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Iranian State TV

Iranian State TV (Channel 2 Network) which is shown throughout Iran showed a prerecorded segment of popular Fetileh show on Friday November 6, 2015, which angered most of Azerbaijani Turks in Iran.

Fetileh show which is considered an educational and entertainment program intended for school-age children shows a father and his son who want to leave the hotel they have stayed at. They have come to the front desk and are arguing with the hotel manager about an unbearable odor in the room. They speak Farsi with Azerbaijani accent and sometimes use short Azerbaijani sentences. The manager is listening to them and trying to calm them down. He is also trying to prove to the audience that these people are so backward and so uncivilized that they have never stayed in a modern hotel and they do not know how to use the shower and hotel bathroom. As conversation continues the audience is led to believe that the boy has mistaken a toilet cleaning brush with a tooth brush and has brushed his teeth with toilet brush. The discussion gets more gross and disgusting as it continues.

As soon as the show aired massive protest rallies started by ethnic Azerbaijanis. Tens of thousands poured into the streets in Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil, Zanjan, Khoy, Maragheh, Sulduz (Naghadeh), Ahar, Meshkinshahr and other Azerbaijani cities in Northwestern Iran. The producers and actors playing in the show were quick to apologize and high-ranking officials in the Iranian state TV claimed that perpetrators were disciplined and one person was removed from his post in the department producing the show. The show has been suspended for now. Government officials in Azerbaijan region of Iran and most members of parliament from the region condemned the broadcast of the show and encouraged people to be more forgiving and stay calm. Friday prayer imams from various cities in the region also condemned the insulting program. However the protest rallies have continued for days and show no signs of decreasing.

Several apologies which came too late

One of the main reasons behind the anger and bitterness of the protesters is the half-hearted apology of the director and actors of the show. The apologetic perpetrators are claiming there was an honest mistake, a simple oversight; and there was no intention of insulting Azerbaijanis. This kind of apology works like adding more fuel to the fire. It is hard to believe that nobody saw anything wrong in long process of compliance with state policies covering TV production. Obviously some people made decisions in advance to produce this hateful show. The script was written. It was approved for production. Actors were chosen. The show was directed and filmed. All of these people made conscious decisions to go ahead with producing the show and no one objected. Doesn’t anybody check the script before it is approved for production? Didn’t it bother the actors, the producer, the cameramen and all other people who had a role in producing the show? Nobody saw the insults and demeaning of Azerbaijani Turks? How about the release manager? Who gave the OK to air this disgusting show?

Why are the Azerbaijanis so bitter and outraged about the show?

The believers in Persian Supremacy tell Azerbaijanis to show patience and be more forgiving. They say: “This was just a joke. Can’t the Azerbaijanis take a joke?” The fact is that the state resources were used to produce this show. If the perpetrates had the slightest doubt that somebody would stop them, they would not have produced the show. So they were confident that a green light was shining and there was no limit to their “creativity”. The most insulting part of the segment is the conversation about the boy brushing his teeth with a toilet brush used to clean bathrooms. In a country which claims to have ancient civilization, is this what should be shown to school children? Even if there were no racial/ethnic slurs, this program would still not be suitable for children. The script is gross and disgusting.

An insider job by believers in Persian supremacy

Most likely there are renegade Persian supremacists within Iranian State TV who decided to use state resources to produce a show with intension of insulting Azerbaijani Turks. It is worth mentioning that before the Islamic revolution Iranian TV was the Pahlavi regime’s main propaganda tool to advocate racism and Persian supremacy. However, State TV was rarely used for insults against non-Persian ethnic groups. The Islamic Republic distanced itself from state policy of Persian supremacy soon after the revolution of 1979 but as they consolidated power they gradually returned to the Shah’s policy of Persian supremacy. Production and airing of a segment of Fetileh show with ethnic slurs against the Azerbaijanis most likely is the work of Persian supremacists inside the government.

Prosecution of the perpetrators

Only a disillusioned sick-minded person can participate in this cultural assault against Azerbaijani people. The writer of the script, the director, the players, the cameramen, all the people involved in production of this “piece of art” must be evaluated for sound-decision making. They must be prosecuted and brought to justice. They belong in psychiatric institutions and must be barred from working in TV or movie production for life.

History repeats itself

In May of 2006 a similar “incident” happened. Iran’s state-run newspaper “Iran” in a children’s magazine which is published as a supplement to its Friday edition published a caricature depicting Azerbaijanis as cockroaches who live in toilets. Ironically in that case also state resources were used to insult the second largest ethnic group in Iran, if not the largest, the Azerbaijani Turks. Mass protest rallies followed for days in all Azerbaijani majority cities and towns in North-West Iran. Many local officials condemned the caricature and participated in protest rallies. Close to 10 people were killed in protest rallies.

Brief background about Azerbaijanis in Iran

Iran is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual country. Persians are about half of the population and Azerbaijani Turks are about one third. Some estimates put Azerbaijani numbers much higher – up to 35 million, claiming some Persians are Azerbaijanis or mixed with one Azerbaijani parent. There are also large communities of Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Turkmans and others in Iran. Azerbaijanis in Iran speak a Turkic language same as spoken in Republic of Azerbaijan and understood by Turks of Turkey. Azerbaijanis or other Turkic dynasties have ruled Iran for centuries. However they have fallen out of favor after Pahlavis, a Persian dynasty took over in early 20th century. They were very active in Islamic revolution of 1979 which led to downfall of the Pahlavis. However despite earlier gains, their role in political life of Iran has declined over the past two decades. Most Azerbaijanis demand cultural rights especially language rights and self-rule within Iran. However there are active groups who advocate total independence and separation from Iran.

Current demonstrations sparked by the Fetileh show on Iranian State TV have been mostly peaceful. However there is heavy presence of riot police in Azerbaijan region. Many Azerbaijani activists have been arrested. Protesters’ demands include: Apology from senior leaders of the Islamic Republic, prosecution of perpetrators, putting an end to racism against Azerbaijani Turks, and implementation of article 15 of Iranian constitution which allows teaching of local languages in schools. Long-standing problem of drying of like Urmia and inaction of the Iranian authorizes; and prolonged incarceration of Azerbaijani activists are two other thorny issues bothering most Azerbaijani Turks.

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