Azerbaijani, also known as Azeri, is a Turkic language that is closely related to Turkish and influenced by Persian and Arabic. By far the largest Turkic-speaking group are the Azerbaijanis, who account for over 85 percent of all Turkic speakers in Iran. Most of the azerbaijanis are concentrated in the northwestern corner of the country, where they form the majority population in an area between the Caspian Sea and Lake Urmia and from the Soviet (now the independant states of Azerbaijan and Armenia) border south to the latitude of Tehran. azerbaijani is structurally similar to the Turkish spoken in Turkey, but with a strikingly different accent. About half of all Iranian azerbaijanis are urban.
The Azerbaijani language has 9 vowels and 23 consonants. Like other Altaic languages, it has vowel harmony which means that vowels in the suffixes must belong to the same class as vowels in the stem. For example, if the stem has a round vowel such as [o] or [u], then the suffixes must also change their vowels to round in order to 'harmonize' with the stem.
Like all Turkic languages, Azerbaijani is agglutinative, that is, grammatical functions are indicated by adding suffixes to stems. Separate noun suffixes indicate gender, number, and case. There are six cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, and ablative. Verbs agree with their subjects in number. They are marked for voice, mood, tense, and mood. Separate suffixes are strung one after another to indicate these grammatical functions. The normal (unmarked) word order is Subject - Object - Verb, but other word orders are possible to mark topic and comment in the discourse. Azerbaijani has postpositions rather than prepositions, and relative clauses that precede the verb.
Azerbaijani speakers in Iran have always used the Arabic alphabet, although spelling and orthography have yet to be standardized. Before 1929, Azerbaijani was written with the Arabic alphabet in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Between 1929-1938, it was written in a version of the Roman alphabet. Between 1838-1991, it was written with the Cyrillic alphabet. The Roman script was used from 1922 to 1939. The Cyrillic alphabet was introduced in 1939, and was amended over the next twenty years. This alphabet contains six non-Cyrillic characters to represent sounds specific to Azerbaijani. In 1991, a different version of the Roman alphabet was reintroduced, but the implementation of the new Latin alphabet was slow, and most Azerbaijanis continued to use the Cyrillic alphabet. Like other Islamic languages, Azerbaijani has been strongly influenced by Arabic, particularly in the area of vocabulary. Azerbaijani speakers in Iran are often bilingual, with the result that their language also shows a strong imprint of Persian, in addition to Arabic.
Major azerbaijani cities include Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil, Zanjan, Khoy, and Maragheh. In addition, an estimated one-third of the population of Tehran was azerbaijani as of 1986 and there were sizable azerbaijani minorities in other major cities, such as Hamadan, Karaj, and Qazvin. The life styles of urban azerbaijanis do not differ from those of Persians, and there is considerable intermarriage among the upper classes in cities of mixed populations. Similarly, customs among azerbaijani villagers do not appear to differ markedly from those of Persian villagers. The majority of azerbaijanis, like the majority of Persians, are Shia Muslims. A tiny minority of Azerbaijanis are Bahais. By 2008 Azerbaijanis represented about 16 percent of the overall Iranian population.
Turkic-speaking peoples first appeared in the area that is present-day Azerbaijan in the 7th century. The region became Turkic speaking in the 11th century when it was invaded by the Turks. The area was invaded by Mongols in the 13th century, but the invasion was short-lived. In the early 1800s, Azerbaijan was divided between Persia and Russia. Following the fall of Imperial Russia, Russian Azerbaijan became an independant nation until the Soviet Union reasserted control over the region.
During the Cold War some support in Soviet Azerbaijan was given to the concept of a united Azeri state, mainly as a challange their stragetic, Western-allied southern neighbor. Good relations with the dominant ethnic group in Iran and the understanding that Iranian Azerbaijan was the traditional homeland of ethnic Azeris prevented much internal unrest from developing in Iran. Following the independance of Soviet Azerbaijan in the 1990s, Iranian Azeris for the most part countinued to see themselves as the legitimate Azeri population, and that the nation of Azerbaijan rested essentially outside of Azerbaijan's traditional borders. A fear of upsetting this balance and creating closer ties with independant Azerbaijan led to an almost confused foreign policy with regards to the Azerbaijan-Armenian conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Such collaboration was made further difficult by endorsement of the West by top Azeri political leaders and their public calls for uniting Azerbaijan.
Iranian Azeris who have assimilated into the dominant population have appeared not to be hampered by their minority status. The Ayatollah Khamenei himself has a partial Azeri heritage, as well as being the Supreme Leader of Iran. Despite a history of also supporting Azeri nationalism during the Cold War as a counter measure to Soviet pushes for common Azeri sentiments, post-Revolution Iran, and notably Iran following the independance of Azerbaijan has hardened toward outward expressions of nationalism. Iranian security forces after 2000 began regularly cracking down on the relatively small pro-Azeri demonstrations in Northern Iran. Iran subsequently sought to reduce restrictions on expressions of Azeri culture while simultaneously maintain its policies of preventing Azeri political activism. Azerbaijan and Iran have since traded accusations of involvement in the others affairs, including supporting various political groups, armed and not. Azerbaijan's pro-Western government tried a number reportedly fundamentalist Islamic insurgents in 2007 claiming they had been supported by Iran.
In May 2007, hundreds of Iranian Azerbaijani linguistic and cultural rights activists were arrested in connection with demands that they should be allowed to be educated in their own language.
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