Staunton, August 25 – Schools in northern Iran will begin offering Azerbaijani language classes twice a week this September, school officials there say, an important concession to the ethnic Azerbaijanis who dominate the population in what many refer to as Southern Azerbaijan (amerikaninsesi.org/a/5054813.html and turantoday.com/2019/08/iran-azerbaijan-turkic-language-school.html)
The introduction of such classes, which will be offered for students in grades four and ten, was promised by Hasan Ruhani when he was running for president and reiterated recently by his minister of education. And while welcome given Tehran’s hostile attitude toward minorities since 1979, this innovation will not satisfy either rights activists or Azerbaijanis.
On the one hand, this innovation does not constitute native language instruction as required by various international accords to which Iran is signatory. And on the other, it does not give the Azerbaijani Turks of Iran’s north the access to their historical past that a larger Azeri language program would.
Iran has four provinces in which ethnic Azeri Turks are dominant – Western Azerbajan, Eastern Azerbaijan, Ardebil and Zenjan – and an important Azeri city, Tebriz on the Caspian Sea. This region was part of a unified Azerbaijan until 1828, and both in the early 1920s and at the end of World War II, Moscow attempted to detach the region from Iran.
Because of that separatist history, Tehran has been leery of providing any support for Azerbaijani aspirations. And its “experiment” now, as officials describe it, may not do much to help that community and will be limited to the use of the Persido-Arabic script rather than the Latin script Azerbaijanis in the north now use.
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