Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

Fakhteh Zamani of Vancouver is a human rights activist for the dozens of Iranian protesters who are being tortured and killed for demanding the right to use their own Azeri Turkish language, rather than Persian, in Iran. The protester in the centre photograph was shot in the face by Iranian police.- Photograph by: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

Azerbaijani Iranians are ethnic Turks who form about a quarter of Iran’s total population, which the CIA World Factbook pegs at about 66 million. Persians constitute just over half the population and other minorities, including Kurds, Arabs and Turks, form the other 25 per cent. Azerbaijani Iranians live in the northwest corner of Iran, which is bordered by Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. Like most Iranians, Azerbaijianis practise Shi’a Islam, but they speak Azeri Turkish rather than Persian.

There is a haunted look in Fakhteh Zamani’s eyes as she recalls guiding Iranian activist Vahid Davarpanah through the streets of Turin, Italy.

He asked Zamani to describe the buildings around them and she couldn’t find the words because the streetscape was so unlike anything he would have seen in his native country. He could not see them for himself because he was blinded by one of the 90 pellets fired into his body by Iranian security forces with riot guns. His crime: protesting a cartoon published in a state-run newspaper that compared his people — Azerbaijani Iranians — to cockroaches and suggesting 10 ways of exterminating them. Davarpanah was in his early 20s and unarmed at the time. … Read More