Sep 24, 2015

Southern Azerbaijan: New Academic Year for Iran’s Monolingual Educational System or Time for Change?

Photo courtesy of: diocal @Flickr.


The beginning of the academic year is a good moment to critically analyze Iran's monolingual educational system in relation to its cultural and linguistic plurality. According to the South Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement (SANAM), Iran has throughout its history attempted to homogenize its population with a strict monolingual educational system in contradiction with its international human rights obligations. SANAM calls upon the Iranian government and the international community to implement concrete measures to strengthen the protection of educational and cultural rights for Iran's linguistic and ethnic minorities.

Below is a document sent to UNPO by our member, the South Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement (SANAM).



Each year, September 23 is the beginning of the academic year in Iran. On this day, parents send their children to schools and universities – and what a beautiful day, in which they forget the pain of separation by learning good words and sentences, and each parent enjoys the beautiful and historical moment. But on this day in Iran, which is composed of many nations and races, is replaced with suffering for most of its people, especially for Azerbaijanis and Balochis. Despite Iran’s constitutional law, which states that nations and races are allowed to be educated in their own local languages, Iran's education system is monolingual. This imposed system, despite the attempts of many political and cultural activists, and in contradiction with the United Nations Charter, other human rights organizations and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), is the only system of cultural, scientific, education and training in Iran.

Iran, with a population of more than seventy five million, consists of different races and nations who all live together today following different historical events. Iran’s monolingual system overshadows talents and potential from various ethnic groups, and creates a gap in the enjoyment of their economic and political rights. More than 30 million people in Iran speak the Azerbaijani language as their mother tongue, while about 20 million people in Iran consider Persian as their mother language. Other nations residing in Iran are the Arabs and Baluchis, which each make up a sizeable population of Iran.

The deliberate preponderance and imposed control by a small minority over the large majority of the population is incompatible with international human rights law. In Iran, this linguistic violation has historical roots. The former Pahlavi regime, who was in command of the country during World War I and II, based on theories of the day was forced to homogenize the composition of the population of Iran ethnically and linguistically. Reza Khan and his son, during their fifty six-year rule attempted to homogenize the population linguistically under the principle of ‘one race, one nation’. Although results were mixed, they succeeded in establishing the homogenization of races one of the main priorities of the government, albeit with the resistance of various peoples in Iran.

After the fall of the Pahlavi regime and the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the country witnessed the continuation of homogenization and integration of other ethnic groups. Even today, the Iranian government refuses to provide education in native, non-Persian languages and resists any attempts to move towards pluralism. All activities and efforts of political and cultural activists in realizing universal human rights for the Iranian people – rights enshrined in Iran's constitutional law - are confronted with a fierce and lethal response by the state security officials. Discrimination, cultural crimes and forced assimilation are on the rise.

According to Iran's obligations under UNESCO and the UN Charter, South Azerbaijani Turks demand the following from the Iranian government:


1. To take practical actions to ensure the respect of inherent and universal human rights, including members of different nations, races, and speakers of non-Persian languages, in order to grant educational rights to all;

2. To respect the rules of International Law, comply with all provisions of the UN Charter, as well as regulations issued by the UNESCO;

3. To protect the rights of all political and cultural activists, including non-discrimination, freedom of expression and the right of members of non-Persian linguistic groups to use their language with members of their community.

In addition, South Azerbaijani Turks urge:

4. The United Nations, UNESCO and International Court of Justice to place greater emphasis in their work on linguistic and cultural rights;

5. The United Nations Security Council and United Nations General Assembly to create an appendix to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to address the actions of states and governments aimed at destroying and/or threatening cultures, languages, traditional rituals and common norms;

6. The United Nations and UNESCO to contribute financial assistance to support different languages in Iran;

7. International charitable foundations to support cultural activities aimed at protecting and promoting different cultures and languages in Iran;

8. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN Human Rights Council, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the EU and the European Commission on Human Rights of the Council of Europe, as well as other international governmental and non-governmental bodies to advocate, legislate and/or litigate against the cultural crime.


South Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement (SANAM)