In advance of Mother Language Day, about a thousand Iranians who grew up speaking a minority language took to Twitter to express their sense of loss and frustration at the marginalization of their mother tongue.
The #Manofarsi (Me and Farsi) hashtag soon went viral, with speakers of minority languages across Iran, from Azeri to Arabic, uniting in their discontent at the structural discrimination they experience in their home country for being born into a language other than Persian.
Sevil Suleymani, a Turkish-Azerbaijani civil rights activist and co-founder of the End of Monolingualism campaign, told IranWire that “the campaign aimed to spread awareness of the systemic relegation of non-native Persian speakers espoused by the Islamic Republic.” She herself grew up in Parsabad in Ardebil province, northwestern Iran, where not one of her 35-strong cohort in the first grade spoke Persian at home.
“Our first grade teacher was a young woman from Tabriz,” she recalled, “who had come to Parsabad immediately after finishing vocational school. She had come to do what she’d been instructed to do there: to teach us Persian. She thought we could all speak fluent Persian already, and the reality was the opposite. In the early days, when she was brandishing her cane, she called out my name and I wet myself with fear, because I did not know any Persian.”
Behrouz Bouchani, a well-known Kurdish writer currently teaching in exile at the University of Sydney, wrote of the campaign on Twitter: “#Manofarsi is one of our most important events in the field of public culture. In the last few hours, hundreds of excruciating stories of the degradation, insulting and racist treatment of Gilaks, Turks, Arabs, and other minorities have been recorded via this hashtag. If you want to know where the real Iran is, follow it.”
Pro-government media outlets have discounted the movement as an attempt by “Persian-language broadcasters in Britain and the United States” to “sow the seeds of discord in a society that is still co-existing despite deep political, ideological, and economic fissures.”