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Azerbaijan's Kurds Fear Loss Of National Identity

Kurdish immigrants in Baku (file photo)
Kurdish immigrants in Baku (file photo)
Representatives of Azerbaijan's Kurdish minority convened a press conference in Baku on June 29 to highlight perceived threats to their continued survival as a separate ethnic group.

Tahir Suleymanov, editor of the newspaper "Diplomat," read out an appeal on behalf of the Kurds to Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev. The appeal stressed that like any other ethnic group, the Kurds need schools with Kurdish as the language of instruction, theaters, and TV programs in their native language, in order to preserve their national identity.

It also noted that Azerbaijani Kurds consider it prudent to conceal their ethnic identity, as publicly identifying oneself as a Kurd "can elicit a negative reaction." Russian media reports on the press conference do not specify why or whether those present elaborated on that claim.

Suleymanov also made the point that not a single one of the 125 members of the Azerbaijani parliament is Kurdish.

Azerbaijan's Kurdish community is estimated at approximately 70,000, or less than 1 percent of the total population of 9.9 million. A Kurdish autonomous formation ("Red Kurdistan") existed from 1923-30, encompassing the regions of Azerbaijan that lie between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan's borders with Armenia in the west and Iran in the south. Joseph Stalin subsequently had most of the Kurdish population of the Transcaucasus deported to Kazakhstan.

According to the Russian news agency Regnum, Suleymanov and the paper he edits both support the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) that for decades has battled successive Turkish governments. Despite close ties between Ankara and Baku, and repeated calls to do so from some opposition political parties, the Azerbaijani parliament has for years desisted from formally designating the PKK a terrorist organization.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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