Baku, Azerbaijan, May 18
By Umid Niayesh - Trend:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's campaign promises to protect ethnic minority rights have not yet matched his economic successes and achievements. This was evident in a rare incident during a football match on May 15 in Tabriz. As the main city of the Iranian Azerbaijanis, ethnic tensions played out.
While Tabriz representative Tractor Sazi FC finalized the game with result of 3-3 against Tehran's Naft FC, it was announced in stadium that another game which was held simultaneously in Iran's Esfahan city also ended with an equal result, meaning the Iranian Azerbaijanis' representative had won for the first time ever the country's Premier League title.
Thousands of Tractor Sazi fans ran on to the pitch to celebrate their victory, however moments later the celebrations soured when it became clear that the result of their rivals Sepahan FC's match left Tractor Sazi in second place.
Angry fans took to streets of Tabriz to protest what they see as a domestic division against Azerbaijanis and some protests took place in other cities of Iran's Azerbaijani provinces.
Reportedly some unknown people spread the lie in stadium, in order to avoid possible protests inside the stadium, but several people were injured in clashes in the stadium.
Ahead of pre-scheduled visit to Tabriz, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has ordered an investigation into what happened during and after the football match.
The issue is under investigation jointly by the country's intelligence and interior ministries as well as sports and youth ministry.
It is fact that football is integrated with politics in the world, however in Iran, the stadiums have changed into a tribune for the country's Azerbaijani minority to utter civil right demands in recent years.
The Tractor Sazi club, founded in 1970 was owned by Iran Tractor Manufacturing Company but in 2010 its ownership transferred to IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps). At that time there were some rumors that it was a move to have more control over the rising ethnic demands among the club's fans as during every game of Tractor Sazi FC thousands of Azerbaijani fans chant slogans and demand rights such as education in mother language.
Considering the recent incident, which has raised tension in Azerbaijani cities of Iran, in particular in Tabriz, Rouhani's first visit to the city after he took the office in 2013 comes at a sensitive time.
Rouhani has failed so far to realize his presidential campaign promises regarding teaching the ethnic mother languages of Iranians (Kurdish, Azerbaijani, Arabic, etc.). The issue of establishment of the Academy of Azerbaijani language and literature in Tabriz that was also among Rouhani's promises during his campaign also remains unresolved.
Now settling the recent incident and removing the Iranian Azerbaijanis' concerns about division is another test for the Islamic Republic's pragmatist president.
Meanwhile Rouhani has taken successful steps in settling economic problems, he has a hard path ahead still to materialize his social promises including safeguarding civil rights of the ethnic minorities and satisfying his supporters.
Edited by CN
Umid Niayesh is Trend Agency's staff journalist, follow him on Twitter: @UmidNiayesh