Can Rouhani’s ethnic minority oriented policies be successful?

Photo: Can Rouhani’s ethnic minority oriented policies be successful? / Iran

Baku, Azerbaijan, Feb. 6

By Emin Aliyev - Trend:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has achieved relative success in the country's nuclear program talks with the P5+1, has also been notable for his policies aimed at 'getting closer' to the ethnic minorities living in the country.

A few days before the presidential election in June 2013, the moderate politician Hassan Rouhani, who made promises about changes, reforms and provision of civil rights in Iran, issued a statement regarding teaching of Iranian ethnic minorities' languages.

In his statement Rouhani stressed his intention to implement Iranian constitution's Article 15, which deals with Iran's official language and the status of other tongues in the country.

At first sight this looked merely like a pre-election campaign with the help of which Rouhani wanted to earn the trust not only among Persians but also among ethnic minorities, who according to various sources comprise about 35-39 percent of Iran's total population.

But subsequently this was not an empty campaign statement. After assuming office, Rouhani appointed the former intelligence minister Ali Younesi an aide for the affairs of ethnic and religious minorities. This was the first time an Iranian president appointed a special person to be engaged in such matters.

This was also followed by Iranian Education Minister Ali Asghar Fani saying that teaching ethnic tongues at schools will become a priority. At the same time, the governor of Iran's East Azerbaijan Province Esmaeil Jabbarzadeh spoke about creation of an Azerbaijani language and literature academy.

In multiethnic countries like Iran, the issues such as the mother tongue, as well as, the cultural and language rights of ethnic minorities gain greater importance, as the country's policies dealing with such questions greatly affect the people's attitudes towards the authorities.

With its policies, a government can really 'get closer' to the ethnic minorities, but if poorly conducted, policy may lead to minorities' hatred of that government.

Perhaps Rouhani envisaged all these issues when he started pursuing a minority oriented policy, but there is an important point that should be taken into consideration in implementing it.

This is the Article 15, which Rouhani promised to implement. The article in fact doesn't say anything about the development, protection and teaching of ethnics' languages in Iran.

On the other hand, it does say that Iran's official language is Farsi and the ethnics' tongues can be used in mass media and in teaching their literature at schools.

Obviously, the article contradicts itself because how can an ethnic minority study its literature without learning its own language? And apparently it also contradicts Rouhani's promises.

Iran's languages other than Farsi (for e.g. Azerbaijani, Balochi, Kurdish, Lurish etc.) are endangered because they are not studied and developed by their speakers.

Article 15 should be revised if Rouhani's administration really intents on winning the ethnic minorities' support, as well as providing them with an education in their mother tongues.

Another noteworthy point regarding Rouhani's ethnic minority oriented policy has been the response by local organizations and officials to this program. One of them was the reaction of many members of Iran's Persian Language and Literature Academy, which regulates the standard Farsi language in Iran and other Farsi speaking countries.

The academy members spoke against Rouhani's program on teaching ethnics' mother tongues at schools. For example the academy members, expressing concerns during a meeting with Iran's education minister, called the program "very dangerous, which will lead to problems in the country", or "a conspiracy against the Farsi language to weaken it".

So, can the teaching of ethnic minorities' languages endanger Farsi? Of course, not.

Many multiethnic countries provide an education in ethnics' mother tongues alongside with the official language, and this does not threaten the ethnic majorities' tongues. Examples of this are the U.K. and Russia.

Apart from that, languages like Farsi, which is widely used not only in Iran, but regionally, in places like Afghanistan and Tajikistan, and which is so developed and regulated, cannot be threatened if minorities start learning their mother tongues.

Actually a language is threatened when its speakers abandon it, when they don't speak and study it, which is the case of minorities' tongues in Iran. So Farsi cannot be threatened as long as native speakers themselves continue speaking and studying it.

And this is why the opinion that teaching of ethnics' tongues can threaten Farsi is unjustified.

If successful, Rouhani's ethnic minority oriented policies can be a step forward in the democratic development of Iran, as these policies will help to promote one of the main human rights, that is, the right to study and develop one's mother tongue.

It is noteworthy to say that such a policy can be a good choice in strengthening the national unity in the country; it can serve to unite all peoples in Iran as one political nation, and also play a major role in earning the ethnic minorities' support for the government, which is very much needed in multiethnic societies.

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