Farzin Farzad

Farzin Farzad (Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran - ADAPP): Farzin is a native Azerbaijani speaker who spent the early years of his life in Iran and Turkey. He graduated in 2005 with a B.A. in political science from McDaniel College with a concentration in international studies and a minor in cross-cultural studies. He then went on to earn a graduate degree in International Affairs from American University in December of 2008. His regional focus was the Middle East, particularly Iranian security. During his undergraduate and graduate studies, Farzin held positions in research and analysis with professors at Johns Hopkins SAIS and Columbia University. As a research intern at the East-West Center, he researched for and helped edit a book on nuclear weapons security in Asia. During the summer of his graduate program, Farzin studied the political history of the Gulf States at the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. After his fellowship, Farzin wrote: “Ironically, I am more assertive person. Being a 'Peace' Fellow toughened me up.”

All Eyes on Iran

24 Jun

This has been a very unbelievable and emotionally-troubling week. Seeing all of the photos and videos pouring in from Iran has been completely surreal. It is hard to believe that a government that came to power through a revolution and that tries to uphold the ideals of that revolution can suppress the will of the people with such callousness. I want to send my sincerest condolences to the families of those who were taken in the violence.

I’ve tried to keep up with sending videos and posting pictures as I see then on my own personal Facebook and twitter accounts. It has been amazing to see the impact of the brave people of Iran using social networking sites to raise awareness of the brutal crackdown on peaceful protests. It’s a shame, however, that Iranian government officials, including militiamen (basijis) have infiltrated these sites and have been posting false reports. I have heard that these have included false claims of protests in various streets of Tehran, where Basijis and police were waiting to ambush Twitterers. Twitter and Facebook have proven to be great tools so far, but unfortunately reports that surface cannot always be trusted.

Even CNN is reporting some of the incorrect Twitters. A couple of days ago, I noticed a man on CNN by the name of Badi Badiozamani claiming that people of Tabriz (the unofficial capital of Iranian Azerbaijan) were beginning to leave their homes to show solidarity with the Persian people. He claimed that since Musavi himself is an Azerbaijani Turk, the Turkic speakers of Iran were beginning to show support for him. Then, I kept seeing videos of protests on YouTube claiming that they had taken place on June 22, 2009. One particular video I saw was sent to ADAPP the week before. It was a video that was filmed on June 10, even before the election itself. IT WAS THE SAME EXACT VIDEO as the one claimed to be from June 22! So, I decided to send the video with some edits to CNN’s IReport. You can watch it here .  I also posted the video on the Advocacy Project YouTube page if anyone is interested. I’ve also been Twittering about it using ADAPP’s username ADAPPInfo.

So let’s get this clear, ADAPP is in daily contact with Azerbaijani human rights groups AND various other Azerbaijani civilians across Iranian Azerbaijan (this includes Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil etc.). In reality, there have been no protests since June 15, 2009. The Azerbaijani provinces of Iran are eerily quiet. But yet again, not enough coverage on Iranian Azerbaijan. However, Azerbaijanis activists were successful in getting some of the word out in an article in EurasiaNet. Also I’ve been following this blog which has some great insights on why. In the next section, I will write about my thoughts as to why Azerbaijanis remain silent.

Firstly, election protests did occur in the Azerbaijani provinces of Iran. People took to the streets in Urmia and Tabriz to chant “Azerbaijani is not asleep, they have not abandoned Musavi” and Azerbaijani rights slogans. However, police and various other security forces were dispatched to South Azerbaijani cities early in anticipation of any protests and riots. My guess is that the government knew something was going to happen in these areas since Musavi is an Azerbaijani Turk. Anyway, I am told protests lasted from June 12-15. The repression was pretty brutal, in my blog last week I mentioned students in Tabriz and Urmia universities were beaten mercilessly. In Urmia, one person was killed on June 12 and again another on June 15. In Tabriz, 3 people were brutally beaten to death during protests of June 15. However, the Iranian state media, VOA, BBC Persian, Radio Farda and others refused to report on these events and refused to publish our reports because these protests were coupled with Azerbaijani rights demonstrations. Persian language media looks at Azerbaijanis as separatists, and I guess for them it’s OK that there are crackdowns in those areas. Well, June 15 was the last protest in any Azerbaijani city that we are aware.

Another reason is that Musavi, though an Azerbaijani Turk, is so assimilated into the government structure that he himself has supported crackdowns on Azerbaijanis in the past. During his campaign, he announced greater linguistic freedoms for Azerbaijanis, but actions speak louder than words. Its all political rhetoric to Azerbaijanis and here’s why:

1) When Musavi was prime minster (his term lasted from 1980-88) he was instrumental in destroying the Ayatollah Shariatmadari movement. During the early years of the revolution, this Ayatollah opposed Khomeini in establishing a velayat-e faqih, the position of supreme Islamic guide. Shariatmadari also called for a seperation of religion and the state and supported Azerbaijani cultural and linguistic rights. His party Khalq Muselman, was roughly 5 million strong and comprised of mostly Azerbaijani Iranians. It was crushed and scores were arrested and executed. Shariatmadari was allegedly tortured to retract his former statements and placed on house arrest until he died. He was well loved by the Azerbaijani community.

2) Even more disturbing is Musavi’s lack of criticism of the May 2006 crackdown. On May 2006, a cartoon was published in state-run Iran newspaper that compared Azerbaijanis to cockroaches and explained how to exterminate them. (I have an article on the cartoon that Fakhteh published if anyone is interested.) Oh, and this was in the kids section of the newspaper 🙁 Anyway after the cartoon appeared on May 22, 1 million in South Azerbaijan took to the streets in the same fashion this month’s election protests. Here is a video of the May 2006 Protests; and this is a video showing some of the protests and riots in various cities; and another showing Tabriz in the one-year anniversary of the May 2006 protests.  Many cities in Iranian Azerbaijan saw protests and riots. Azerbaijanis were just fed up in general with they way they had been treated. The government crackdown was severe. Security officers fired indiscriminately on crowds, killing dozens. They shot anti-riot ammunition into the crowds, which blinded many people. In the aftermath roughly 10,000 were arrested and many of them were brutally tortured. But alas, there was no reporting of this event in Persian media. Many of the so-called “reformist” candidates, which Musavi associates himself with, were supporting the crackdown. Musavi was silent. Azerbaijanis are still scarred from this event.

These are photos of the crackdown. Cand you tell the difference between these and the photos that are emerging now?:

Azerbaijanis now would rather not get involved with the current election crisis. Essentially, why should they get involved if they are not guaranteed their own rights by Persians. ADAPP’s contacts report that Kurdistan is pretty much the same way. There are no protests in Kurdistan, just a few strikes here and there; nothing significant. The following chart, which was in an e-mail to ADAPP from the British-Ahwazi Friendship Society, shows ethnicity and turnout for the recent elections. As you can seen Kurds and Azerbaijanis were the bottom two ethnicities in voter turnout:


So, I’m sorry for the length of this post but I had a lot to say. I will conclude by mentioning that in order for these uprisings to become a country-wide revolution, Persians must embrace their ethnic minority groups. The racism that exists deep within Iranian society must be completely eradicated. Minorities must be guaranteed that their regions will receive some kind of stake in any new government or change to the current regime. Linguistic and cultural rights must be acknowledged! After 1979, despite a new constitution being written which gives minorities equal rights and the right to study their own languages, the shah’s policies endured. Some say that the 1979 revolution would have never happend if the city of the city of Tabriz did not join the movement. Tabriz played a critical role in 1978. In this current movement, minorities must finally be guaranteed these rights. Otherwise, why would they risk their lives for the status quo? What’s in it for them?

Posted By Farzin Farzad

Posted Jun 24th, 2009


  • zari

    June 24, 2009


    sorry, also i’d like to see Fakhteh’s article on the cartoon! so email me please! 😀

  • Aaron Fuchs

    June 25, 2009


    Great post Farzin. Your project has taken an incredibly interesting turn with the timing of the election and subsequent protests. Your post truly emphasizes an issue that needs to be at the core of any conversation concerning the region. That is the degree of ethnic diversity present in the region and the range of interests, views, histories, and backgrounds present. With all eyes continually on this part of the world, we are learning more and more that an understanding of this concept is essential to an understanding of the region.

  • Donna Harati

    June 25, 2009


    thank you for covering this from such an important angle, Farzin. The pictures are particularly powerful….I’ve directed my family to your blog- more Iranians need to understand the perspective you are writing from! Keep up the good work.

  • Farzin

    June 25, 2009


    Thanks for the responses. Zarin, it is more politically correct to say Azerbaijanis, but it is generally used interchangably. ADAPP is in contact with Azerbaijani activist groups and civilians from cities all over South Azerbaijan. The general consensus is that people are going about their business. The bazaars in Tabriz remain open, despite all that you hear on Twitter.

    To be honest, I really do not know what it will take to mobilize Azerbaijanis or how long they will be out. I will like to point out, however, that the Azerbaijani movement lacks clear leadership. There are many rights groups with differing opinions on how to confront the Islamic Republic, but no one person has emerged to lead the movement. I am sure of one thing. If the city of Tabriz is mobilized, they will not stop until they see some real change. Tabrizis were relentlessly pushing for change in 1978 and they became very instrumental to the fall of the shah.

    There needs to be a way that Iranian opposition groups can reach out to Iran’s minorities and guarantee them linguistic and cultural rights in any change that is to happen to the regime. Roughly 51% of Iran is comprised of minority groups. They are essential for change.

    Donna and Aaron, thanks for the support. I truly appreciate it. I’ve been putting up information on Twitter and it is truly touching to see that many Iranians are writing back saying that they had no idea about the views of Azerbaijanis and that they were supportive. Powerful stuff.

  • zari

    June 27, 2009


    Regarding Fakhteh Zamani’s article response to the cartoons:

    That is an awful use of cartoon. Such an ugly side of “persian” “pride”. FYI– Outside of Iran, there is a movement, though I don’t know with how much momentum, that seeks “persian pride” throughout “Iran zamin” including Tajikistan and Afghanistan, excluding and denigrating all those who are not “Persian” such as Pashtuns in Afghanistan. This is followed by persian priders in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, seeking to reunite with Iran as a new Persia of sorts. However, it’s the opposite there, where Pashtuns are not minorities.

    A sad aspect of all of this is that the outrage belongs to this issue as well and attention should have been given to those demonstrations just as attention is being given to what’s happening now..

  • kave nikmaram

    June 29, 2009


    thank you farzin,your article is very strong and I hope that all pan iranists and pan farsist give their replay.
    I suggest that dont replay zari and similar her because they are seek and dont want to know fackts.

  • Farzin

    June 29, 2009


    Kaveh, without directly attacking any of the previous contributers to this blog, can you describe what facts you are referring to?

    What is your take on the situation? What do you think is the solution in engaging minorities from the view of the pan-Iranist side?

  • iain

    July 2, 2009


    Great reporting, again.

    These are must-read blogs for anyone following the Iranian crisis…

    On a personal level, I wonder if you remain optimistic, as per your earlier blog?….

    On the political level: why exactly did the minorities take themselves out of the protests so soon after the election? Was it because of government repression? Or bcause Persian-language media did not report on their protests?

    Or was it the post-election actions of Mousavi and his followers? I understand that Mousavi let minorities down when he was PM, and during the 2006 protests. But I don’t see from your blogs what more he could have done during this dire period…


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