Forgetting the Brethren

by Rasmus Christian Elling.

The Muslim Uyghurs of China are, in many ways, losers. Not just because they are a suppressed and persecuted minority suffering from economic and political marginalization, and not just because most of them live in poverty while their ancestral home is being colonized by Chinese settlers exploiting the region’s natural resources. They have also lost in the battle for headlines. It took a bloodbath before the Uyghurs finally caught some attention.

With its outrage over Chinese oppression in Tibet, Western media has for years engaged in a full-scale ‘war of sympathy’ on behalf of the Tibetans. Journalists, authors, artists and movie stars have used every occasion to highlight the plight of Buddhists in Tibet; the Uyghurs, however, being Muslim, have received none of this attention. Now, with over a hundred dead and thousands arrested, Western media have finally open its eyes to China’s other backyard. And still, there has been no clear expression of support for the Uyghurs by Western leaders who are too cautious not to harm their relations with the rising economic giant in the East.

Calling on the Muslim World
But how about the Muslim world? In the recent unrest in Xinjiang, at least one observer has noted what might be a conscious use of Islamic symbolism by protesting women to open eyes in the Muslim world. On The New Dominion, ‘OpkeHessip’ wrote about this picture:

“This is an image that will appeal powerfully to the Muslim world. This picture tells a story of brave boys who righteously stood up, as young men do, and who were punished by non-Muslim occupiers. The image is a mother, the keeper of tradition, the one who educates religious and ethnic values and traditions into her children, looking out for those children, missing them, coming to find them when they have lost their way. Here, she chides and scolds the men who have taken her son away, and, in their stillness, they seem to fear her.”

He also noted that

“Even if the participants were not necessarily religious, they would still identify as Muslims, making the headscarf a very visible symbol of unity, as well as difference from Han Chinese.”

and that

“…if someone politically savvy planned this action, then they may have actually called on female participants to wear headscarves. The image of a crowd of apparently traditional Muslims facing down what looks like a faceless army of Chinese can draw on over a billion sympathizers.”

The story behind the picture has indeed become front page material on the websites of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, Ash-Sharq al-Awsat, Al-Quds, Hürriyet, Milliyet, Sabah, Today’s Zaman, Yeni Safak etc. etc. On Pakistan Daily, one headline read ‘China to further ties with Pakistan’ and next to it, ‘Muslim Unrest in China’. Some of them carry extremely gory pictures of dead people. Xinjiang is clearly important stuff in the Muslim world. But not in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The issue of Iranian media responses to the Xinjiang unrest carries some interesting points.

From Pan-Islamic Solidarity to Tactical Realism
One of the main messages of the 1978-9 movement led by Ayatollah Khomeini was that the revolution was not just an Iranian revolution, but a Koranic uprising. The Islamic Revolution belongs to all Muslims, the  vanguard claimed; indeed, the revolution belonged to all mostaz‘afin: all the Third World masses who had been downtrodden by Imperialist powers. Khomeini blasted US, the Soviet Union and Apartheid South Africa. Iranian solidarity was to be extended to the whole non-aligned world; oppressed Muslims everywhere would receive Tehran’s support. When the revolutionary fervor settled, another picture emerged.

It is no secret that when clerics and their Islamist allies turned into statesmen, they quickly became realists, concerned primarily with the national interests of a clearly defined nation-state, and not the utopian visions of a global, boderless Ummah. In the long run, they even became pragmatists, calculating tactical decisions in their foreign policy that only rarely were based on considerations for the plight of Muslim brethren in other countries.

The Islamic Republic did not help the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 when they were massacred in Hama by the secular Ba‘thist regime of Syria; the Islamic Republic sided with the Christian Armenians against the Shiite Muslim Azerbaijanis in the fight over Nagorno-Karabagh; the Islamic Republic did not help the Chechens when they were under full-scale Russian attack; and the Islamic Republic even prevented an agitated crowd of Basiji Students from leaving for Palestine when the Israeli war machine was pounding the West Bank into smithereens half a year ago.

And now it seems that the Islamic Republic will not stand up for their Muslim brethren in Xinjiang. This is far from surprising: Iran is extremely dependent on Beijing for investments and support in the UN Security Council, and careful not to damage this crucial relationship.

Silence – and opportunities
This is also why there is so little attention to the topic in state-run and state-affiliated Iranian media. In today’s Kayhân, the Supreme Leader’s mouthpiece, there is a small piece tucked away in the International section that mentions anti-government unrest in Xinjiang. The article does not even mention that Uyghurs are Muslims.

There was no mention of Xinjiang on the front page of the state news agency IRNA’s website this morning. On the Foreign News page, a new Iranian refinery deal with China was categorized as ‘Important News’, followed by two pieces on Hillary Clinton’s response to the Xinjiang unrest and Hu Jintao’s return from the G8 Summit. References were made to ‘ethnic violence’ and to Rebiya Kadeer as a ‘local leader’ – but the Uyghurs were not mentioned let alone their Muslim identity.

On the front page of the state-run Irân daily, a headline proclaimed “China, Iran’s Biggest Trade Partner in Asia”. No mention of Xinjiang. The front page of the state-affiliated Mehr news told of ‘The opportunity for Iran and China to cooperate on gas for the next 100 years’. No mention of Xinjiang.

And so on.

The many similarities between the ongoing clampdown on Uyghur protesters in China and the repression of anti-Ahmadinejad protesters in Iran has not been lost on Iranian ‘reformists’, however. Masume Ebtekar – former US embassy hostage-taker, former vice president and a prominent ‘reformist’ – has seized the opportunity and stated:

“For years, the Islamic Republic would react whenever and wherever Muslims and downtrodden masses were oppressed and subjugated. But in recent years, we see that this ideal has been modified in relation to the Eastern Bloc.”

She argues that state-run media has failed to understand and portray this as a Muslim protest movement, and she compares the lack of official condemnation to the Iranian government’s silence vis-à-vis massacres on Shiites in Kashmir and Muslims in Chechnya. However, the most interesting point, is that she describes the government clampdown exactly like the clampdown Iranian opposition were subject to during the recent post-election unrest.

Indeed, there are many superficial similarities: Chinese authorities have brought in paramilitary forces to quell the protests; mobile phone network has been shut down and access to weblogs and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook has been restricted; state-run media portray the demonstrators as rioters and hoodlums; and the government claims that the unrest has been masterminded and directed from abroad. Finally, Ebtekar sarcastically concludes, with reference to the Iranian government’s accusation against the opposition:
“I’m not sure if these similarities means that we are talking about suppression of a velvet revolution or not!?”

Twitter-users in Iran have also noted the similarities. One Twitter wrote:
“It is interesting to note that Russia and China – two intimate friends of the Iranian regime – are killing Muslims and the Iranian regime says nothing”

Another wrote:
“Friends, I am proud that our Green Wave and its valuable victories has also reached China …!”

And a journalist added:
“Ahmadinejad: Palestinians are not the only Muslims! If you’re a man, voice your protest against China! … China massacred its Muslims, Ahmadinejad kept his mouth shut…”

The Iranian China Model: More East than West?
What remains of the ‘reformist’ press in Iran has picked up the story, which figures on the front page of Âftâb-e Yazd today. On the ‘reformist’ website Âyande News, there is a long article with many pictures and film clips from Urumqi. The title of the piece is ‘Attacking Zionists, Smiling at Communists!’:

“The ruling Communist party’s Chinese model of mischievousness and provocation has finally caused the people of Xinjiang – one of the country’s Muslim-inhabited regions – to lose their patience, and in the aftermath of a peaceful demonstration, a bloodbath occurred.”

The ‘Chinese model’ is clearly supposed to be seen in the light of a similar ‘Iranian model’. The article explains in detail how 20 million Uyghurs suffer from anti-Islamic policies and economic, political and cultural discrimination at the hands of the Chinese government. With what appear as occasional hyperbole and sensationalist claims, the article portrays the recent unrest as something close to genocide. Like in the Ebtekar blog entry, the article enumerates all the government measures. It also states that the Chinese government cracked down on the Tiananmen Square unrest in 1989 with the excuse that the demonstrators were manipulated by the US. The Iranian state has leveled the exact same accusations against protestors in Iran recently.

The article concludes, again in a sardonic tone:
“It remains to be seen how the diplomatic machinery and other justice-and-freedom-seeking organs [in Iran] – who wear mourning shrouds when there are minor events in Gaza – will retain a pragmatic silence vis-à-vis the horrendous killing of Muslims in the province of Xinjiang; or whether they will apply the famous prophetic saying, and answer the call of freedom from the Muslims of that region with diplomatic support?!”

Apart from being Muslims, the Uyghurs are also ethnic Turks – indeed, the radical ethno-nationalist Uyghur groups call their homeland ‘East Turkistan’. In Iran, somewhere around 25-30% of the population is also of Turkic origin, or rather, speak a Turkic language, generally alongside Persian. In recent years, Iran has witnessed a wave of ethnic mobilization and unrest, even among the Azeris, who are considered the most assimilated or integrated ethnic group.

Iran’s Azeris have taken notice of events in Xinjiang. Bizim Tabriz carries a gruesome video allegedly showing Han Chinese men killing three Uyghurs. The website also reports on Turkey’s nationalist parties’ reaction to the events. On Âzâd Tabriz News, a writer states that ‘the Islamic Republic goes hand in hand with those who murder Muslims in East Turkistan, Chechnya and Karabagh.‘ He laments that none of the major Shiite clerics responded with fatwas against Armenians killing Azeris during the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict, and he calls on Iranians to ask their spiritual guides now for a ruling on the Islamic Republic’s relationship with Muslim-killing countries such as China.

The radical Pan-Turkist groups are also paying full attention to the plight of their Turkic brethren. Milli Harekat has displayed gruesome pictures and are describing the latest events as part of a broader scheme to eliminate Uyghurs completely. Pan-Turkist groups have also sent condolences to their Turkic brethren in  the Uyghur World Congress.

An interesting facet is the way that not just radical groups, but also ‘reformist’ politicians can turn this into another point of opposition against the Ahmadinejad government. Indeed, when Ahmadinejad went to Russia during the recent unrest, Karubi evoked the centuries-old image of ‘The Russian Foe’ and stated that Russia has always interfered in Iran’s domestic affairs. This is an interesting twist to the blame game: normally, it is Ahmadinejad who accuses the ‘reformists’ of being lackeys of the West; now, the reformists can blame Ahmadinejad of being a lackey of both North and East.

Iran’s professed ‘Neither West nor East’ ideology is again questioned and the latent pan-Islamic ideals vs. national interests discussion can once again be (ab)used in factional rivalries.

It will be interesting to see if the Iranian opposition will capitalize further on the ‘Oppressed Muslims in China and Russia’ discourse. It is, however, most likely that the Uyghurs will again be forgotten – not just by CNN and BBC, but also by their brethren in the Muslim world.

23 responses to “Forgetting the Brethren

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  2. “In Iran, somewhere around 25-30% of the population is also of Turkic origin, or rather, speak a Turkic language, generally alongside Persian.”

    Hi Rasmus, where do you get that information from??? That’s simply not true. 25-30% of the population in Iran are NOT of Turkic origin, but speak a Turkic-Persian language which is an offshot from Pahlavi language. Every major DNA test have verified that Azari’s are of pure Aryan stock and hence not Turkic. This is almost common sense among many iranians and has been known since at least the days Ahmad Kasravi. I can post links to DNA results if you’re interested.

  3. As I wrote, “OR RATHER” …

  4. I do not want to get dragged in to the boring, ridiculous and old discussion of DNA and racial ancestry. All sober studies of Iran show that people express their identities in many different ways, including ethnic terms. It is common knowledge that a large part – whether 15, 20 or 30% – of Iran also speak a Turkic language alongside Persian. Modern Azeri is NOT the ancient Azari of Kasravi’s studies, even though it has borrowed many elements and words from Indo-European languages; just as Persian has borrowed many elements and words from Arabic but is not a Semitic language for that reason.

    For general info and estimates of the Turkic-speaking Iranian population, refer to:
    Touraj Atabaki: ‘Ethnic diversity and territorial integrity of Iran’, Iranian Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2005: pp. 23-44; Nikki Keddie: ‘The Minorities Question in Iran’ in S. Ayubi & S. Tahir-Kheli (eds.): The Iran-Iraq War: Old Weapons, New Conflicts, Praeger, 1995: pp. 85-108; Massoume Price: Iran’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook, ABC-Clio, 2005; Nayereh Tohidi: ‘Ethnicity and Religious Minority Politics in Iran’ in A. Gheissari (ed.): Contemporary Iran: Economy, Society, Politics, Oxford University Press, 2009; Ahmadi, Hamid. 1999: Qowmiyyat va qowm-gara’i dar iran. Tehran:
    Nashr-e Ney; Higgins, Patricia J. 1984. ‘Minority–State Relations in Contemporary Iran’, Iranian Studies 17, 1: 37–71; etc etc etc….

  5. It may sound like a boring and ridiculous discussion to you and many others, and it was not my intention to drag you into something you will not discuss. However, (1) from an academic point of view, it’s important to give correct and verified data when discussing topics like this, (2) it is crucial not to spread (although it wasn’t your intention) false claims. As you know, Iran is a sensitive area when it comes to it’s ethnicity specially due to the last 30 years (and probably even before that) of oppression of certain “ethnic groups”. Most iranians, like my self, are nationalists and we will not wish our country to be reduced further because of “ethnic diversity”. Many people will take this as a ridiculous discussion, but one have to look at the history of Iran to understand why. The iranian “nationalism” is incompatible with european or any other form of nationalism. One need to look beyond the left-right wing discussion in order to grasp the essence of the iranian nationalism.

  6. It’s important not to base ethnicty on the criterion that language = ethnicty. If that were true most people around the globe would belong to many different ethnic groups which is simply absurd. I speak four different languages but I certainly do not belong to any of those groups. As you correctly notice “people express their identities in many different ways, including ethnic terms”, and as I know many azari’s express their identity as iranian’s, not because of DNA studies, but because of their common history, traditions and culture which all are closely tied to other iranian’s. So you have (1) almost same DNA, (2) almost (if not identical) same culture, (3) same history, and many azari’s (4) express their identity as iranians. You even have (5) same religion. As I see it, (1)-(5) = ethnicty. It is therefore crucial to refer to azari’s as people of iranian origin and not of turkic origin.

  7. 1) It is impossible to give ‘verified’ data for ethnic groups since the Iranian government, like you, fear ethnic diversity: Therefore they do not permit any statistical surveys and force us to work with estimates and old surveys.

    2) It depends, as you say, on how we define ethnicity. That was also why I wrote “or rather, speak a Turkic language, generally alongside Persian.” Ethnic identity (hoviyyat-e qowmi, qowmiyyat) can be defined in many ways – one of them is language. As I stated, Azeri is NOT a dialect of Persian – it is an independent language of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic language family.

    3) The tedious discussion I did not want to enter was one of genetics and racial ancestry – in other words, racist definitions of identity. Ethnicity is a social construct and has nothing to do with DNA.

    4) You correctly note that Iranians identify themselves first and foremost as Iranian. This is why national unity is strong in Iran. The problem is that Persian nationalists do not seem to accept that you can be BOTH Iranian AND be a member of a minority community, such as Turk/Azeri (irâniyân-e torki-zabân or tork-tabâr or tork-hâ-ye irân), Baluch, Kurd, Lur, etc. etc. Persian nationalists seek to monopolize the notion of Iranian-ness and twist it into something racial (that is, based on the Aryan myth) and something ethno-chauvinistic (that is, based on Persian supremacy). Rather, why not focus on the common factors, as you mention: common history, traditions, culture and a national lingua franca?

    5) About contemporary Iranian nationalism and the futility of comparing it with Western nationalism: you’re completely right. I’m finishing an article (today!) on Khomeinism and nationalism. It will be published, hopefully, next year – and I will mention it here on the blog. I look forward to your comments.

    I perfectly understand your fear of ethnic unrest, regionalism and even separatism (although by far the majority of ethno-political groups are NOT separatists, as claimed by the Iranian state, but rather ‘hoviyyat-talab’, seeking to define their own identity after a century of monarchic despotism, Persian-centered nationalism and Islamism). Even Khomeini – with his slogan ‘vahdat dar eyn-e kesrat’ and his speeches on the topic – realized that ethnic diversity is not only a social fact, but that it can be beneficial for the Iranian nation as a whole. It is ethnic diversity that has enriched Iran for centuries and made it uniquely Iranian.

    The attempts by the Pahlavi regime to emulate certain Western countries and its notion that modernization demanded homogenization is now out-dated and discredited. In particular the “Aryan” myth, which is based on Western Orientalist scholarship and racist ideologies of the 20th century, has been severely discredited. The idea that Iranians are essentially all ‘Aryans’ completely forgets the countless waves of ethnic migration, invasions and intra-ethnic fusion – and again, has been dismissed by many scholars. See for example: Ali Al-Taie: Bohrane hoviyyate qowmi dar iran, 1999. Although I do not agree with all his findings, you should also read: Mostafa Vaziri: Iran as Imagined Nation.

    The policy of conflating Iranian-ness with only Persian language and culture and nothing else – including the attempt to discredit other distinct languages as mere dialects of Persian and to refer to ethnic groups as “tribes” – has proven detrimental and resulted in ethnic mobilization and unrest. What would happen if Persian nationalists instead saw ethnic diversity as an asset, and not a threat? Hostile powers’ abuse of ethnic discontent is only possible when ethnic minorities are discriminated against, marginalized and rejected. For a strong national unity, Iranian nationalists might want to embrace rather than demonize their non-Persian compatriots. Otherwise they will contribute to a growing ethnic awareness movement that may not turn out the way that nationalists (or Islamists) could hope for. See for example:
    R. C. Elling: ‘State of Mind, State of Order: Reactions to Ethnic Unrest in Iran’, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 2008.

    Thus, your views do not surprise me at all. Actually, I’m writing a PhD thesis about this topic, and two months ago I gave a paper at University of California about representations and rejections of ethnicity among Iranian intellectuals, which I can forward to you when it is published.

    I certainly understand that it is a sensitive and crucial topic – but that does not mean that we cannot discuss it. Tabooing something or insisting to call it something else does not make it go away. And anyways, if you do not accept the reality of ethnic diversity then you do not accept political pluralism. What are the chances for democracy then?

  8. Hello Rasmus

    Thank you for your comments and remarks. You’re absolutely right that Azari is not a dialect of Persian. The old Azari however was an offshot from Pahlavi which indicates that people who spoke Azari at that time were Iranians. Azari-speaking people of modern Iran are highly likely the descendens of those who spoke ancient Azari.

    (Ad 3) I don’t agree that ethnicity is purely a social construct as I disgree with any radical Social Constructivist theories, if that was your point. But I will not discuss this further here – it is a long discussion.

    (Ad 4) You absolutely hit the nail on the head with that. But I think the “old Persian nationalist idea”, as you correctly notice, who try to monopolize “Iranianizm”, is somehow turning among young Iranians today – I must admit, I can’t verify that and I haven’t studiet the issue, but that is my overall impression when talking to or reading blogs and articles by young Iranian intellectuals.

    I think few would seriously claim that Iranians are a “pure” race, as the concept itself is an oxymoron. The people of Iran are a rich blend of languages, genetic profiles and even ethnic origins due to many factors, like the invasions by Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Greeks, etc. While Iranians may be characterized as racially diverse, you can’t deny Iran’s enduring Aryan heritage, that is, a strong Aryan element that has continued to endure to this very day.

    All DNA studies on this issue verify that. In fact, many Iranians and Armenians share the same European gene pool, which is almost non-existent among Arabs or any non-Iranians in the area we (incorrectly) refer to as the “Middle East”. Recent studies also show that Azaris are not genetically related to Turkic people – please see e.g. Richards, Martin: Tracing European Founder Lineages. So it is really not a myth. It’s not different than referring to Danes as Germanics, which isn’t a myth either. The problem occur when you claim an “Aryan supremacy”, which you correctly point out. But we must not rob the reality of the Iranian Aryan heritage because of some peoples desire to monopolize and even twist the realities into their own agenda, like e.g. Hitler did.

    This is about proven scientific facts and not about twisted ideologies. Please keep that in mind when referring to an “Aryan myth”. You have too look beyond the Nazi “Aryan myth”, which some Iranian themselves are confused about. To me, Iranian nationalism is exactly what you refer to: Common history, traditions, culture and even a national lingua franca. But also, as you probably know, a defence of the country against foreign powers’ abuse of the ressources within the country and an abuse of the strategic position of the country. Not because of “conservatism”, i.e. preservation of old traditions or culture, which, in my view, is the death to any progressive development, but because of the injust that Iran and Iranians have been witness to in so many years now, cf. e.g. “the great game” and the coup d’etat in 1953.

    (Ad 5) As I see it, the revolution of 1979 succeeded mostly because Khomeini and his followers managed to introduce or inject the notion of nationalism into Shiiti’sm (a “self-made” form of nationalism who in reality destroys anything “nationalistic”, if you ask me) but he omitted one important factor: Secular democracy, which were the true desire of the people, and that is exactly why we see the riots today: When old (and out-dated) tyrannical-based ideology clashes with the notion of liberty and democracy (the true desire of the people), things explode. Two incommensurable worldviews can simply not coexist – and that’s not even the 1/10 of the story.

    I absolutely agree that a strong national unity presupposes all ethnic groups come together and thus embrace the diversity. I myself am half Azari and half Persian, although I exclusively refer to myself as Iranian. I also absolutely agree that we need and must discuss these issues in order to understand the realities, and I do accept political diversity. In fact, I don’t think you’ll ever find a person more committed to the notion of (true) secular democracy than me. I also agree on all other points you make. I look forward to read your published papers. I live in Copenhagen and right now I’m finishing my M.A. thesis in Philosophy from SDU but I’m very interested in Iran, Iranian history and politics (or politics in generel). If you have the time to meet and discuss further on some of these or related issues, please contact me at

    Arian Odabaei

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  10. Shadi Samir

    Its interesting since Ebtekar has an English weblog too

  11. Rasmus, probably one of the reasons Western governments are cautious in supporting the Uyghurs is the (apparently little known) fact that most of the people killed during the recent unrests were…civilian Han Chinese.

    Terrorist attacks in China also, and almost invariably, involve Uyghurs. Those Uyghurs detained on Guantanamo did not get there by accident, they were in a training camp in Afghanistan.

    Note that this use of violence is clearly different from the Tibetans (with exception of the riots a year ago).

  12. Arian ,you are in wrong place for your propaganda.

  13. ”TURK”, you are in a wrong place for your unsubstantial allegation

    Everything I have stated about the Iranian origin of the Azaris are all verified and proven scientific facts.

    Everything I have stated about the Aryan origin and the enduring Aryan element in Iranians today are all verified and proven scientific facts.

    Non of the above should come as surprise. All this have been known for ages based on historical and linguistic grounds alone, and even ancient written accounts, cf. e.g. the accounts of the Arab historian, Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Masudi. The most well-documented research in recent years (June 2006) is the now well-known Cambridge Genetic Study of Iran. This document shows that Azerbaijanis of Iran have dissimilar genetic markers to Anatolian Turks (presumably Turkmen) or the Turks of European (western Turkey), while genetic traits of Iranian Azaris are identical to those of Persians in Iran. The Azaris are genetically Iranians who have been through Turkification – hence their Turkic language.

    These are about scientific facts. Anything else about “ethnic identity” of the Azaris is about sociology. Rasmus emphasizes the importans of sociology which I certaintly do not disagree with (but I disagree that “ethnic identity” exclusively is a “social construct”, if that was Rasmus’ point. I see that as a radical view). Even at that level, everything is pointing at one direction: The Azaris identify themselves mostly as Iranians (or sometime as Iranian Turks).

    Now you show me any of the above is “propaganda”, unless you want to redefine the very meaning of the word.

  14. @ Arian:

    If you had said ‘Indo-European’ instead of ‘Aryan’ we might have had an interesting (yet, in this context, somewhat pointless) discussion. Your insistence on this ‘Aryan heritage’ and your wishful thinking (based on blog-reading) about a growing ‘Iranizm’ really doesn’t make for a constructive discussion.

    You wrote in your first post that the Azeris “speak a Turkic-Persian language which is an offshot from Pahlavi language”. Now you’re admitting that the Pahlavi-offshoot Azari is in fact extinct, and that modern Azeri IS a Turkic language. What’s your point then?

    You wrote in your first post:
    “Every major DNA test have verified that Azari’s are of pure Aryan stock and hence not Turkic.”
    In your second last post last post you wrote:
    “I think few would seriously claim that Iranians are a “pure” race, as the concept itself is an oxymoron.”
    … So what exactly are you trying to say? That Iranians are not a ‘pure’ race, but that Azaris are ‘pure’ Aryans? Can’t you see that all ethnic groups in Iran may share a common Iranian (not Aryan) heritage, but that this heritage is based on many cultures, ethnic migrations and political developments?

    You say that “all DNA studies” verify the existence of an “Aryan heritage”. But at the same time, you say that Iranians are racially mixed. Just out of curiosity: this DNA, then, does it show a “cultural gene”? How can DNA tests reveal ‘a heritage’? I mean, historically, my family is French Huguenot. Does that mean that deep down I’m actually French and all this time, I’ve been expressing a Danish ethnic identity, which is in fact un-pure?

    You stated that “Azari-speaking people of modern Iran are highly likely the descendends of those who spoke ancient Azari”. Even if you’re right, well… so what? What is important is that today (and at least since Seljuq times) they’re Iranians who speak a Turkic language, and that many of them identify with a Turko-Iranian heritage (with symbols such as the founder of modern Iran, Shah Ismail, who wrote his poetry in Azeri Turkic etc.). It doesn’t matter from whom the Azeris allegedly descended. Genetics in itself doesn’t mean anything. What is important is how they identify themselves today (which was the context of this article). Many define themselves as Iranians who speak a Turkic language called Azeri – not as Persians or ‘Aryans’. Why is that so hard to accept?

    Finally, I repeat: Aryanism isn’t anything but a myth, even though it is inspired by research on Indo-European languages and supposedly ‘backed up’ by genetic tests. Yes, the Aryan myth plays an important part to a broad-based conception of Iranian-ness. No doubt about that. It may even, at some stage, come to play a positive role to all Iranians, and not just those who provide ‘DNA evidence’ or Kasravi quotes to back up their claim for genetic purity. But it is not constructive when it becomes a Persian-supremacist idea, and when it is used – as you did in your first post – to reject the Turkic identity of some Iranians (as if the two were mutually exclusive).

    To fix identity in biology is nothing but racism. No sober scholar in the world accepts DNA tests, as ‘scientific’ basis for judging whether the identity espoused by other people is ‘true or false’. As history has shown in all its painful clarity: this Persian-supremacist ‘Aryan’ chauvinism has destroyed more than it has built.

  15. @ Marco: Your implicit notion that since there were Uyghurs among Al-Qaeda and since some Uyghurs have been involved in terrorism, they must all be terrorists, is of course ridiculous. I won’t even waste my time on it, so I refer to one who has already answered it eloquently:

  16. Hi Rasmus

    Maybe to your surprise my claims about the Azaris are not based on “blog-reading” or what you unsubstantially and unjustifiably refer to as “wishful thinking”, but on serious study of the matter. Your arguments, as I see them, are based on straw man. You’re reading “Aryan Supremacy” into my statements. The Aryan element I’m talking about has nothing to do with “eurocentric doctrines of Nordic racial supremacy”, or any similar ridiculous racist related themes. By the word ‘Aryan’ I simply refer to what is common knowledge in the academic world, or in J.P. Mallory’s words:

    “[…] as an ethnic designation, the word [Aryan] is most properly limited to the Indo-Iranians, and most justly to the latter where it still gives its name to the country Iran […] The great Persian king Darius described himself as Aryan.”

    Cf. Mallory, J.P.: Andronovo culture. In: Mallory, J.P.; Murray, D.Q.: Encyclopedia of In Indo-European Culture, pp. 125-126

    The word ‘Aryan’ means noble, lord or freeman in Old Iranian languages. The only ancient people in Europe who appear to share the term Aryan with the Iranians are the Celts and their Irish descendants. While the Indians used the name Aryan to designate that aristocracy in India, they referred to their nation as ‘Bahrat’, which some still do. It is from the Andronovo (specifically the Sintasha-Petrovka locale of the Ural River) where the original proto-Aryan peoples and languages are traced (cf. ibid.). So the term ‘Indo-European’ is simply misleading in this context.

    The proper and historically correct name for this is the ‘Aryans’ which mainly the Iranians can be called. The Aryan culture that arose from the Andronovo region is variously termed as ‘Indo-Aryan’ or ‘proto-Iranian’ by Western academics.

    My point is, Azaris in fact are Iranians, not only culturally, but also historically and genetically – that is, they have common genes with past Aryans and present day Iranians (or Iranic peoples). By the term ‘pure Aryan stock’ I was simply referring to – not a “pure race” – but the very Aryan element or heritage that has endured to this very day. Now what is this “element” I’m talking about? It is exactly that of culture, history, traditions, etc. that have been passed on from generation to generation but with the ‘common genes’ added. The DNA tests links the present Iranic peoples to their origins – something that has been known for ages, but this adds further to the common knowledge. Why do you think there are DNA tests of this kind in the first place? Because humans would like to know where they originate from; we want to know our origins. Because by knowing this, it helps us understand our current situation in many ways. It can help explain the migrations in the past so that we know how much of our present culture is “exported” from foreign cultures and how much of it is “exported”.

    Does that mean Iranians are a “pure race”? No! As I stated in my previous post “the people of Iran are a rich blend of languages, genetic profiles and even ethnic origins due to many factors, like the invasions by Arabs, Turks, Mongols, Greeks, etc.” – in fact, the present day Iranian culture (and even race) is shaped by those who invaded or interacted with the country. But that doesn’t mean (1) that the present Iranians (hence also Azaris) can’t trace their origin back to ancient Aryans, which they in fact can. There are still common genes from ancient Aryans existing in present day Iranians, although there are a rich blend of genetic profiles; and (2) that the present culture is shaped EXCLUSIVELY by the invaders or other cultures. In fact, the Iranians have taken and somehow embraced many elements from foreign cultures and made them their own. That is, they have integrated various elements from foreign cultures into the already existing culture. But again, that doesn’t mean that there are no elements from ancient Aryan culture and the present Iranian culture. One of them being “a circular worldview” that both ancient Aryans and present day Iranians have – a worldview not existing in e.g. the ancient Arab culture – they had a “dynamic worldview”.

    Now all this apparently doesn’t apply to a person like you. Because your ancestors (or family) migrated from France to the land of the Danes and (presumably) integrated into the Danish culture and didn’t pass any of the French culture to the next generations; or maybe they did but it somehow died or got too meddled with the Danish culture to have had any significant role to play – that is why you’re (presumably) a Dane but with French roots (by ‘roots’ I mean ‘genes’ in this context) – that is also how many refer to themselves in ordinary language: “I’m American but with German roots”, or “I’m South African but with British roots”, etc. This indicates that you haven’t inherited any of the French Huguenot culture (which I don’t know anything about).

    Most of the Iranians however are both culturally and genetically linked to the ancient Aryans – hence my reference to the Aryan element or Aryan heritage. Because, although they migrated or got invaded, they kept some of their culture and now we see with biological accounts, also genes.

    Of course, I agree that all ethnic groups in Iran share a common Iranian heritage which is based on many cultures, ethnic migrations and political developments – anything else would be scientifically incorrect. My point was and still is, beside – what you refer to as a “common Iranian heritage” – there is also a common Aryan heritage. There are certain groups, like the Pan-Turkish groups, who claim that Azaris are in fact Turkic people (both historically and genitically). It is therefore crucial to refer to Azaris as people of Iranian origin and NOT of Turkic origin. Not because of ideology or beliefs but because of scientific, historical and cultural facts.

    The Iranians are indeed racially mixed but at the same time there are DNA traces that show common genes among the people who have been tested. Genes not existing among people in that area (“Middle East”) except the Iranians or Iranic peoples. Listen, to me anyone who seriously wish to understand and research into the present ethnicity among Iranians, the DNA tests help showing how much of the present culture have been “imported”, “exported” or still stands, because they help us “see” the migrations. As I see it, you’re taking a reductionist stand on this. You’re reducing anything that has to do with ethnicity to sociology: The social relations, interactions, culture, etc. of a group of people. Although it is important, it is not the only truth about the matter. The historical accounts from the past are exactly one of the main factors shaping our present understanding of who we are. The social and culture relations among the present day group of people are shaped from those of the past. We cannot neglect the history, and that history is confirmed by historical, archealogical, linguistics, anthropological and now biological accounts. Together, these accounts help us understand the present identity of the Iranians, Azaris incl. I’m not saying that sociological accounts can’t play a crucial role, but they are only one side of the story.

    Please, don’t read any racist related themes into anything I have written here. I’m simply making the point that present day Iranians have kept some of their Aryan heritage (culture, customs, traditions, genes, etc.) – this also applies to Azaris. I’m not saying ancient Aryans or present day Iraninas are racial superior to any other races – this is the last thing I’d ever claim.

  17. No need to lecture me, Arian. Trust me: none of this is new to me.

    What remains is that you stated that “Azari’s are of pure Aryan stock and hence not Turkic”. Then you turned around on your own statement, recognized that Iran is a multi-cultural country with an ethnically mixed population; and then suddenly you declared that the Aryan ‘element’ was not a ‘stock’ (that is, race/ancestry), but culture, history and traditions. Claims about a ‘pure’ culture, ‘pure’ history or ‘pure’ traditions are equally abstract and pointless.

    What remains is that you claimed that Azeri is a ‘Turkic-Persian language’ – something you also retracted when you realized that was not true.

    So what remains is that you use the term ‘Aryan’ as a nationalist notion of authenticity and purity through an alleged common ancestry.

    Talk about Iranian culture, about notions of Iranian-ness, about Indo-Iranian linguistic history etc. etc. etc… But, as a friendly suggestion, I recommend that you skip the term ‘Aryan’ in future academic discussion on contemporary Iran. You only make yourself look like an ignorant racist, which I’m sure you’re not.

    I am sure this is not the last I hear from you, but I’m taking a vacation now ;-)

    Pas sokhan kutâh bovad, va‘s-salâm!

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  19. The people who want to discredit the Iranian regime yell “Why isn’t the regime saying something about Uighurs”?? But we all know that they are even less interested in the plight of Uighurs and are simply using the issue for the sake of convenience.

  20. Arian, i respect your “IRANIANISM”,you try to prove to yourself that only “pure” Iran can be strong state,i don’t thing so.
    I don’t know why should i trust to any DNA test? how is it possible that Iran permitted it???
    Even if we have close similarity,why doesn’t it mean that you Arians have assimilated with us??but it must mean we assimilated with you?
    We are one nation,Guney and Quzey Azerbaycan.
    The fact of Iran as a state doesn’t mean Iranian Turks are genetically Persians(Arians).
    “The Azaris identify themselves mostly as Iranians (or sometime as Iranian Turks).” i agree,as Iranian means a person from Iran.
    I think you don’t speak turkish,you don’t know azeri turkish is not indo-european,it is agglutinative language.I don’t want to write again what Rasmus has already said.
    I think you know that Arabs are not indo-european, Kurds are semit people,what will Iran invent about their DNA?
    If Azeris were not Turkic people,you would not use azAri,Iran wouldn’t forbid their language.
    interesting does Iran fear azAris? i can feel this fear in ARIANism.

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