Turk and Azrak who was an Arab, show that the movement was a mixed ethnicity, broad regional freedom movement against the Caliphate rule. Existence of Muslims among Bâbak's supporters also reinforces this assertion.

According to the Persian point of view, however Babak's (more correctly Pâpag) name, is purely from Persian (Iranian) origins. Turkic peoples migrated to Azarbayjan several centuries later. Bâbak was a follower of Zoroastrian Persians and Abu Muslim of Khurassan. There are no proofs for a Turkish background. As mentioned in the main entry, the claim that he was Turk is recent and propagated mostly by Pan-Turkists. In early history books, there is no mention that he was Turk. He has always been known as a patriot Iranian and Zoroastrian. Even the name of the province, Azarbayjan is Arabicized form of persian word Azarpadgan meaning the Place of Guardians of Holy Fire (Azar=fire, pad=guard, gan=prefix of place). Ancient Arab historian Ibn Hazm in the book "Religion and People" and ancient Armenian historian Vardan in his "World History" clearly and explicity mentioned Babak as being Persian. There is no sources that claim otherwise. The name of Babak's father was Mardas, his mother in sources has been called Mah-roo. Both names are Persian. The mentor of Babak was Javidanpoor Shahrak, which is another Persian name. Also the two most important commanders of Babak, Adhin and Rostam, were ethnic Persians. Finally the name Tarkhan is also mentioned as "Tarhan" (which is an Arabic word) in some sources. Besides this, the name also occurs in the Shahnameh and some sources mention that the Soghdian rulers of Samarghand went by this name. So this was a general military title. Finally it should be mentioned that there is no trace of Turkish in Azarbaijan before the Ilkhanid era on paper, rock, leather, inscription, etc and all sources at that time mention that Azarbaijan spoke Azar-Pahlavi (the local dialect of middle Persian) as it continues today in Talyshi, Kurdish, Tati and other NW Iranian languages. Due to the invasion of Oghuz tribes, Seljuqs, Mongols, Ilkhanid, Teymurid, Black Sheep Turkomens and finally the Turcophone Safavid dynasty who imported Turkomens from Anatolia, this region became predominately Turkic speaking. But all this was after the time of Babak.