Caroline Risacher

Caroline Risacher (Association for the Defense of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran- ADAPP): Prior to her fellowship, Caroline worked as an International Coordinator at the University of Strasbourg; volunteered in La Paz, Bolivia, for the Bolivian Express magazine; worked for One More Option, a NGO based in France and Ecuador that helps disadvantaged children; and interned at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Caroline graduated from the University of Strasbourg in France with a Masters in International Relations and European Affairs and a Masters in Human Rights Law with a specialization in Minority Rights.

So… Why Vancouver?

19 Jun

Contrary to my fellow comrades, I am not taking a lot of risks this summer – unless I experience a surprise skunk attack on my way home (which would be most unpleasant). ADAPP is in Vancouver, Canada; that’s where its founder, Faktheh Luna Zamani has been living since 2006. The current situation in Iran wouldn’t allow the organization to function efficiently, or at all as a matter of fact. It does make sense that ADAPP is expatriated but then: why Vancouver? That was one of my first questions for Fakhteh. Don’t get me wrong: this is probably one of the nicest city I could envision living: mountains on one side, the Pacific ocean on the other, a modern and incredibly clean city in the middle, green spaces, no pollution…  but maybe not the first city choice when you’re trying to lobby for a unique and sensitive political cause.

Vancouver Skyline
Well, the reason is simple and slightly embarrassing but Vancouver is simply too beautiful. And it is. Nature and architecture coexist in a unique and harmonious fashion. Those days will end and eventually ADAPP’s headquarters will move, along with Fakhteh. Vancouver will be missed but it is time, ADAPP is receiving attention and increasing exposure. The European Parliament has debated the issue of minorities in Iran, which is a huge achievement and a crucial step in the recognition of the cause itself. The United Nations are also aware of the situation and asked for a report…

This first week with ADAPP has been a great introduction to the issue of Azerbaijani Turks in Iran and the everyday functioning of a small non-governmental organization. Immediately upon my arrival (on a Monday) I start working on the report for the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Iran due on the vey same weekend but that I need to finish for Wednesday afternoon before sending it for editing. Needless to say, the first week went fast but was highly productive and instructive. We also sent out a public statement on the political prisoner Said Matinpour who was sent to solitary confinement for attending a memorial ceremony in honor of the Iranian journalist Hoda Saber who died last year of a hunger strike. You can read the full statement here.

Gathering information wasn’t facilitated by the fact that ADAPP’s website has been taken down and is now gone. Apparently hacking websites and email accounts is everyday’s routine in the life of an ADAPP’s activist.

After the rush of the first days, I had more time to meet the other members of ADAPP and discuss with them. I learned a lot in the first week, reading articles, older reports, but what I found most interesting and rewarding were the conversations I had with the people involved with ADAPP on minorities in Iran. I’ve learned so much more from my conversations with Fakhteh, Yashar, Yahya, Alirza, Hannah or random Iranian guy at the Starbucks.

Azerbaijanis (also referred to as Azerbaijani Turks or Turks) are denied the most basic and fundamental cultural rights; the Iranian government doesn’t recognize their culture and language, doesn’t allow any public space for discussion, they are exposed to a daily underlying and deeply rooted racism in their everyday lives and the truth is: nobody can even remember where it comes from. It is so deeply rooted that most people don’t even realize that it even exists. And that’s the scary part.  Is it ignorance? Denial?

I was writing this blog today in a Starbucks when someone interrupted me and started a conversation. Interestingly, he was Iranian, from the Persian community. That was my chance to ask a member of the other community his opinion and vision, and confirm (or infirm) what I was hearing from the Iranian Azerbaijanis. Well… he said that in the Azerbaijani part, everybody spoke Azerbaijani Turkish as well as Persian, inferring that it wasn’t a big deal that they didn’t have anything in Turkish.  (That is not true, a lot of people are illiterate and cannot speak Persian). He affirmed that Iran wasn’t a racist country, or at least not internally, and especially not against the minorities: “We like the Turks! They are cute” He had to go at that point but I bet that the conversation wouldn’t have gone much further. I thought it was pretty revealing and insightful.

So why are they sent to prison, tortured and put in solitary confinement? Why do they flee the country and become political refugees? What exactly is going on there?

Clouds over Vancouver

As much as they try to suppress it, Iran is a multicultural country with different ethnic and religious groups that have coexisted for centuries. Trying to ignore the differences and cultivating a society based on discrimination is a recipe for a civil war. I still have to learn and I will write much more on these issues, as this is fairly new to me, but from what I gathered from the Azerbaijanis I’ve met, the discussion is only starting and quite sensitive but I’m looking forward to look more seriously into it.

I predict that these three months will go flying by. Among the tasks, and punctual projects that I will get myself into, are:

  • Helping redesigning and managing the new website if the old version can’t be saved: more on that in the coming days
  • Create a French version of the website as well as a French version of this blog
  • Help with the fundraising
  • Write/film individual profiles on the members of ADAPP
  • Make a compilation of individual cases
  • Research and eventually write a piece on the Azerbaijani dentity, Racism in Iran…

The more I’ll get into the issue, the more detailed my posts will be. This was just an overview of what is to come but there is plenty. Right now we are trying to establish a list of current Azerbaijani detainees.And while the website is down, come check out our Facebook page!And here is the video of the debate from the European Parliament in Strasbourg:


Posted By Caroline Risacher

Posted Jun 19th, 2012


  • Alicia

    June 21, 2012


    Great first post from Vancouver! It doesn’t matter that Canada isn’t as risky as other countries. The work that you are doing is extremely important, and it sounds like ADAPP is doing a great job, so I’m glad that you have the opportunity to work with them. I’m excited to hear more about this issue, which is new to me. Enjoy your time there!

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