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Tabriz Demonstrators Demand Right To Education In Azeri

On August 1, some 2,000 to 3,000 people demonstrated in the northern Iranian city of Tabriz to demand the right to be educated in Azeri Turkish and to condemn what they called "discrimination against Azeri Turks in Iran."

The demonstrators shouted, "Everybody has the right of education in their mother language," and, "Long live Azerbaijan, to hell with whomever dislikes us."

One of the participants in the protest, Akbar, told RFE/RL that shortly after the demonstration started, members of the Basij militia -- many of them dressed in civilian clothes -- attacked protesters, beating dozens and arresting at least 12.

The demonstration was reportedly organized by fans of the Tabriz-based soccer team Tractor, which played a game on July 27 in Tehran against Persepolis. Akbar said that during the game, fans of Persepolis shouted abusive slogans against the team from Tabriz, as well as "abusive and insulting slogans against Azeri Turks in general," which resulted in clashes between the two sides.

The Iranian news agency IRNA reported that some 35,000 people attended the match, which ended with a 1-0 victory for Persepolis. The agency reported that damage to the stadium totaled some $200,000 but did not mention the unrest or say how the stadium was damaged.

The disciplinary committee of Iran's soccer federation sentenced the Tractor team to play two games without fans in attendance and Persepolis to play one game.

Schools in Iran have not been allowed to teach in Azeri for the past 90 years (except for the 1945-46 school year, when the Soviet-supported government allowed it).

Censuses in Iran do not include information about one's native language, so estimates on the number of people who speak Azeri as their native language is not known precisely but is estimated to be around 15 million people.

-- Abbas Djavadi

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