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UNESCO Discusses Multilingualism in Iran for the First Time

Paris, France. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, hosted a conference on multilingualism and multilingual education in Iran on International Mother Language Day.
Representatives of NGOs, human rights organizations, civil society and political organizations belonging to non-Persian nationalities in Iran met with educational and linguistic specialists at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on February 21, on the occasion of International Mother Language Day 2014. UNESCO hosted this event on the right to multilingualism in Iran, where over two-thirds of the population has a mother tongue other than Persian.

Representatives of non-Persian nationalities--Arabs, Balochi, Kurds and Turks--each addressed the problem of the inability to use and study their native languages in Iran. They protested that their languages are banned in the country’s schools, Iran’s education system and in social media.

Maud Vanwalleghem, UNPO Program Manager, attended the conference and highlighted the case of non-Persian languages in Iran and called for further support and solidarity. UNESCO officials also insisted that all indigenous peoples in Iran have the right to education, access to social media and to practice their cultures in their native languages. 

Irmgarda Kasinskaite-Buddeberg, Programme Specialist in the Knowledge Societies Division, and Serena Heckler, Small Islands & Indigenous Knowledge Section, both showed their sympathy and stated the necessity of education in one’s mother language.  They registered the concerns of delegates and received their reports.

Nasser Boladai, Spokesperson of Baluchi people, Ayda Karimli, South Azerbaijan director of communication, and Amir Saedi from Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation attended. Each participant presented the issue of mother languages in their respective areas.
Boladai spoke about the suffering of Balochi people as the Iranian regime disallows Balochi children to be educated in their mother language, the Balochi language.

Saedi presented a report on the denial of the Ahwazi-Arab people’s right to education in their Arabic mother tongue. He showed recent statistics about the dropout rates among Ahwazi-Arab children in the Iranian education system. The rate of illiteracy among Ahwazi Arabs is four times the national average in Iran. Saedi also discussed the fact that the right of education in one’s mother language is an essential human right and that the Iranian government refuses to implement Article 15 of the Iranian constitution which states that local non-Persian languages are allowed.

Non-Persian nationalities, who make up at least half, and by some accounts, two thirds of the Iranian population, have intensified their demands for education in their mother languages despite the objection of the “Institute of the Literature and Persian Language”, a government sponsored institution that claims that education in non-Persian languages weakens the Persian language and damages the so-called territorial integrity. This Institute also claims that the demand for mother languages is a foreign “conspiracy” which will lead to the country's break-up along ethnic lines.

The Azeri-Turkish activist, Ayda Karimli, discussed the suffering of Turkish-speaking Iranians who constitute about a third of the population. She said that according to Hajbabaei, the Iranian former Minister of Education, about 70% of students in Iran have a non-Persian mother language, and yet, the Persian language is the only sanctioned language and the sole declared official language of Iran.

Rouhani, the newly elected president, claimed during his presidential campaign that he will address the fact that the central government denies the basic right of education to non-Persian students, but he has never implemented his promises, Karimli said.