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Iranian Azeris protest in London

Iranian Azeris staged a protest outside the BBC World Service building in London over the Iranian government's ban on the study of the Turkish language in Iranian schools, according to the BBC's Persian Service.

Although Article 15 of the Iranian constitution allows minorities to study their own language alongside the dominant Farsi language, few Azeris are given the opportunity to study in their own language. Iran's Azeri population numbers 25 million, far outnumbering the population of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The BBC reported that 30 protestors from an Iranian Azeri group staged the two-hour London protest, holding banners with slogans reading "Down with Iranian Fascism", "Down with Iranian racism", "Stop killing and cultural genocide in Iran" and "The Turkish language will not die".

Protest organiser Shahrokh Mozahari said: "Millions of Azeri Turkish children are starting a new academic year but few of them have the right to study in their mother tongue."

He claimed the government's failure to allow children to be taught in their native language was a breach of their human rights. He added that Azeri children were at an unfair disadvantage as they are forced to learn in Farsi, a language that is often foreign to them when they start school.

Protestors claimed that the government's refusal to grant Azeris their constitutional right to learn in their native tongue had political motives. The authorities fear that minorities would push for greater autonomy within Iran unless they are forced to unify around a "national" identity dominated by Persian ethnicity. The only time when the Azeri and Kurdish minorities have been taught in their native language was in 1945-46 under the autonomous Azeri and Kurdish governments, which were dissolved when the Shah imposed his authority over the break-away regions.

The Turkish language movement is a major basis for Azeri mobilisation against the Iranian regime. Azeris comprise around a third of the Iranian population, but are often subjected to racist abuse by Persian chauvinists who characterise them as stupid. The recent publication of a cartoon in a hardline newspaper portraying Azeris as cockroaches led to violent protests in Tabriz and other towns and cities where Azeris are the dominant ethnic group.

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