Iran Facts
Area:    1,648,000 sq. km.
Capital:    Tehran
Total Population:    68,960,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

By most accounts, it appears that Azeris in Iran that are content to be a part of the Iranian state are not at risk of explicit political, cultural, or economic discrimination. They have not recently dealt with severe governmental repression, although reports sometimes come out of the region which cite a severe response to protests that cannot be independently confirmed. However, Azeri activist Mahmoud Ali Chehregani in 2000 was prevented from registering as a candidate for an election in Tabriz by being detained by local police until after the registration deadline had passed. In general however, the Iranian government has preferred to emphasize the cultural similarities between the Persian-speaking majority and Azeris. Nevertheless, there have been reports of increased protests demanding greater cultural rights for Azeris. A potential pitfall to the relatively stable condition of Azeris in Iran may indeed come from the ideological support they receive from non-governmental organizations and the government of Azerbaijan. Thus, the direction that Iranian-Azerbajaini relations take at the state level will likely have a great impact on the future condition of Iran's Azeris.

Analytic Summary

The Azerbaijanis (also known as Azeris) compose about a quarter of Iran's population, and are the largest minority in Iran. They are Shi'i Muslims by faith (CULDIFX4 = 0), and in many respects are similar to the rest of the Iranian population (CULDIFXX = 2). Many prominent Iranian Shi'i clerics have been and are Azeris (the Supreme Ayatollah is of Azeri decent). The main factors that differentiate them from the rest of the Iranian population are their Azerbaijani ethnicity (CULDIFX1 = 2), and their native language of Azeri Turkish (CULDIFX2 = 2). The Azeris live principally in the northwestern Iranian provinces of East/West Azerbaijan as well as in urban centers such as Tehran (GROUPCON = 3).

The Azeris of Iran have not been historically autonomous (AUTON = 0), although in 1945, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan declared the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, which only lasted for a year following Soviet withdrawal (AUTLOST = 3). Following a brief revival of Azeri nationalism after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the central authorities severely restricted the publishing of Azeri material, the instruction of Azeri Turkish, and the open organization of Azeri cultural groups—these restrictions remain in place to date (CULPO203 = 2; CULPO303 = 2; CULPO703 = 2). While there is some evidence of systematic discrimination leading to underrepresentation of Azeris in the civil service (POLIC703 = 1), the Azeris do participate in the Iranian government at the highest national levels as much as any other group, including ethnic Iranians (POLIC803 = 0).

Azeri grievances primarily revolve around a desire for greater cultural freedoms, such as teaching and publishing in their own language (CULGR203, CULGR303 = 2). While there does not appear to be any demands for separatism, there have been increasing demands for limited autonomy or some form of cultural autonomy (AUTGR403 = 2).

Political parties demanding the advancement of Azeri cultural or political claims are banned in Iran, and it is therefore difficult to assess Azeri organizational activities and strength. However, two new organizations were founded in 2002 and 2003, both by the aforementioned dissident Mahmoud Ali Chehregani, who now resides in the U.S. The first organization is the Azerbaijani United Islamic Front, which demands "autonomous zone for Azerbaijanis in Iran"; the other is the Supreme Council of People's of Iran, which claims to represent all minorities in Iran.

There have been reports of increased protests demanding greater cultural rights for Azeris (PROT00 = 3; PROT01, PROT02 = 1; PROT03 = 2; REB03 = 0).


Atabaki, Touraj Azerbaijan: Ethnicity and Autonomy in Twentieth Century Iran, London: British Academic Press, 1993., various articles 2001-2003.

Helfgott, Leonard M. "The Structural Foundations of the National Minority Problem in Revolutionary Iran" Middle East Studies, XIII (1-4), pp.195-213.

Meron, Theodor "Iran's Challenge to the International Law of Human Rights" Human Rights Internet Reporter, 13 (1), Spring 1989, pp. 8-13.

Metz, Helen Chapin Iran: a Country Study (4th ed.), Federal Research Duvision, Library of Congress, 1987.

Nissman, David B. The Soviet Union and Iranian Azerbaijan, Boulder: Westview, 1987.

Richard, Yann "The Relevance of 'Nationalism' in Contemporary Iran" Middle East Review, Summer 1989, pp. 27-36.

The Christian Science Monitor, 1990-1994.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events, 1990-1994.

Lexis/Nexis, Reuters News, 1990-2003.

UN Commission on Human Rights Report on the Islamic Republic of Iran, 12 February 1990.

US Department of State Human Rights Reports on Iran for 1991 & 1993, 2001-2003.

The Washington Post, 1990-1994.


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