Behavioral Patterns in Iran’s Northwestern Geopolitics

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Fatemeh Safavi
Central Asia Analyst

Behavioral patterns are those methods and approaches, which various political actors adopt toward one another on the basis of multiple principles of geography, politics, power, and interests. These patterns are adopted by various actors, including states, political leaders, civil institutions, nongovernmental organizations, as well as economic, social and media institutions and institutes, religious leaders and institutions, and the likes of them toward one another, regardless of whether the other party is a friend, or enemy, or rival or ally.

Having such characteristics as geographical, demographic, ethnic and cultural homogeneity with the northwestern part of Iran, the Republic of Azerbaijan is considered as the most important neighboring country of the Islamic Republic of Iran in that region. As part of the Caucasus puzzle with borders along the Caspian Sea shores and also as a neighbor of Iran and in view of the geopolitical characteristics of both countries, Azerbaijan is of extraordinary value to the Islamic Republic.

During the years that have passed since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, situation in the region has changed, new incidents have taken place, and such factors as economy and development in addition to the infiltration of the Western capitalism in countries freed from dominance of Communism and Socialism have gained increased importance as a result of which the United States and West have had the upper hand. The Republic of Azerbaijan launched its new foreign policy as one of those countries that are going through a period of transition. Emergence of this newly independent country in the neighborhood of Iran provided new ground for expansion of competitive relations on the basis of conflicting interests of the two countries. As a result, the neighborly relations between the two countries were largely overshadowed by this issue. During these years, the ups and downs in relations between the two countries were a function of their understanding of each other. Due to structural characteristics of the Azeri government, the process of making political, security, cultural and military decisions is under heavy influence of the president, who is also the pivot of all the country’s plans and policies. However, the country has been disrespectful of neighborhood conditions and has made way for foreigners and actors, who have been trying for years to expand their regional influence in political, economic, cultural, ideological and media fields. Therefore, their territories and geopolitical borders have been constantly expanding and contracting. As a result, new opportunities as well as enemies and rivals have restricted opportunities available to Iran.

Efforts aimed to guarantee the interests of hegemonic and transregional powers have harmed the interests of regional and local actors and have had a negative impact on their common fate. Therefore, this issue has been highlighted as a major factor which has prevented suitable development of bilateral relations between the two countries. Manifestations of this issue are also clearly seen in media domains where under foreign guidance and support, virtual spaces, web-based televisions stations, satellite networks, and print media have turning into the main axis around which efforts to counter Iran and promote anti-Iran propaganda have been made. Publicizing secessionist and extremist ideas to affect the public opinion, sow discord among various ethnic groups, spread rumors, and tarnish the image of state officials will finally alter the model of friendship and neighborhood between countries.

On the other hand, the secular government of Azerbaijan, with a secular identity and a political system that is inclined toward nationalism, considers Iran’s publicity and religious activities and the way it has been reaching out to and influencing Shia people in Azerbaijan as a threat to its sovereignty. To reciprocate this, Baku has been behaving in a special way, formulating scenarios, monitoring publicity efforts by the world service of Iranian media, and raising criticism of their performance. Without a doubt comments given by the two countries’ state-run media on certain scenarios related to the two countries cannot be favorable under these circumstances. On the whole, such measures have pushed both countries toward skepticism and distrust.

Iranian governments have always highlighted good neighborly relations, and the incumbent Iranian administration – which is the eleventh administration – has based its policy on development and bolstering of relations with neighboring countries. Also, at the present juncture, signing of Iran’s nuclear agreement with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has made other governments more willing to take part in Iran’s economic projects and improve relations with the country. Therefore, under current conditions of confidence building and with special emphasis on common geopolitical aspects of bilateral relations, including historical, religious and cultural commonalities, a vast and unique ground should be provided for cooperation between the two neighbors in order to dispel past misunderstandings in bilateral relations and take steps to promote the two countries’ values and interests. At present, despite the existence of high potential for convergence between the two countries and good ground for boosting relations, Iran and Azerbaijan have not been able to take the best advantage of these existing potentialities.

The Republic of Azerbaijan has the strongest economy in the Caucasus region and is considered as a gate to this region. Therefore, it can be considered as a useful transit advantage for the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the other hand, Iran has many advantages on the strength of which it can develop its relations and bring about a major development in its geographical environment. Among the most important trade advantage that Iran has and of which the Republic of Azerbaijan can take advantage is the short distance and long border between the two countries. This advantage can help Azerbaijan connect its economic market to economic markets in the Persian Gulf region en route to other international markets.

Activation of the two countries’ joint committees, continued follow-up on the implementation of bilateral agreements, monitoring the degree of progress of mutual plans, and facilitation of the implementation of those agreements can have a positive effect on expansion of relations between the two countries.

Also, expansion of cultural exchanges within expert-level and specialized frameworks can prevent any abuse by forgers of history, religion and culture in the two countries and, subsequently, do away with misunderstandings between the two sides. Adopting a media policy free from foreign intervention and pressure and based on logical activities in line with the two sides’ bilateral and regional interests, and without marginal issues that may undermine neighborly relations, can lead to enlightenment of public opinion and have positive psychological effects on rebuilding the Caucasus region, which is facing a potential crisis. Through a different discourse, the two countries can embark on reviewing their goals in the region, the Islamic world and at international level in order to retrieve their common goals and play their dynamic and lasting role in reducing crises at all aforesaid levels.

Key Words: Behavioral Patterns, Iran, Northwestern Geopolitics, Azerbaijan, Foreign Policy, Competitive Relations, Conflicting Interests, New Opportunities, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Convergence, Caucasus Region, Marginal Issues, Safavi

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