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New York Times May 29, 2006
Ethnic Tensions Over Cartoon Set Off
Mon May 29, 2006 10:32

Ethnic Tensions Over Cartoon Set Off
Riots in Northwest Iran
By NAZILA FATHI
New York Times May 29, 2006

TEHRAN, May 28 . Four people were killed and 70 were injured in riots last
week in the Azeri region northwest of here, according to local news
reports, as tensions spread after the publication of a cartoon that has
outraged Iran's Azeri population.

The deadly protests occurred last Thursday in the city of Naghadeh, and
followed other demonstrations in Ardabil.

On Sunday, about 2,000 Azeris demonstrated in Tehran outside Parliament
and were dispersed by the police, the reports said.

In a show of defiance that appears to have unnerved the government,
demonstrators chanted in Turkish Azeri, as the language is known here for
its close relation to Turkish, and demanded that it be taught in schools.

Among the group's other demands, listed on Iranian news Web sites, were
the release of jailed protesters and the right to start independent
television channels that would broadcast in Turkish Azeri.

Unrest has mounted since the publication of a cartoon in an official
newspaper on May 19 that depicted a cockroach speaking Turkish Azeri. The
newspaper was subsequently closed and the cartoonist and editor jailed,
but the tensions have increased.

Azeris are Iran's largest minority, making up more than a quarter of the
population.

In remarks in a meeting with some members of Parliament on Sunday, Iran's
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the West for the ethnic
tensions, as he and other government officials have done in the case of
other ethnic conflicts.

He noted the Azeri people's involvement in the Islamic Revolution of 1979.

"Our enemies do not know Azerbaijan because the Azeris have always bravely
defended the Islamic revolution and the sovereignty of this country," he
said, referring to Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, where
the riots have taken place.

"People in Azerbaijan are awake and will give a proper response to the
enemy," he added.

Iran's Azeri region borders the country of Azerbaijan, as well as Turkey
and Armenia.

The tensions are occurring as Iran's government faces international
criticism for its nuclear program.

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