“South and North Azerbaijan” False Toponyms in the Turkish Press

9 m.   |  2020-07-01

A fter the proclamation of the state of Azerbaijan early in the 20th century, the provinces of Ardabil, Eastern Atropatene, Western Atropatene and culturally Zanjan included in the third North-Western region of modern Iran, which are mostly inhabited by Turkic-speaking Azaris, began to be called under the false toponym “Southern Azerbaijan”. False toponymies “Southern Azerbaijan” and “Northern Azerbaijan” derived from that logic are explained by the thesis of “Azerbaijani historiography”, as if both by “the Treaties of Gulistan (1813) and Turkmenchay (1828) the Azerbaijani territories were divided between the two states: North Azerbaijan joined Russia and South Azerbaijan joined the Qajar Iran” [1]. These terms, which in fact, express the Azerbaijani-Turkish territorial aspirations towards the northern provinces of Iran*, are currently widely used by not only Azerbaijani but also by Turkish public and political figures and are met in the Turkish press.

“South Azerbaijan” and “North Azerbaijan” terms are used in key Turkish media outlets, such as Hürriyet, Milliyet, Süzcü, Yeniçağ, Habertürk and in the state news agency Anadolu. The terms are used both in directs speeches of politicians, analysts and individuals in general and in publications that fully correspond to the views of the media editor. It should be noted, that the term “North Azerbaijan” unlike “South Azerbaijan” is rarely used.

The false toponym “North Azerbaijan” is first and foremost used by Turkish nationalist figures having a right-wing ideology. Thus, Hürriyet and Milliyet present the report of Devlet Bahceli, a member of the People’s Alliance and the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (Turkish: MHP), at the meeting with the party’s Parliamentary faction’ in 2016, were he expressed support for “their compatriots in Southern Azerbaijan” [1].

Yeniçağ, the microphone of the Turkish nationalists, writes about one of the speeches of Meral Akşener, the leader of another right-wing “Good Party” in 2018, where he proudly stated, that only the “Good Party” called on not to extradite “South Azerbaijani Rahim Cevadbeyli (Tabrizi, an intellectual calling himself a Turkic nationalist, who took refuge in Turkey)”.

Various pan-Turkic statements by Azerbaijani figures are spread in the modern Turkish press, where it is stated, as if “Today Kirkuk, Mosul, East Turkestan (western territories of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China - author), South Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh all have a hope that one day Turkish brothers will save them” or as if “Turks living in South Azerbaijan struggle to get education in their mother tongue” and so on [1234, 5].

G enerally, the idea of creating a “Unified Azerbaijan” (the term “North Azerbaijan” is used in this context) in the Turkish press may be mentioned in the publications of one of its architects often described as “the unforgettable leader of the Turkic World” the second President of Azerbaijan Abulfaz Elchibey [12]. It was just A. Elchibey, who regularly declared in the 1990s that he does not recognize Iran’s territorial integrity **.

"I do not recognize the territorial integrity of Iran. North and South Azerbaijan will definitely unite one day. There are no Iranian Turks. Is there a Turk in Iran? There is no Iranian land. What you call Iran is Khorasan, Persian, Balochistan, Kuzistan and So, Iran is like the Soviet Union. Is there a Soviet Union now? Tabriz and Kazvin are also my land. Persian head has put them here, get out”, mentioned by Elchibey in an interview with Milliyet in November 1997.

The circulation of “South Azerbaijan” false toponym is directly linked to the so-called “idealist” clubs (Ülkü Ocakları) uniting the fanatical pan-Turkic youth in Turkey since the 1960s, in other words the extreme nationalist “Grey Wolves”. There are press reports, that for example, the clubs of Gaziantep or Ortaja’s “idealists” have launched a campaign for the Syrian Turkomans, who are definitely referred to as “Turks of South Azerbaijan” [12]. The “idealist” clubs were especially active in November 2015, when a program was broadcast on Iranian State Television, where there was a scene insulting the dignity of Atropatene people. “The Grey Wolves” organized protests in support to the “relative Turkmen brothers”, which were covered in the press with such accents, as “support from the idealist clubs of Kars to the Turks of South Azerbaijan”, “response of the idealist clubs to humiliation of the Turks of South Azerbaijan” and so on [12, 3, 45, 67].

Artists and guests from the northern regions of Iran are described as “arrivals from South Azerbaijan” in the press coverage of the “Grey Wolves” and in other pan-Turkic cultural events. Such formulations are met, for example, in the publications on the “Karacaoğlan Poetry Evenings” event, “Turkic World Service Awards” and other ceremonies [12, 345, 6]. It should be noted that such events are usually accompanied by pan-Turkic speeches“Hope that the entire Turkic World will one day embrace is not lost, and that the heart of those present is beating from Bosnia to South Azerbaijan, East Turkestan to Kosovo, Syria to North Afghanistan, North Iraq to Crimea, Karabakh to Western Thrace, wherever there is a Turkic people living”.

Some publications can be found in the Turkish media about the human rights defender in Iran and environmental activist Mortaza Moradpour’s hunger strike in Tabriz Prison in 2016 [1]. Presenting the comments of the members of AHRAZ (Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani People in Iran) in Turkey, Europe and the USA on M. Moradpour’s hunger strike, as well as on the Turkic-speaking people living in the North of Iran, the Turkish State News Agency Anadolu also uses the term “South Azerbaijan”:

“Members of AHRAZ in Turkey, Europe and the United States against the human rights violations towards the Turks in Iran gave their assessment to Anadolu reporter on M. Moradpour’s hunger strike and on the situation of the South Azerbaijani Turks in Iran”:  writes the state agency, presenting comments, which state: “assimilation policy against Turks has been implemented in Iran for 90 years” and that “there is a great pressure and discrimination against the Turks in Iran, which is not sectarian but racial pressure” and so on.

A nti-Armenian propaganda materials can also be found in the pages of Anadolu, where it says “about the massacre of South Azerbaijani Turks by Armenians and Nestorians (Assyrians) between 1917-1918”, which, even in their own words, has so far failed to attract the interest of either the media or the scientific world. Articles touching upon such a false topic can be found in other Turkish media outlets, where the northern regions of Iran are again referred to as “South Azerbaijan” [1, 23, 4].

The Turkish press also uses the term “South Azerbaijan” in its publications on events in Iran. Thus, for instance, one of the speeches of the MP of the Urmia city in the press was spread with the emphasis on a “Strong warning from South Azerbaijani deputy to Rouhani”. The press also refers to “South Azerbaijan and the local Turkic population” in various historical-political and geographical references [1, 2, 3].

One of publications of Yeniçağ on February 16 of this year, is especially interesting from the publications of the Turkish press using this term, about the earthquake with a magnitude of 4.7 in the city of Van, where it notes․ “It was stated that the epicenter of the earthquake was the South Azerbaijan’s border”. It is of course about the Turkish-Iranian state border.

The toponyms “North Azerbaijan” and especially “South Azerbaijan” derived from the pan-Turkic “United Azerbaijan” program in modern Turkish press have various uses. It is used both in the simplest information publications, and in propaganda, historical, sports, cultural small and big articles and analyzes. The use of the term “South Azerbaijan” in the press, however, is mostly related to either Azerbaijani or Turkish nationalist circles, it is large-scale or multi-layered, which leads to the spread of false names. The use of the anti-Iranian term in pro-government and even in the state-run media shows that it does not contradict and completely fits into the ideologies of the ruling parties in Turkey over the last two decades.

Between 2010-2013, when the relations between Iran and Azerbaijan were very tense, there was even a proposal and was discussed in the Azerbaijani Parliament to rename the current Republic of Azerbaijan to the “Republic of North Azerbaijan”. See: Азербайджан как две страны одного народа, 06022012, Радио Свобода

** Abulfaz Elchibey, leader of nationalist People’s front party became the second President of the newly independent Republic of Azerbaijan on July 7, 1992. His government, which considered Iran and Russia as a threat to Azerbaijan’s security, launched a series of extremist rhetoric on “the liberation of the captive homeland of the Azerbaijanis South Azerbaijan and the unification of the two Azerbaijans”.

For more details see: V. Bayburdyan. Neighbors or Geopolitical and Geoeconomic Enenmies?, Middle Eastern Countries and Peoples, Yerevan, 2003, XXII, pp. 9-10

The publications from Hürriyet.com.tr, Milliyet.com.tr, Sözcü.com.tr, Yeniçağgazetesi.com.tr, Sabah.com.tr, Haberler.com, AA.com.tr, Habererk.com, Yenihaberden.com, Habertürk.com.tr news sites were used as sources for study.