Mahmudali Chehregani (also known as Mahmudali Chohraganli) is an Azeri born in Shabestar, Iran, in 1958 and is the founder (1995) and leader of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement (SANAM or GAMOH), a separatist political group that claims, without basis, to represent the interests of Iran's estimated 12 to 23.5 million Azerbaijani minority. Chehregani was a professor of linguistics at Tabriz University.
Chehregani was arrested by agents of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence in December 1999, effectively preventing him registering as a candidate for the Majlis (Parliament) election within the specified time. He was tried by a revolutionary court on charges including smuggling shampoo, and sentenced on 18 February 2000 to six months' imprisonment. Amnesty International believed that "he has been imprisoned to suppress the non-violent expression of his conscientiously held beliefs, and as such was a prisoner of conscience"..
Chehregani went on a hunger strike on May 19, in protest at his unfair trial. He was transferred to the prison hospital on July 23, suffering from internal bleeding, and subsequently released from Tabriz prison on July 27, 2000, after six months in detention, when his condition had stabilised. Iran lifted a travel ban on Chehregani in 2002, allowing him to meet with high-level government figures in Turkey and the United States. Since 2002 he lives in exile in the United States.
Chehregani has so far not been able to bring evidence that he has a PhD from Tehran University. On his website he claims that he received a degree from Tehran University, yet another biography claims that he received his doctorate from Baku State University. In an interview with HRW organizations he alleges that he is a doctor, but so far Mr. Chehregani has not shown that he indeed obtained a PhD from Tehran University.
Despite Chehregani's unfounded complaints, regional languages, including Azeri are routinely used in Iranian Media. Moreover, Chehregani claims to have specialized in teaching the Turkish language at Tehran University, which contradicts his claims that the Turkish language is forbidden in Iranian schools. Furthermore, the Iranian government does not claim minorities to be Persians, and the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, himself is Azeri.
"We support the territorial integrity of Iran and do not seek unification with Republic of Azerbaijan or Turkey. We do not want to live under the Islamic regime; we want democracy in Iran. We envision Iran in a federalist form that respects the rights of Azerbaijani Turks.
However, Chehreganli has several times explained his objective was the absolute separation of Azerbaijan from Iran. Chehregani has previously affirmed many times that federalism is an excuse for separatism and that he is a separatist He and his group have also set their aims on non-Azeri inhabited areas, specially areas inhabited by various ethnic groups including Kurds, Talysh and other Iranians. Chehregani also considers the predominantly non-Azerbaijani provinces as Hamadan and Qazvin and also the Kurdish parts of West Azerbaijan as part of Azerbaijan. Chehregani, in an interview with GunAz TV has claimed that he sees provinces which are not majority Azerbaijani, such as West Azerbaijan, Qazvin, Tehran, Arak and parts of Gilan and Kordestan as part of Azerbaijani territory.
Chehregani used the word "Fars Kupaklari" (Persian dogs) to refer to Persian Iranians on CNN Turk..