Staunton, September 8 – Earlier this year, the Iranian government announced that it was going to allow the establishment of Azerbaijani language classes in the Eastern Azerbaijan Province. Now, it has extended that program to two additional provinces, Western Azerbaijan and Ardebil (turantoday.com/2019/09/iran-southern-azerbaijan-turkic-language-school.html).
This represents the fulfillment of a campaign president of Iran’s current president Hasan Ruhani as well as the realization at least in part of the country’s constitutional requirement that all children be given instruction in their native languages, something Tehran has been unwilling to do since the 1979 revolution.
The new courses thus represent a significant concession to the ethnic Azerbaijanis of the northern portion of Azerbaijan, a region they and many of those in the Republic of Azerbaijan refer to as Southern Azerbaijan. But it is important to recognize exactly what this innovation does and doesn’t do.
It does mean that Azeris in these three provinces will now have the chance to study their language in courses offered two or three hours a week. They will thus no have what is commonly understood as native language instruction, the ability to study all subjects in their own language. Instead, except for the Azeri classes, all instruction will continue to be in Persian.
For some Azeris, this will be a big victory and generate support among them for Tehran. For others, it is likely to be a reminder of how far the Iranian government has yet to go in observing their rights and thus lead to more demands and even public protests for greater use of their national language and greater respect for their national culture.