Iranian Culture - Iran's Azeri Turks
Iran's Azeri Turks
If you hear a language other than Farsi on the streets of Tehran, most likely it's Azeri Turkish.
Closely related, but not identical, to the national language spoken in Turkey, Azeri is spoken as a first language by about 20% of the Iranian population, mainly concentrated in the provinces of Eastern and Western Azerbaijan, the provinces of Ardabil and Zanjan, but it is also very commonly spoken in the capital, Tehran.
Estimates of just how many Iranians are ethnically Azeri Turks vary widely.
One very commonly quoted statistic makes Azeris the largest single population group in Iran, making up 30 million of the country's total population of over 70 million. (73,973,630 - 2010 estimate)
Azeri Turks are also referred to as Iranian Azerbaijanis, Iranian Turks, Iranian Azeris or Persian Azerbaijanis.
Turks are stereotyped by other Iranians as flashy with their wealth and Turkish women are said to be great cooks and hardworking wives but rather expensive to maintain. Sadly, Turks are also widely ridiculed as being congenitally stupid. Jokes about Turkish simpletons make up a large majority of the new jokes circulating around schoolyards, workplaces and universities. Turks are also ribbed for not being able to pronounce the Farsi letters (ghayn) and (jim).
The Islamic Republic, as well as the Imperial Government before it, has tried to play down differences between Iranians and Azeris - perhaps fearing that an awakened sense of Azeri nationalism could threaten them. The Azeri language is not taught in schools, not even as an optional second language. Ironically, many powerful members of the political establishment - including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - are themselves Azeri Turks.
Turks have also experienced more serious persecution in modern Iran. In 1981, an uprising in Tabriz was brutally put down by the new government with heavy weapons and summary executions. However, on the whole, Iranian Turks do not have a strong urge towards separatism. The vast majority consider themselves as Iranian as Farsi speakers do.
The Cartoon Controversy
The most recent clash between Turks and the government came in the summer of 2006 when a cartoon published in the Iran Daily newspaper depicted an Azeri cockroach failing in an attempt to learn the Farsi language. The inflammatory image was not taken at all lightly by Azeris who took to the streets of Azerbaijan's major cities in thousands.
Newspapers were burnt and offices of the offending publication were surrounded by angry protesters. In the end, the editor of the Iran Daily was sacked and President Ahmedinejad himself travelled to the region to patch up relations. The importance of up to 30 million voters clearly made the trip worthwhile.