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Language of Azari and Arrani Peoples and Pan-Turkism


By : Mohammad Taghi Sabokdel

Tabriz University
Iran Mehr, Monthly Magazine, Jan 2004

Azerilanguage.png (24243 bytes)

 Azari speaking areas  (Click to enlarge)


Abstract: Profound historical ties that date back to the ancient times have linked Azerbaijan with other parts of Iran so strongly that they cannot be taken apart. The Turkish language was imposed on people of Azerbaijan since a couple of centuries ago and before that they spoke Persian. Homam-e Tabrizi, the renowned poet of Azerbaijan who lived in the 14th century has written many poems in Azari Pahlavi. Modern Azari Turkish is also very different from other Turkic languages such as Islambouli. All these prove the difference Azari tribes have with other Turkish speaking groups.




1. Azarbaijan
The name of Azarbaijan has been one of the most renowned geographical names of Iran since 2000 years ago. Azar is a New-Persian word derivative from Middle-Persian (Pahlavi) "Athur, Adur" which means fire. 


In Pahlavi inscriptions, the the region located south of Aras river has been recorded as 'Athurpatekan', while it has been mentioned Azarbayegan and Azarpadegan in Persian writings. It is Azarabadegan in Shahnameh and Arabs knew it as Azarbijan or Adharbijan.

With regard to the emergence of Azarbaijan, the writing by Strabo, the famous Greek geographer seems to be the most important of all writings.

When the reign of Achaemenid dynasty came to an end, Alexander from Macedonia conquered Iran. A Persian Satrap called Athurpat rose in Azarbayegan and prevented that land, which was part of the Median dynastic empire and was known as 'Lesser Mede' to be captures by Greek invaders. The land was thereafter called Athurpatekan.

Ahmad Kasravi, an Azari pundit, opined that Oturpat was made up of Otur, meaning Azar or fire and Pat, which was later corroded to Paad and Baad, which meant guard.

In June 1918, the leaders of Mosavat (equality) Party, established a government in Caucasus and renamed the former Iranian province of Arran to Azerbaijan following suit with policies of Turks. At that time, the naming gave rise to controversies and some even went as far as announcing that, "As if Azerbaijan is a land, which has been divided in two parts; one part lying to the north of Aras river and the other part lying to the south."

The disputes became so hectic that Azarbayegan proper was called 'Southern Azerbaijan' while Arran and Shiravan were called northern Azerbaijan to deceive the Iranian youth.

Mosavat Party whose real name was 'Mosavat Islamic Democratic Party' was established in 1911 in Baku with the goal of unifying Turks in Asia Minor. Mosavat Party followed the policies of Pan-Turkism and advocated unity of all Turkic-speaking people.


2. Language of Azari people

see also: Ancient Azari

The ancient language spoken in Azerbaijan was one of the dialects of the Persian language, which was known to us as Azari tongue.

Ahamd Kasravi has proven that based on evidence, the local language of Azari people; at least, to the end of Mogul era (mid-14th century) has been Azari. After that, during a 150-year interval from the time that Chengiz dynasty became defunct since establishment of Safavids, the Azari language was gradually replaced by Turkish dialect.

During recent year, Manouchehr Mortazavi, in an article on the ancient language of Azerbaijan, had opined that Azari has been the language of Azerbaijan people and it has included various dialects.

However, since there has been a discrepancy with regard to the original language of Azerbaijanis, the compendium of research results is as follows:

Ibn al-Nadim writes in his book al-Fihrist that the language of Iranian people could be divided in five classes including Pahlavi, Dari, Persian, Khuzi (ancient language of people in Khuzestan) and Soriani. Relying on what Ibn Muqaffa' said, he opined that Dari was the language of courtiers while Persian was the language of priests and scientists and the language of people of Fars; Khuzi was the language that kings and dignitaries used in their intimate talks. Soriani was the language of people of Iraq while Pahlavi was spoken by people of Isfahan, Rey, Hamedan, Mah (Mede), Nahavand and Azerbaijan. 


Out of the above-mentioned languages, only two languages, including Dari, spoken in eastern Iran including Khorassan, and Pahlavi that was spoken by people in Isfahan, Rey, Hamedan, Nahavand and Azerbaijan are of concern here.

The authors belonging to the 8th century CE have called the language of people of Azerbaijan as 'Azari Pahlavi' and sometimes 'Azari' and maintained that the said language was different from the language spoken in east Iran.

However, the difference was not so big as to make them incapable of comprehending what other peoples said. Nasser Khosrow in his itinerary says, "I arrived in Tabriz in 1046.... I saw a poet in Tabriz named Ghetran. He was a good poet, but could not speak Persian correctly. He came to me with poetry books of Manjik and Daqiqi and asked any word that he could not understand..."

I presume that Nasser Khosrow meant Dari Persian which was known to him but some of whose words were not known to Khorassani poet. Marquat??, the famous Iranian scholar has written that, "Pahlavi language is, in fact, the same as Azari language."

Yagoubi who lived in the 10th century in his book, al-Boldan, he says the language of Azari people was "Azari Pahlavi".

Abu Abdollah Bashari Moqaddasi in his book divides Iran into eight climatic regions noting, "The language of these regions is Persian; however, some of them speak Dari and some complicated; and all those dialects are called Persian."

According to Masoudi, Pahlavi, Dari and Azari were of the same origin and combination of their works was the same and all of them were considered among Persian dialects.

Abu Abdollah Mohammad ibn Ahmad Kharazmi, who lived in the 11th century, attributes Persian language to people of Fars and the language of priests and believes that Dari was the language of courtiers. With regard to Pahlavi language, he writes: "Pahlavi is one of the Iranian languages used by kings. The work has been attributed to Pahlev, which encompasses five lands: Isfahan, Rey, Hamedan, Nahavand and Azerbaijan."

Estakhri says in his book, al-Masalek and al-Mamalek that the language of people of Azerbaijan is Arabic and Persian. Despite its tremendous pressure, Arabic could not overwhelm Persian and was rejected first in Khorassan and then in other parts of Iran.

Eranski, The famous Russian scholar writes: "After pushing Arabic back in Khorrasan and other regions, Persian did the same in other areas."

Two factors were influential in this regard. Firstly, Arabs were controlling a wide empire from Sir Darya River to Spain and their dominance in Iran was not so much as to be able to overwhelm the Iranian element. Secondly, the conflict between Iranians and Arabs, especially in political, military and literary fields was intense.

According to Ibn Hauqal, "The language of people of Azerbaijan and most people of Arminiyeh is Persian and Arabic if rife too. There are few merchants and landlords that speak Persian and who don't know Arabic."

Two points are worthy of mention: Firstly, the language of Azerbaijan people was Persian. Secondly, Arabic was not common among villages and lay people and only part of people knew it.

Ibn Hauqal says the languages spoken by people of Armenia and Aran were part of Persian. He writes, "Some tribes from Armenia and the like speak languages that are like Armenian. The same is true about people in Dabil and Nahvi (Nakhichevan). The language of Barza'eh people is Arani and the mountain known as Caucasus is theirs around which heathens with various languages live."

Yaghout Hemavi, who lived in the sixth and seventh century A.H., says with regard to the language of Azaris, "They speak a language called Azari and nobody can understand it but themselves." There were many dialects in Persia that were not intelligible to anybody but those who spoke them. One of them was the dialect of Talesh people in Gilan, which is unintelligible to people from other regions.

Hamdollah Mostofi, who lived in the seventh and eighth centuries A.H., refers to language of people of Maragheh and writes, "Their language is altered Pahlavi."

With regard to people of Talesh and their language, he writes, "People there are white and follow the religion of Imam Shafei. Their language is Pahlavi with Jilani dialect," he noted.

Homam Tabrizi, the renowned poet of Azerbaijan who lived in the 14th century has written many poems in Azari Pahlavi. Ezzoddin Adel ibn Yousof Tabrizi, who lived during 15th century has also written poems in Azari dialect of Pahlavi. There is no sign of Turkish words in those poems.

Undoubtedly, the dialect of Azari Pahlavi was spoken in Azerbaijan until the advent of Safavid period, but it became obsolete in villages and cities since the middle of the Safavid period and only remained in hard-to-pass regions.

After this introduction, it is clear that if some try through sophistication to prove that Azerbaijan has been inhabited by Turks from ancient times and it was only afterwards that some Aryans speaking Iranian languages conquered there accidentally, their claims would be nothing but purposeful lies.

Now it has become evident that the Turkish language rife in Azerbaijan, has been the language of what people from the start and how it has been imposed on people living there. It is ridiculous that some people consider it as the mother tongue of Azari people and invite the people to replace it for the official Persian language. It is obvious that no learned people will get themselves down to forsake the language of Ferdowsi, Sa'adi, Mowlavi, Khayyam and Hafiz and trade it for the faulty, backward language that was brought in by the marauding Turkmen. This is a foreign language that did not belong to the language of Iranian ancestors and was imposed on them.


3. Pan-Turkism
Pan-Turkism movements reverberated in Baku since many years ago, or exactly since 1908, when young Turks seized power in Istanbul. During those years the putsch carried out by Unity and Progress Committee ended despotic rule of Sultan Abdolhamid and Turkism tendencies substituted Islamic school of thought.

The vanguards of Pan-Turkism stemmed from Turks in the Russian empire that were in turn influenced by Pan-Slavism, which were formed in Russia during 19th century. In 1904, Yousof Anghchur Oghlu, a Tartar from Russia, which was later known as Yousof Aghchur, published a treatise titled, "Three Methods of Politics", which gradually gained importance as the manifest of Pan-Turkism.

During World War I, a Pan-Turkists activity in Baku, which was dominated by Tsars of Russia, was limited to publication of periodicals. What is the main purpose of such periodicals as Yeni Foyouzat (New Bounties) and Shalaleh that while loyal to Tsars had made refining Turkish language in Caucasus their main objective and now laud Pan-Turkism and its worse alternative Pan-Turanism?

The theorists of Pan-Turkism believe that all ethnic groups and nationalities from Eastern Europe to Great Wall of China, which enjoy language, religious and traditional commonalties are, in fact, a single nation and should come together as a big nation and fulfill their historical mission in the face of other big civilizations such as Iranian, European, Indian and Chinese civilizations. Their views, however, cannot be supported by scientific realities. Most great nations are made up of a single dominant race or, at least, ethnic variation of that race. An example is the United States of America that while not older than two and a half centuries, is mainly made up of people from Anglo-Saxon or Germanic stock. In the same way, people in Canada, Australia and New Zealand mainly hail from north or south European origin.

Pan-Turks claim that all people from beyond the straits to the end of Central Asia are peoples from a single large nation, which have been divided due to historical injustice and their historical duty is to come together under a single flag.

They produce several reasons, the most important of which is the common language. They claim that all those languages were originally a single language that was later changed due to unfavorable conditions.

This claim is quite baseless, because those various languages could be divided in several categories:

1. Tribes known as Turks were serving Iranian Samanid kings in Central Asia during the 9th and 10th centuries, and then they converted to Islam and began serving Abbasid caliphs and then established Ghaznavid dynasty and ruled Afghanistan and half of Iran.

2. Oghuz or Ghoz tribes invaded Iran from Central Asia and in addition go Ghaznavid, they did away with such Iranian dynasties as Buyids and Ziarids and established Seljuk government, which in addition to the whole Iranian plateau ruled Asia Minor and Iraq, and the current day's Syria up to Mediterranean.

3. Mogul tribes, led by Chengiz invaded the whole Iran, Asia Minor and Iraq and established the rule of Mogul IIkhanids.

4. Tartar tribes first conquered the northern parts of the Central Asia and northern coasts of the Caspian Sea and then bolstered their forces under the command of Timur and attacked Iran, Iraq and Caucasus to establish Gurkani government.

Therefore, the claims that all the above peoples were of a single origin, that is the land referred to as mythical Turan, is baseless.

Even today, the difference among the language of those tribes referred to by Pan-Turks is so wide that Turkmens do not understand the language of Kyrkyz people and Uzbeks do not comprehend what people of Azerbaijan say. If such differences did not exit, there is no reason to assume that people of Azerbaijan are from a single origin with people of Anatolia because, firstly, Turkish language was imposed on people of Azerbaijan since a couple of centuries ago and before that they spoke Persian. Secondly, profound historical ties that date back to the time of Zoroaster have linked Azerbaijan with other parts of Iran so strongly that they cannot be taken apart.


History has proven that anytime any foreigner hatched a plot to take Azerbaijan away from Iran; the people of Azerbaijan along with other Iranians have formed the front line of struggle to thwart that plot.




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