Tractor Sazi FC and the Civil Rights Movement of Turks in Iranian Azerbaijan

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The Tractor Sazi football club was founded in 1970 in Tabriz, the largest city of Iranian Azerbaijan, in which the majority of Iran’s ethnic Turkish population is concentrated. In the past few years, after it excelled to the level of Iranian super-league, Tractor Sazi FC has gradually started gaining support from many Turks from Iranian Azerbaijan and other Turkish-populated regions of the country not only as their favorite football team, but also as an ethnic identity symbol. This article examines the academic literature on football, politics, and the Turkish minority rights struggle in Iran to explore the ways in which Tractor Sazi FC has become an important player in the Azerbaijani Turks minority rights movement in Iran and how it fulfills the movement’s goals. For this, connections between ethnicity, power, and resistance will be addressed in discussing the team’s role in providing an opportunity for activists to display symbolic elements of their linguistic, cultural, and ethnic identity, an attempt which disrupts the marginalization of their presence within the multiethnic society of Iran. Moreover, beyond revealing the subordinating policies, practices, and discourse of Iran’s approach to its non-Persian ethnic groups, it is suggested that the mobilization of football for activism is indicative of the context in which it is emerged. Football is turned into a site of political struggle in the lack of existence of conventional modes of political participation and protest. This understanding shows that ethnic minority subjectivity is negotiated and mobilized over in different sites of struggle within existing power relations, situations, needs, and desires.