Rachel Avraham
Rachel AvrahamCourtesy

It was recently reported that 25 of the 32 Israeli MKs backtracked on supporting a pro-South Azerbaijani letter, after criticism was voiced by the son of Iran’s deposed Shah and members of Iran’s clerical leadership.

This is a travesty of justice, as history backs up the claim that the South Azerbaijanis deserve their own right to have a state and do not deserve to remain under the yoke of Iran, whose tyranny against the South Azerbaijanis was infamous not only under the present regime but also under the Shah.

For starters, it is important to emphasize that much of the population in today’s Iran is Turkic or of non-Persian origin. In fact, Persians make up only 40% of the population in today’s Iran. From the 11th century until the founding of the Pahlavi Dynasty, the political leadership in Iran was of mostly Turkic origin.

However, this factor did not create conflict in Iran until the Pahlavi Dynasty essentially decided that they want Iran to have an exclusively Persian identity and to negate the identity of the rest of the ethnic minorities in Iran, which includes not only South Azerbaijanis but also Kurds, Baloch, Ahwaz, Turkmen and many other ethnic groups.

In 1946, after Soviet troops withdrew and one year of fledgling South Azerbaijani independence came to an abrupt end, the Pahlavi dynasty executed thousands of Azerbaijanis and many of them were forced to flee their native homeland. As Brenda Schaffer wrote in Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity, the Azerbaijanis who did surrender to the central government in Tehran were supposed to receive the right to educate their children in their mother tongue, the retention of 75 percent of the tax revenues collected in the province and the allocation of 25 percent of the customs revenue from the province for Azerbaijan University: “Tehran did not honor this agreement. Cultural repression against the Azerbaijanis became even harsher.”

Due to the Pahlavi’s repression of South Azerbaijanis, most South Azerbaijanis today do not wish to see the return of the Shah, despite their hatred of the ayatollah's regime. They want their own independent country, where they have the right to educate their children, work and speak in their own mother tongue, rather than have the Persian language and identity imposed upon them.

South Azerbaijanis believe the return of the Shah will just be a continuation of the same repression South Azerbaijanis received under the mullahs, who have brutally repressed South Azerbaijanis for demanding basic human rights, renamed many of the towns and villages of South Azerbaijan with Persian names, dried up Lake Urmia and committed countless other abuses against South Azerbaijanis, while the international community turns a blind eye to these crimes against humanity.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a prominent Middle East scholar at Bar Ilan University, stressed in an exclusive interview that these Israeli MKs made a fatal mistake in withdrawing their letter: “First of all, the letter does not deal with the independence of South Azerbaijan. All the letter does is ask people to stop persecuting the Azerbaijanis. That is all. They did not speak of dividing up Iran. But the Iranians are very sensitive of any discussion on South Azerbaijanis or other minorities, as it is their weak link. I personally support their quest for freedom. If Iran is divided into ethnic states, it will definitely play to the Israeli interest, just like the Soviet Union which fell apart helped the Americans. Israel made a..mistake by inviting the son of the Shah. They should invite the leaders of all the minorities to encourage them to dismantle Iran...Inviting him did nothing.”

Ahmad Obali, chairman of the international relations committee at the South Azerbaijan National Freedom Front and founder of Gunaz TV, added: “To invite Pahlavi to Israel or receive him but give him such high media access, to have him walk around and use Israeli media as a propaganda tool for his own future, puts Israel in the position of supporting monarchy when people need freedom. We do not need another dictatorship in Iran. For the past 100 years, we had one dictatorship after another. This needs to stop. He is one of the most blamed people who helped the Iranian government stop the protests. People do not want to protest to bring another dictatorship to the country. It is true we do not want the Islamic Republic, but we also don’t want Pahlavi as the alternative. So, that is a bad idea. How can Israel deal with this backlash?”

According to Obali, “I was happy when the 32 signatures came out for it balanced the Reza Pahlavi visit in Israel. It showed that Israel is not seeking another dictatorship and is a democracy. But then the Israeli Intelligence Minister forced MKs to retract their signatures and went out and tweeted she made them take their signatures back. If you are sitting in Iran and thinking Israel is a democracy and a free country, and then under the request of the Pahlavis, they force MKs to take their signatures back. What kind of democracy is Israel? If MKs cannot express their views about their opinion about a country against Israel, then is Israel a free country? MKs do not make policy. Cabinets do. What happened is a huge mess.”

He continued: “Now, Israel came out against Israel’s non-Persian minorities. Israelis should know that Pahlavis are Aryan racists. If the name of the game is to use anything to frustrate the Iranian regime, Pahlavi was not a good choice for the Iranian regime got a benefit of it. As someone who has always been pro-Israel, I am confused. Are we dealing with an Israel that is our friend or are being used? Where is the friendship?”

Obali concluded: “I think that now the MKs were forced to take their signatures back, then the Minister should...some-how make it up to non-Persians in Iran. Is it Israeli policy to protect Iran’s territorial integrity at the expense of human rights, minority rights and cultural rights? Is that the policy? This minister has done a huge disservice to Israel. If it is not fixed immediately, it will have a very negative long-term effect. As a friend of Israel, I am extremely disappointed by the visit of Pahlavi and forcing the MKs to take their signatures back.”

Tarlan Ahmadov, the president of the Azerbaijani Society of Maine, concurred: “Everyone in the community is disappointed with this move, with 25 people retracting their signatures. It just shows how much it is unfair towards the ethnic minorities in Iran. This is how the Iranian propaganda works. This ...Reza Pahlavi who visited Israel recently crushed the minorities under his father’s regime. This same pressure of minorities occurred under mullah’s regime and it is not going to change. But I would hope that Israel will stand with Southern Azerbaijanis and support their freedom.”

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”