South Azerbaijanis are not optimistic about Rohani keeping his pre-election promises to Azeris on allowing education in their mother tongue. The new president promised in his election campaign to provide Azeris with a ‘Turkish language institution in Iran” and to save Lake Urmia from drying up.“If these [promises] happen, it will mean that Persian nationalism loses its dominance in Iran. But this is not something we can expect. The Iranian system is not in the hands of the presidency. It is in the hands of the Iranian intelligence and judiciary. And these are directly linked to the Grand Ayatollah [Ali Khamanei] in Iran,” Rodmehr said.
The MSM has a tough time covering Iran unless the news is about nukes, sanctions, or elections, and even then the coverage is pretty thin. Part of this has to do with the fact that Western observers often forget that Iran is not a nation state. The country is full of minority groups, many of whom are quite restive. From the standpoint of Tehran, one of the most troubling groups is the Azeri population, numbering 18 million, or roughly a quarter of Iran’s total population. The report from the Turkish paper Today’s Zaman points to the interest that many Turks are taking in the Azeri cause; the Azeris are one of many groups who speak languages related to Turkish in central and western Asia.The one dimensional press coverage of Iran almost always misses stories like this. Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis, and other groups in Iran have a history of resistance, sometimes violent, to Persian control and centralized power in Tehran. It’s likely that the strains caused both by sanctions and by mismanagement of the increasingly politicized Iranian economic system are making inter-ethnic tensions within Iran worse still.The government works hard, especially with the numerous Azeris, to create a sense of common Iranian identity. In fact, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself is Azeri by origin. Nevertheless, not all Azeris buy the official story.The tendency for multi-ethnic states to break up into smaller and more homogeneous units is a fact of life in the region. Just as the USSR and Yugoslavia broke apart after the fall of Communism, there are fears by some (and hopes by others) that the current round of upheaval in the Middle East could lead to the redrawing of frontiers. Russia, which remains a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional country is worried about breakaway movements in its ethnically diverse Caucasus region—one more reason why Moscow and Tehran see eye to eye on many issues.Maintaining national unity is one of the considerations that guides Iran’s policy both at home and abroad. One of the stronger arguments from an Iranian point of view for reaching a nuclear agreement is that better economic conditions would help prevent greater ethnic tension.