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Azeri channel in Iran seeks to resume broadcasting in Turkey


1 January 2013 / GÖZDE NUR DONAT, ANKARA,
The US-based Azeri-Iranian channel GünAz TV, whose mandate is to create awareness of the plight of Azeri people living in northern Iran, is working to return to Türksat after its sudden removal from the satellite in 2006.

In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman, Ahmed Obalı, the owner and founder of GünAz TV, guessed that their broadcast in Turkey was stopped due to pressure from Iran. Founded in 2005, GünAz TV was only able to broadcast in Turkey for a year. The TV channel has continued to broadcast in the Middle East and Europe since 2005, however.

A senior member and spokesman of the Southern Azerbaijan National Freedom Front, Obalı requested more support for their cause from Turkey, which he calls a “friend and sister country.”

Iranian-Azeri people living in northern Iran define themselves as southern Azerbaijani Turks and are struggling with the Shiite regime as they have been denied their ethnic rights granted in Articles 15 and 19 of the Iranian constitution, which provides for the equal treatment of all ethnic groups and freedom to use their mother tongue in mass media and education. However, these Azeri Turks in Iran have been arbitrarily deprived of such rights while other ethnic groups, such as Armenians, enjoy all these freedoms. Iran has an Armenian population of 200,000, while the number of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran amounts to 35 million.

Iran may see ‘spring' soon

Commenting on recent political and economic developments in Iran, Obalı predicted that a “spring” of the kind seen in Egypt and Syria is likely to take hold of Iran.

“There are both political and economic reasons that would cause this kind of mobilization on the part of the people,” Obalı said, explaining that “Iran has a multiethnic society. There are Azerbaijani Turks in the north and Kurds, Turkmen and Baloch people in southern Iran in addition to the Persians. The regions with different groups have been seriously polarized. There is a clear influence of the Arab Spring in Iran.”

Asked whether this is a response by the southern Azerbaijani people to a large extent to the rights struggle being experienced by some political organizations founded to defend the ethnic rights of Turkish people -- because the existence of these organizations was banned by the Iranian regime -- Obalı claimed that the southern Azerbaijani people have gained more and more national awareness over previous decades.

Iranian Azerbaijanis have gathered under different rights groups, defending their ethnic rights, but these groups do not exist legally because they are banned by the Iranian state.

“We could not imagine such a [national] reawakening 50 years ago,” Obalı stated, noting the increasing support of southern Azerbaijani Turks in the national struggle.

Obalı claimed that the economic pressures caused by severe international sanctions against Iran for its controversial nuclear program are an important factor that could mobilize all of Iranian society. The Iranian rial has seen rapid collapse over the past year thanks to these sanctions, which the Iranian regime calls a conspiracy against its economy.

Protesters have taken to the streets several times in Iran since the middle of 2012 because of rising prices. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been called a traitor because of what many see as his serious mismanagement of the economy.

According to official statistics, the unemployment rate in Iran is 15 percent. Obalı claims that currently 65 percent of the Iranian population is the under age of 35, and the high rate of unemployment causes serious pressure on the young population.

Obalı mentioned that corruption is also a notable problem for Iran, claiming that there is an ongoing investigation into $12 billion in oil revenues that were embezzled by state authorities.

‘Divisions within state structure add to instability'

Obalı claimed that rifts within the state structure that have shown themselves recently in the form of a disagreement between the camp of religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are another source of political instability in the country.

“At first, the Islamists were in one camp. Then they were divided into two: hardliners and reformists. The Iranian military has suppressed reformist groups, and they have been marginalized. Currently, the hardliner group has been divided within itself and they are trying to eliminate each other,” said Obalı.

The violation of laws by the government, fraud and a power struggle are corroding the Iranian administration, Obalı claimed.

Iran uses PKK, other groups against Turkey

Referring to claims by politicians such as Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin and others that Iran is supporting the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Obalı stated that Iran's support of the PKK is nothing new.

“Iran is clearly involved in Turkish internal affairs. As a broadcaster, I am speaking based on my own sources. Iran has always supported the PKK; it is continuing to do so and will continue to do so in the future,” he maintained.

Obalı also suggested that Iran is using Shiite religious groups in Turkey, especially from provinces neighboring Iran such as Kars and Iğdır. “These groups have a religious bond with the Iranian regime and feel more loyal to Iran than Turkey. Iran uses their loyalty in different ways to put Turkey in an awkward position,” he said without elaborating further.

Turkey and Iran have been at odds over how to approach the 21-month Syrian uprising as well as a recent NATO decision to deploy Patriot missiles in Turkish territory. Turkish officials recently confirmed to the media that Iran is sheltering terrorists of the PKK in its territory while giving these terrorists free rein to operate against Turkey from Iran. The tension between the two neighbors upon their differing stances on the Syrian crisis has been suggested as the main cause behind increasing Iranian support of the PKK.

While Tehran has been the staunchest backer of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, Turkey maintains that Assad must step down to make way for a democratic transition.