Azerbaijanis Dance to Support Their Kin in Iran

Maedeh Hojabri was arrested in Iran after recording a dance video in her bedroom and uploading it to Instagram.

by Lamiya Adilgizi 

Social media users in Azerbaijan are dancing on video to express solidarity with their ethnic kin in northern Iran.

The campaign began among ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran, who make up around one-quarter of the country’s population, and took to social media to protest a variety of grievances, including the poor economic conditions in Iran, particularly in the northern part of Iran where Azerbaijanis are concentrated. The protest took the form of dancing to a song, “They Talk About You,” by Iranian Azerbaijani singer Alireza Sharifzade.

The action then spread north of the Iran-Azerbaijan border, where Instagram and Twitter users posted their own videos using the name of the song as it is rendered in the Latin alphabet used in Azerbaijan, #s?nideyirl?r.

The two populations of Azerbaijanis were separated in the 19th century when Russia took over what is sometimes referred to as “Northern Azerbaijan,” today’s independent Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijanis feel a sense of kinship with their brethren in Iran, though actions of solidarity like this are relatively rare. “First time ever Northern Azerbaijan social media gets dominated by Southern Azerbaijan trend,” wrote Azerbaijani social media personality Cavid A?a. “Seems like music was the only thing lacking all these years.”

“Iran is a country where you can be punished for dancing, for promoting music of the largest minority – Azerbaijani Turks, for being without headscarves, for promoting LGBT rights,” wrote investigative journalist Khadija Ismailova on her Facebook page. “This [is] one of the biggest solidarity actions.”

The Azerbaijani dance protest follows another Iranian dancing social media controversy, when a young woman was arrested in July after posting a video on Instagram of herself dancing. Iranians and others then expressed their solidarity by posting their own dancing videos.

The song “S?ni deyirl?r” is dedicated to Lake Urmia, a salt lake that straddles the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, which is drying up. The lake’s dessication has become a key focus of Iranian Azerbaijani grievances against the government in Tehran, which has sought to suppress Azerbaijani culture and political expression in the country.

“How good Lake Urmia is for swimming, but they dried it up,” Sharifzade sings. The song concludes with the line, “Long live Azerbaijan.”

Others unwilling to publicize themselves dancing supported the campaign in other ways. Activist Samra Sadraddinli posted a photo of herself in Tabriz, the largest city in Iranian Azerbaijan, with the caption: “Support South Azerbaijanian youth’s Mother Language Movement and dance challenge. I don’t want you to see my Raj Kapoor style dance, that’s why I’m here with my photo from Tabriz.”

The campaign even hit Azerbaijani opposition politics. One Facebook user posted a video of opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov criticizing – without naming them – other opposition groups for holding rallies that were ineffective and only played into the government’s hands. The user captioned the video “They are talking about you.”

As for the government itself, it is keeping quiet. Tehran is extremely sensitive to any hint of Azerbaijani separatism, and official Baku gives Iranian Azerbaijani issues a very wide berth in an effort to not antagonize the Iranian government.

Lamiya Adilgizi is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist. Reprinted, with permission, from Eurasianet.

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  1. The funny thing about these articles, and I do not mean to disparage this author, is that U.S. contact with Iranians is so rare that I have no idea what to make of these assertions.

  2. It is not a new issue, such social activities are widespread in Iran but some one from abroad may get a wrong signal like the author. Iran in fact has been mostly governed by Azeri people from 500 years ago and the leader and many major figures are Azeri. The religious policy is governed by the same people and doesn’t have any relation to ethnicity of subject at all. A fish in a little jar watching ocean over TV might think that all the fish over there strive to join him!

  3. No it’s not any of that, the author most probably knows in last 5 centuries Iran was mostly ruled by Iranian Azar, actually Azari Iranians made Iran a majority Shia Muslim nation. Ever since US defying UNSC resolution and leaving UN recognized international Iran nuclear agreement the JCPOA. Part US and her clients campaign meaning Israel and KSA has been a propaganda war campaign to show Iran is unstable and ready to fall. This immature propaganda campaign due to lack of educated assets inside Iran is mostly directed by pre-revolution old Iranian Jews who left for Israel and now work for Israeli foreign propaganda service, or are the MEK variety who have not had a chance to finish high school. They try to make any event news or even faked rumors to allude Iran is unstable and anyway will fall, exactly as Trump has been using it in this past few months.

  4. Iran is a Corrupt and Evil Nation lead by Evil people and ready to fall. Ethnic tensions will soon be shown as the least of the Mullah’s problems.

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