Iran’s culture minister supports Facebook, Azeri language academy

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Iran’s culture minister has taken up the controversial issue of unblocking Facebook and is promoting a new Azeri language academy.

“We cannot enclose people to a limited environment and claim we have no relationship to the world, and prevent the advancement of something with the excuse of protecting Islamic values,” Ali Jannati said at a meeting at Iran’s Chamber of Commerce on Saturday.

There are approximately 4 million Iranians on Facebook, according to Jannati. He likened trying to prevent people from accessing the website to the “ridiculous” attempts to make videos and fax machines illegal immediately after the 1979 revolution.

A committee of representatives from different ministries is currently reviewing unblocking Facebook in Iran. The website itself is not illegal, but the use of a virtual private network (VPN) to bypass the block is technically illegal. The practice is common and easily accessible.

Conservatives have criticized Jannati in the past for his position on Facebook. Officials in the judiciary and parliament have opposed attempts to unblock Facebook, even calling it “a tool for spying and regime change.”

Jannati does not deny, however, the existence of a “cultural invasion” of Iran.

“All of the administrators and cultural institutions have to join hands to confront the cultural invasion of the enemy,” Jannati said today. He was in Tabriz for the introduction ceremony of the Culture Ministry’s general director for East Azarbaijan province.

“The policies we pursue at our ministry are for the protection of religious and national values,” Jannati added.

The statement that made headlines, however, was his comment that Iran should create an academy for the Azeri language.

“The creation of an academy for the Azeri language, considering it is a language that is alive and spoken in different regions of the country, is a rightful need and demand of the people … in this field, we are ready to help,” Jannati said.

After Persians, Azeris make up the second largest ethnicity in Iran. One of President Hassan Rouhani’s campaign positions was that he would promote the right to education in one’s mother tongue, in accordance with Iran’s constitution.

However, there has been resistance to that idea. Recently, a member of the Academy of Persian Language and Literature called the promotion of first-language education a “conspiracy” promoted by the British, among other foreigners.