Election time in Iran

I admit there are two things in Iran that we, Northern Azeris envy – the first is cheap petrol and the second is free an fair elections. No joke!

Yesterday, American news magazine Time started one of its articles with this paragraph:

The presidential candidate was greeted last Monday at the airport by a jubilant throng, chanting "Azerbaijan is awake, and is supporting its son!" That slogan, shouted in the Azeri language, might sound a little discordant, given that Mir-Hossein Moussavi is running for President not of Azerbaijan, but of Iran. But the enthusiasm of his home-state crowd in East Azerbaijan may help explain — at least in part — why Moussavi is currently the strongest challenger to incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the June 12 election.

Well, it is election time in Iran and Iranians are going to elect their next president.  In this years election, there are four candidates, but two of them are considered principal: our old acquaintance, conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and relatively unknown to outside world, reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Mousavi is ethnic Azeri from the city of Khamene in Iranian Azerbaijan. Interesting enough, the same city from where incumbent Supreme Leader of Iran, conservative Ali Khamenei is from 🙂

As I recently described Khamene in a private email to a friend:

Ironically, Khamene is also a hometown of another Azerbaijani – Mirza Fath Ali Akhundov (1812-1878) who is the father of modern Azerbaijan in a sense that from his writings and legacy there grew modern Azeri nationalism [in good meaning], national movements, cultural awakening, and Azeri national identity was forged. He brought the notion of secularism into Azerbaijan, as well as from him there started our "Europeanness".

In a contrast, Khamene was also the hometown of Sheikh Mohammad Khiabani (1880-1920), a progressive cleric, who thought of Azerbaijanis as of Iranians and Asians, rather than Europeans, and whose ideal was far far away from where Akhundov thought it should be. And far from secularism defined and defended by Akhundov.

This years presidential in Iran is very, very special. Because maybe first time in the Islamic Republic’s modern history millions of dissent youth and Iran’s cybergeneration is going to vote. The veriest evidence can be the case of Facebook. The activities related to the elections got so alarming there that Iran blocked the social networking site. However, the government had to reverse its ban – too dangerous was to anger millions of Facebook users.

Another special thing with this election is that ethnic factor has become the top issue. Millions of Iranian Azeris sceptical about Islamic Republic’s politics suddenly discovered themselves in the center of it. As one an Iranian blogger writes:

[Iranian] Azerbaijan, with an undeniable role in Iran’s history, is now seeking the share it deserves. Unlike Kurds, Azeris have never been a marginal group in Iran’s political, social or economic sphere. During the 1980s people quipped that the name of Iran should change into Turkistan (the land of Turks), since at those years three senior officials were Azeri Turks: the president (Ayatollah Khamenei), the Prime Minister (Mir Hosein Musavi), and head of the judiciary (Ayatollah Musavi Ardebili, now a religious leader –Marja’-). However, identity seems like a more serious concern for Azeris: they are looking for a prominent cultural position, for their traditions, culture and language to move out of its current marginal status.

Yes, as individuals, Azeris were always successful in Iran’s politics, but as an ethnic group, they still have plenty of problems and face immense cultural discrimination. More than 20 million, they even don’t have schools in their own language – Azerbaijani. And it is not the case with Iran’s Azeri minority only. That is why Azeris, as well as all other ethnic groups in Iran are more important in this election than economy and other matters. And that partially explains why Time has named its article cited above as Can Iran’s Minorities Help Oust Ahmadinejad?.

Interesting enough, besides Mousavi’s being an ethnic Azeri, Ahmadinejad himself, according to Wikipedia, is a representative of Talysh people, a distinct ethnic group living in Iran and Azerbaijan, while Mehdi Karroubi is an ethnic Lur, a people that inhabit Southern Iran. I don’t know what is the ethnicity of remaining candidate Mohsen Rezai, but he was born in Khuzestan, Iran’s Arab province and according to his wanted profile at Interpol website, speaks Arabic.