|Promoting Literature, Defending Freedom of Expression|
John Ralston Saul,
President, PEN International
Brownlow House, 50 - 51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER
September 25, 2011
Re: Application for Membership: PEN South Azerbaijan (Iran) in Exile
We are extremely delighted to announce that on September 1st and 2nd, 2011, a group of South Azerbaijani (Iran) poets, novelists, critics and journalists living in exile came together in Stockholm, Sweden and officially founded the South Azerbaijani chapter of PEN International. Fully accepting the charter and rules of the International PEN, founded on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human rights, we respectfully request the International PEN to officially recognize the South Azerbaijan PEN Section in Exile as one of its chapters. We would like to concentrate our efforts on the lines of the Charter of the International PEN to continue our efforts to promote South Azerbaijan’s culture and literature.
Iran is a country where different nationalities live, with different languages, cultures, rituals and traditions of their own. The oppressive life span of the two last regimes in Iran—the Pahlavi Monarchy and the Islamic Republic (the first, 1925-1979, the second, 1979-present) has been of the same length as that of the life of the International PEN. Steps taken by different branches of the International PEN in Europe, the United States and Canada have saved the lives of a great number of writers, poets, dramatists and journalists in Iran and in many cases have made life easier for them during their incarceration. It is our solemn duty at this juncture as we submit our application as Iranian Azerbaijanis in exile for membership of the International PEN, to thank you for your consistent efforts in upholding the freedom of expression everywhere, hoping that the “unhampered transmission of thought” which has been both the slogan of the International PEN since its inception, as well as that of the Iranian writers and poets from every ethnicity and nationality, will eventually spread its great values to embrace all writers and journalists engaged in the writing and publishing of their works.
However, in our country, Iran, there is a repression of another nature, the humiliating presence of which has been in the open for everyone to observe, but no serious measures have been taken befitting the significance of the matter. Iran is a country made up of several nationalities in which only one language, Persian (also known as Farsi), the language of less than one third of the population of the country, is officially recognized. In reality, Persian, according to the constitution of the country, has been assigned as the official language of the country. The languages of the Azerbaijanis, the Kurds, the Turkmens, the Baluchies and Arabs are not recognized as official languages of the people who speak them. Those who are born to these languages have to study everything in Persian. In other words, the language of the Persian ethnic group is considered to be the official language of the country, and millions of people born to other languages of the country do not have the right to read and write in their own languages at any level anywhere in the country. The oppression imposed upon two-thirds of the population of the country has no precedence anywhere in the world. According to the official data of the Islamic Republic of Iran 36 percent, and according to data published by world organizations 37.2 percent of the population of the country are Azerbaijanis from Iran, whose mother language is Turkish (also known as Azeri, Azerbaijani, Turki). The use of this language in any form is forbidden in Iran. The poets, writers, critics and journalists of Iranian Azerbaijan live in the country of their birth in exile as far as their own culture, language and literature are concerned. A great number of these writers and poets live in exile outside Iran, in Europe, in the Republic of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Canada and the U.S.
Despite over eighty years of linguistic and cultural repression, the Azerbaijani literature has continued to flourish. In its classical period, our literature has given birth to such masterpieces as the famous epic of Dede Qorqut Kitabi (the Book of Dede Qorqud), Diwan Lughat at-Turk, Qutadghu Bilig, as well as the undying works of Nizami of Ganja, Imad ad-Din Nasimi, and Muhammad Fuzuli, among many others. Building on Azerbaijan’s classical literary heritage, in the early twentieth century, Fethali Akhundzadeh has introduced drama into Iranian literature; Taliboff and Zeynal-Abedin of Maragheh have laid the foundation of modern creative prose, social criticism, and literary realism; while Jelil Memet Quluzadeh and Aliakbar Saber have produced their ageless social and political satires through the now internationally renowned paper, Molla Nesred-Din. Azerbaijan’s rich literary legacy has reached a climax in contemporary times in Muhammad-Husayn Shahryar's poetry, particularly in his masterpiece "Heyderbabaya Salam" (Greetings to Heydar Baba), a work that is translated into over a dozen languages. And these are but a few examples. Suffice it to say that, despite numerous obstacles, Azerbaijan’s literary development has been progressively continuous. As Azeri writers and intellectuals, we wish to maintain this steady progress while contributing to our language and literature’s further refinement.
During our congress in Stockholm, the following writers were elected to PEN South Azerbaijan’s board of directors for 2011-2012:
Reza Baraheni: Permanent Honorary President
Hashem Khosroshahi: President and Board Member
Sedigheh Adalati: Board Member
Leila Mojtahedi: Board Member
Soudabeh Ardavan: Board Member
Mashallah Razmi: Board Member
Shiva Farahmand Rad: Board Member
Ismail Jamili: Board Member
Alireza Asgharzadeh: Board Member
The assembly of Azerbaijani writers, poets and journalists to officially establish the South Azerbaijani chapter of PEN International in exile has caused much enthusiasm and joy amongst Azerbaijanis in Diaspora as well as in Iran and South Azerbaijan. We applaud this happy occasion and look forward to hearing back from the presidency of PEN International regarding our application for membership. The representatives of PEN South Azerbaijan are willing to attend the annual meeting of PEN International in the fall, and ask the annual assembly to officially recognize South Azerbaijan’s PEN Chapter in Exile. We humbly request the presidency of PEN International to publicly announce its agreement with our request.
On behalf of Iranian Azerbaijani writers and poets in exile:
Professor Dr Hashem Khosroshahi,
President, PEN South Azerbaijan (Iran) in Exile
PS: A comprehensive coverage of our meetings can be viewed in September 22 Issue of Shahrvand, a Canada based Persian publication; and also in Tribun, a Sweden based Azerbaijani journal: