24 June 2010


Dr. Robert Russell   

Executive Director

Cartoonists Rights Network International




Dear Dr. Russell,


Like millions of other Azerbaijanis throughout the world, we were shocked to learn of your organization’s decision to award Mr. Mana Neyestani for his racist and degrading work against Azerbaijani-Turks in Iran. Your so-called “award of courage” for Neyestani comes at a time when our community is heavily engaged in an anti-racist struggle for restoration of its human rights and dignity. According to ADAPP, this CRNI award endorses and supports the hatred propaganda promulgated by the Iranian regime towards millions of Iranian minorities.


In February 2006, Hamshahri, an Iranian State-owned newspaper, announced the International Holocaust Cartoon Contest—making a mockery of a horrific episode in our human history. Months later, May 2006, another State-owned newspaper, Iran-Daily, published a cartoon depicting Azerbaijanis as cockroaches—same language used by Rwandan Genocidaires. The cartoon encouraged Iranian children to use violence against ‘cockroaches’ [Azerbaijanis] and exterminate them as they cannot speak ‘human’ [Farsi] language. Remember this was the same tactic used by the Hitler’s Nazi regime. As the largest minority group in Iran, Azerbaijanis have been discriminated against based on their ethnicity, language, and culture for many decades and portrayed as inferior by a propaganda often organized and supported by the ruling Iranian regimes.


Finally, in August 2006 the world witnessed a culmination of incendiary actions with aforementioned Holocaust Contest. ADAPP wants the international community to understand that Neyestani’s “cockroaches” cartoon is rooted in an existing literature of racism and hatred. It serves to dehumanize Azerbaijanis, insult their identity, wound their dignity and further segregate them—a popular tactic used by many other authoritarian regimes over the human history to discriminate, ethnically cleanse, and even eradiate certain ethnicities, groups and communities. In response to this cartoon, hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijanis took to the streets, peacefully, condemning the government-run newspaper’s racist publication. However, government forces fired on peaceful demonstrators. Amnesty International documents that "hundreds, if not thousands, were arrested and scores reportedly killed by the security forces” as a result.


You may not be aware, Dr. Russell, but the Iranian regime has total control over the media.  ADAPP knows that publicizing a two-page cartoon in the state-run newspaper against one of the most disadvantaged groups in society was not, and cannot, be considered an act of heroism. ADAPP has consistently made clear that “representatives of the dominant Persian culture, especially a state run newspaper in Iran...[do] not require much courage to insult and humiliate minorities! Millions of minorities in Iran are denied their basic rights and are being depicted as inferior by the state sponsored propaganda. The real act of courage would be demanding the government to provide basic language and cultural rights to the Iranian ethnic minorities, granted by the constitution of the country.” Being a representative of the dominant Persian group, your fellow board member, Nikahang Kowsar understands this reference. ADAPP seeks only to promote injustice and this award is such.


By presenting the award for courage to Mana Neyestani for publishing the aforementioned cartoon, CRNI severely undermines efforts by the international community, human rights, and civil society organizations to promote the rights of minorities in Iran. Your organization also empowers those who misuse freedom of speech to promote racism, ethnic hatred, and intolerance. There is no doubt that this award will serve to embolden those who use hate literature to stigmatize and marginalize, rendering helpless groups and communities as “subhumans.”


ADAPP does support freedom of expression, however, dissemination of hate literature, and promotion of racism against vulnerable members of (any) society is not in line with principles of free speech. The United States First Amendment was actually created to protect minorities, like the Azerbaijanis, from such threats that undermine the integrity of freedom of expression.  ADAPP demands that CRNI reconsider its decision and withdraw its 2010 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning to Mr. Neyestani. In doing so, CRNI will demonstrate its commitment to promoting peace, respect, and tolerance, and will renounce its support to those who preach ethnic hatred to achieve political objectives.


Yours sincerely,


Fakhteh Luna Zamani
Chief Executive Officer
Association for the Defence of Azerbaijani Political Prisoners in Iran (ADAPP)
Vancouver, Canada