Former MP Demands That Iran Implement Right of Ethnic Minorities to Preserve Languages
A former member of Parliament and Iranian-Kurdish rights activist, Jalal Jalalizadeh, has strongly criticized the Islamic Republic’s refusal to recognize the constitutional right of ethnic minorities to preserve their languages.
Eighty-eight civil rights activists have meanwhile sent a letter to President Hassan Rouhani demanding the implementation of that right.
The government’s refusal to enforce Article 15 of the Constitution “shows the authorities are weak and lack confidence in the Constitution,” Jalalizadeh told the Campaign for Human Rights in Iran on February 20, 2017.
“Thirty-eight years have passed since the (1979) revolution and still the officials look at this article in the Constitution as if it’s a dangerous thing,” he added. “What they are actually doing is denying people their rights as citizens and trampling the Constitution.”
Article 15 recognizes Persian as “The official language and script of Iran” and states that “Official documents, correspondence, and texts, as well as text-books, must be in this language and script.” It adds, however, that “the use of regional and tribal languages in the press and mass media, as well as for the teaching of their literature in schools, is allowed in addition to Persian.”
Jalalizadeh represented the people of Sanandaj, the capital city of Iran’s Kurdistan Province, in the sixth session of Parliament (2000-04) and is currently a member of the reformist Iranian National Union Party.
“We have asked the president and members of Parliament to order the Ministry of Education to implement Article 15,” Jalalizadeh told the Campaign. “If we had a strong Parliament, would the education minister dare refuse or ignore the law? He could not.”
“When we were in Parliament in the early 2000s, I and another representative from Sanandaj asked the minister of education at the time (about teaching mother languages in schools), but he, like our other officials, was very indifferent and irresponsible towards things like human rights and the rights of citizens in the Constitution,” he added.
“Indifference to the Constitution and ignoring people’s wishes are weaknesses in our state and officials,” said Jalalizadeh. “Many rights in the Constitution are being sacrificed for personal reasons by officials who, for instance, think national solidarity would suffer if other ethnic groups taught their languages in schools and flourished. They are wrong to think this way.”
In a letter to Rouhani dated February 17, 2017, 88 civil rights activists said that the implementation of Article 15 would be “an important and fundamental step” towards ending discrimination against ethnic minorities in Iran.
“The right to teach mother languages has been enshrined in many international human rights conventions and agreements… and the right to teach other languages along with Persian has been emphasized in Article 15 of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Constitution,” said the letter. “We, as signatories of this letter, seek its implementation.”
On International Mother Language Day, February 21, four Iranian ethnic Azerbaijanis were issued long prison sentences by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran for their peaceful activism against the official ban on teaching Azeri Turkish in state schools.
Alireza Farshi was sentenced to 15 years in prison and two years in exile while three of his colleagues—Akbar Azad, Behnam Sheikhi and Hamid Manafi—were each sentenced to 10 years in prison and two years in exile.
Rouhani made a pledge during his presidential campaign to lift state restrictions on teaching non-Persian languages in schools and universities.
Article 101 of the Charter on Citizens’ Rights, which he signed in December 2016, also states: “Citizens shall have the right to learn, use and teach their own local language and dialect.”
“The Rouhani administration did set up a special working group to investigate how to introduce non-Persian languages in schools, but the idea stalled when Ali Asghar Fani resigned as minister of education (in September 2016),” Jalalizadeh told the Campaign.
“I hope the new people in charge of the ministry would make a serious effort to break this spell and no one would be afraid of defending teaching other languages anymore,” he said.
“They started teaching the Kurdish language at the University of Kurdistan (in Sanandaj) and it didn’t cause any problem,” he added. “Maybe if we stop looking at Kurdish as a threat to national security and teach it in the schools in the Kurdish-speaking regions, it might benefit national solidarity.”