The Associated Press has recently released information regarding the fact that the Parliament of Iran is discussing the possibility of relocating the capital from Tehran to another city. So far, the city of Tabriz in Northern Iran is the leader in the unofficial rating of possible substitutes. Tabriz is the fourth largest city of Iran and is the administrative center of the province of South Azerbaijan, as well as the historical and cultural center of a population of Azerbaijanis numbering in the millions, the second largest ethnic group after Persians in Iran. Many political analysts suggest that by moving the capital from Tehran to Tabriz, the Iranian government aims at “Iranizing” the ancient Azerbaijani city, reducing the influence of the Azerbaijani community there, and preventing South Azerbaijan from regaining its independence.

The Iranian Parliament has recently announced the official reasons for transfer of the capital from Tehran. The first reason is overpopulation of the current capital: more that 16 million people, which is almost 20% of the country’s population, presently reside in Tehran and its suburbs. The population of Tehran has nearly tripled in the past 10 years, mostly due to the inflow of migrant workers from other parts of the country. The second reason is intense pollution in Tehran. The increase in population has caused an increase in the number of cars in the city, and that contributed to air pollution, which is especially devastating in hot Iranian summers. The increased number of cars also caused lots of traffic and transportation issues in Tehran. The third reason is the high crime level in the overpopulated city. The last and, probably, the gravest of the four issues is the seismic hazard in Tehran. The probability of grade 8 earthquake in Tehran is almost 100%. However, according to Stanislav Borzyakov from the Russian “Vzglyad (Glance)” magazine, a not less important reason for Iran’s willingness to move the capital specifically to Tabriz, rather than any ethnically Persian city, is that the Iranian government wants to reduce the concentration of Azerbaijanis in Tabriz, an originally Azerbaijani city that is often labeled as the “center of Azerbaijani separatism.”

The province in Northern Iran known as South Azerbaijan has been Azerbaijani land since prehistoric times (around 1000 BC). It has been a part of the independent Azerbaijani Khanate system until February 10, 1828, when the Treaty of Turkmenchay was signed between Imperial Russia and Iran at the end of the Second Russo-Persian War. According to the terms of the Treaty of Turkmenchay, North Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani territories to the North of Araz river) were annexed to Russia, and South Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani territories to the South of Araz river) were annexed to Iran. In 1918, North Azerbaijan regained its independence from Imperial Russia and turned into what nowadays is known as Azerbaijan, whose capital is located in Baku. However, what we now picture as Azerbaijan is just a small fraction of what Azerbaijan has previously been. A much larger part of Azerbaijan, with a population of about 18 million Azerbaijanis and with a hypothetical administrative center in Tabriz, is still annexed to Iran.

After the establishment of Pahlavi dynasty in Iran, the use of Azerbaijani language was prohibited in education and media, and ethnic Azerbaijanis were not allowed to hold any government positions. Up to today, Azerbaijanis are frequently discriminated against, persecuted, and executed by hanging for attempts to reclaim their Azerbaijani identities through peaceful demonstrations. After the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Islamic government started to suppress Azerbaijani protesters with special cruelty and with the use of heavy machinery. In 2005, mass demonstrations against anti-Azerbaijani racism took place in Tabriz and spread to other Azerbaijani cities in Iran in 2006. All of these demonstrations were brutally put down, and the discrimination of Azerbaijani population in Iran became even more unjust and blatant after that.

The Iranian government often attempts to dilute the concentration of Azerbaijanis in specific areas of South Azerbaijan, which is now known as Northern Iran. Previously, the Iranian government managed to scatter the compact settlements of Azerbaijanis in Iran by artificially dehydrating Lake Urmia, where Azerbaijanis had been living since the era of pre-historic kingdom of Mannea in the 10th century BC. After their natural source of water was gone, most of Azerbaijanis left the Urmia region and dispersed in other areas of Iran. Many critics argue that the plan of moving the capital to Tabriz is designed to serve the same purpose. If the capital moves to Tabriz, then all ethnically Iranian government officials and administrative officers will move to Tabriz with their families and thus significantly dilute the compact Azerbaijani population in the city and its surroundings. Moreover, if the capital is transferred to Tabriz, the annexation of South Azerbaijan, to North, currently independent, Azerbaijan, will become impossible because you cannot annex the capital of one nation to another. Thus, by turning Tabriz, the pulsating heart of Azerbaijani culture and nationalism, into a capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Iranian government will once and forever Iranize South Azerbaijan and thus crash the hope for its independence and unification with the North.