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Monday, November 13, 2006

Iranians outraged as Google redraws map

Google has provoked the wrath of Iran's notoriously suspicious authorities by appearing to question the country's sovereignty over the province of Azerbaijan in an entry on its Google Video website.

In a move tailor-made to wound Iranian patriotic pride and arouse a blizzard of protest, the Azeri provincial capital, Tabriz, is located "in southern Azerbaijan, currently in the territory of Iran". To add insult to injury, the ancient city is listed as being in Azerbaijan, rather than Iran. Tabriz and southern Azerbaijan have belonged to Iran for more than 4,000 years.

The text of a tourist film on the site has drawn accusations that the US-owned search engine is deliberately trying to undermine Iran's territorial integrity by fomenting separatist sentiment in the mainly Turkish-speaking province.

Valiallah Azarvash, an Iranian MP, said: "An Iranian never accepts such slights. Since the second millennium BC, eastern Azerbaijan and Tabriz have never been separated from the body of Iran. How can they now belong somewhere else?"

The information technology ministry has branded the entry an attempt to intervene in Iran's internal affairs and has urged Iranians to flood Google with emails.

"This act is a typical example of interference in the affairs of another country," said Samad Mohmen Bela, the IT ministry's representative in parliament. "The simplest, most effective response is for all Iranian users to reflect their objection to Google's management."

The reformist Etemad newspaper accused the company of a "strange, suspicious and dubious act" in apparently trying to relocate Tabriz - one of the major flashpoints of the 1979 Islamic revolution - to the independent former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, to the north of Iran.

The republic consists of territory annexed from Iran by Russia in 1813. Joseph Stalin tried to seize the rest of Azerbaijan after the second world war but was rebuffed by US and British opposition.

Tabriz and other cities in the province witnessed violent protests earlier this year after the publication of a cartoon in a Farsi-language newspaper depicting a cockroach speaking in the local Azeri tongue.

Iran's Islamic authorities have shown little tolerance towards regional autonomous movements and have accused the US and Britain of trying to stir secessionist sympathies in different provinces, including Kurdistan and Khuzestan.

The row echoes a controversy two years ago when National Geographic magazine was swamped by protests after labelling the sea between southern Iran and neighbouring Arab states as the Arabian not the Persian Gulf. The magazine was banned in Iran and its reporters were barred from the country. Web surfers launched "Google bombs", causing searches for "Arabian Gulf" to produce a site announcing: "The gulf you are looking for does not exist, try Persian Gulf."

The Guardian
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