July 27th: In response to an offensive article published by Iranian newspaper “Tarh-e no” (New Way), Iranian Azerbaijanis gathered in the predominantly Azeri – speaking cities of Tabriz and Urmia to protest against what they considered racist content.
According to Oyan News and HRA news agencies, hundreds were present at the protests and more than 20 protestors were detained. According to some reports, protestors were beaten with batons by police officers on motorcycles and other members of police personnel.
In videos recorded of the protest and later spread on social media, one can hear slogans of “Ey, ey! I’m a [Azeri] Turk!”, “We will not stand for the humiliation of the Azerbaijani nation!” and “Death to fascism!”
The BBC Persian service
reported that on the 20th of July, Tarh-e No, which is published in Tabriz, published an episode from the Persian epic “Shah-name” (Epic of Kings), in which one of the heroes, Rostam, is incorrectly reported as insulting Azerbaijani warriors and Azerbaijani women.
Muhammad Ahdi, a reporter for Oyan News, told BBC Farsi that the protests were triggered not only by this event alone; Tarh-e No has published similar material before, and frequently publishes nationalist, Iranian content.
In the last few days, the editor of Tarh-e No, Muhammad Reza Rabani has given interviews to several online newspapers, and has publicly apologized for the hurtful material: “Though it was not the writer’s intention to be insulting, he has been removed from the newspaper’s staff for his failure to check his words.”
Tabriz, the capital of the Iranian province of Eastern Azerbaijan, is located 630 kilometers away from the country’s capital, Tehran. More than 90% of the city’s 1.8 million inhabitants speak Azeri (Azerbaijani) as their first language. Tabriz has been on multiple occasions the site of protests on ethnic and linguistics grounds given the lack of linguistic freedoms afforded the Azerbaijani population in Iran.