Fakhteh Zamani's speech in Canadian parliament

 

Distinguished members of the House of Commons, Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

As most teenagers in Canada are getting ready for their summer break, Azerbaijani Iranian, Mohammad Reza Evezpour who is just 17 will soon start serving yet another 15 months prison sentence. This young activist is no stranger to detention, imprisonment and torture. Since age 13, he has been arrested and tortured repeatedly for the simple non-violent act of stating that his mother tongue will not die.  

 

Five university activists, Hossein Hosseini, Asghar Akberzadeh, Ardashir Karimi, Behruz Alizadeh, and journalist Rahim Gholami were sentenced to 5 years of imprisonment by the Iranian revolutionary court on Feb 02, 2009 for the simple act of promoting their linguistic rights. Their trials were not public and without a lawyer present. They were charged with "establishing illegal groups with the intention of disturbing the national security". These activists will be sent far away from their homes to dangerous prisons all over the country. These exiles will prevent family visits, will stop the flow of information about their conditions and basic welfare, and will disconnect them from the outside world. It may sound ironic to say that their families are lucky. At least they will know where their loved ones are.

 

On June 11, 2008 the worst fear of one family came true. Twenty days after Farhad Mohseni’s arrest by officers of the Iranian ministry of Intelligence, his tortured body was handed over to his family for immediate burial. He was 25 years old.

 

As Iran’s uranium enrichment program continues to be a focus of international attention, the human rights situation in Iran continues to deteriorate.  While the activities of various student and women’s rights movements, as well as individual cases of journalists, writers, scholars, and human rights defenders, are somewhat known to the outside world, regrettably this is not the case with minoritized non-Persian communities. The Azerbaijanis and other non-Persian ethnic groups are Iran’s invisible population.

 

For over 80 years, all non-Persian minorities in Iran have been victims of serious human rights violations. They have endured racial discrimination, forced assimilation, suppression of their language and culture under both the Pahlavi and Islamic governments. However, as a person of Azerbaijani background, I am here to speak about this particular community:  the minority group which well might be a numerical majority but is kept in a minority situation in terms of access to power and resources.

 Since early childhood, I have been exposed to the racial discrimination against the ethnic group into which I was born. As a school girl, I was not allowed to speak my mother tongue, Azerbaijani Turkic. I never saw text books written in my language. I was not taught to read and write my language or learn about my culture and history. As Iran’s only official language Farsi, the Persian language was imposed on us. We were forced to learn Persian language, Persian history, and Persian culture as the common identity of all Iranians. 

I have experienced my ethnic group routinely and openly insulted on radio, television and in the state run national press. Even now, my people are depicted as intellectually challenged and are dehumanized as “donkeys” and cockroaches”. Racial discrimination is still with us. Banning of all non-Farsi languages continues, ethnic groups, particularly Turks and Semites are dehumanized.

 

Iranian regimes have been the biggest threat to the realization of human rights for Azerbaijanis in Iran. Paralleling the internal repression by the government, the Azerbaijani struggle is ignored by the international community and remains invisible to western media such as the BBC, and European broadcasts in Persian. Even Iranian human rights activists, often fail to mention Azerbaijanis and other minorities when they speak of human right violations in Iran.

 

About two years ago, after hearing of wide spread arrests in the Azerbaijani region of

Iran and sensing a total indifference on the part of Iranian Human rights groups towards all Azerbaijani cases, I came to the realization that I must take up the cause.

Straightaway I could see the effects of repression and forced assimilation to which the Azerbaijanis were subjected in the course of last century. I and others, who have spoken about Azerbaijani rights, have been regularly denounced as traitors and separatists, and have faced insults and threats not only by members of the dominant Persian group but also by some assimilated and Persianized members of the minority communities.  

 

Since May 2006 uprising in the Azerbaijani region of Iran, Azerbaijani activists have been hit hard. Many are in prison, some are missing, and as I mentioned before some were killed. Those of us fortunate enough to live in societies where we are entitled to full political rights can reach out to help the less fortunate. We are asking the international community to be aware of the situation in Iran and to take action on behalf of those who have no voice. 

 

When I ask activists or family members who have lost a loved one, or have someone in prison, if they have a message, they ask me to speak about their struggle for freedom of expression, democracy, and human rights. But for them as Azerbaijanis the struggle is also about eliminating racial discrimination and having a right to their own language and culture. Their message can be summarized in these words by Aung San Suu Kyi, the imprisoned Burmese leader: “please use your liberty to promote ours.”