Who Was Behind Anti-Iranian Meeting in Baku?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Iranian Azaris Should Denounce Separatist Meeting

Hassan Beheshtipour
Russia and Caucasus Analyst

An anti-Iran separatist group (the so-called South Azerbaijan National Liberation Movement) recently held its meeting attended by secessionist figures in the Republic of Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku. Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan have had diplomatic relations since 1918. However, despite historical, cultural and religious commonalities between the two sides, relations between the two countries have somehow veered off the normal course in recent years. Relations between Tehran and Baku have been mostly under the influence of Azerbaijan’s strategic ties to Turkey and the West. The two countries also have differences over the legal regime of the Caspian Sea which has worked as another factor to prevent further expansion of bilateral relations. From the viewpoint of Iran, the important position of the West in Azerbaijan’s foreign policy, especially Baku’s relations with the United States and Israel, are cause of concern. Also Iran's positions and views on the Caspian Sea, especially its energy resources and pipelines, are different from Azerbaijan. As a result, hosting of such meetings under the existing condition of bilateral relations will only exacerbate the situation. Therefore, [instead of hosting such events] steps should be taken in order to improve Tehran-Baku ties. In the following interview, Iranian Diplomacy has discussed such issues as the main goal behind holding of such meetings, the role played by the United States and Israel in fanning the flames of discord between the two countries, and the current level of relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iran with Dr. Hassan Beheshtipour, an analyst of Russia and Caucasus issues.

Q: Please tell us about the backdrop of anti-Iran meetings in Baku. From a general perspective, what do you think is the root cause of holding such meetings?

A: First of all, I must remind you that this has not been the first anti-Iran meeting in Azerbaijan, but the country also played host to a similar meeting in Baku last year and our Foreign Ministry, unfortunately, did not show a suitable reaction to it. However, in the latest case, the Iranian Foreign Ministry officially summoned the Azeri ambassador to Tehran to voice Iran's protest to the event, which widely reverberated in the print media.

Generally speaking, a special form of political literature, or in better words, history-making, has been rife in Azerbaijan since it was under the rule of the former Soviet Union. As a result of that effort to fake history, they claim that the Republic of Azerbaijan is a land which begins north of the Aras River and continues down to Iranian city of Qazvin. This issue has been even included in history textbooks of schoolchildren in Azerbaijan and there is a map which claims that in historical terms, the Republic of Azerbaijan actually includes the Iranian cities of Qazvin, Hamedan, Urmia, and Zanjan as well as the East and West Azarbaijan, and Ardebil provinces, but this territory has been divided during wars between Iran and Russia. They have actually faked this groundless history and have made their people believe it. Such claims have been promoted even more following the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially after the independence of Azerbaijan. Instead of putting emphasis on cultural, historical, and religious commonalties which have existed between the peoples of Iran and Azerbaijan for many long years, they emphasize on the history they have made up according to which, the Azari parts of Iran are introduced as Southern Azerbaijan with the northern part [above the Aras River] being the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan.

On the opposite of this skewed historical viewpoint, there are people in Iran who argue that the territory north of Aras River has been never called Azerbaijan, but its real name is Aran; this also being a false claim without historical evidence to uphold it. As a result of these issues, an all-out propaganda and media war has been going on though I believe that neither Iran, nor Azarbaijan have the right to bring up such claims. The reason is that the Republic of Azerbaijan has an independent identity which has been established since 1991 and Iran has also recognized its independence. On the other hand, they have also maintained good neighborly relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. At present, there are Pan-Turk groups in the Republic of Azerbaijan which are trying to keep such differences alive by fanning the flames of disputes between the two neighbors. The recent meeting in Baku was one of the steps they have taken along the same line.

Q: Do regional and transregional powers play a role in the intensification of the two countries’ differences?

A: Yes. It seems that in addition to the government of Azerbaijan, both the United States and Turkey support such meetings. Although the Azeri government has denied this and announced that it has no role in holding the meeting, it is quite clear that Baku supports such events. They erroneously think that by promoting Pan-Turkism and extremist Azeri political currents, they will be able to put more pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, if they continued to pursue this policy, its sole benefit for the two neighbors would be only more tension in relations which is also a goal of Israel and other enemies of the two countries. Basically, the policy of fomenting ethnic differences is only beneficial to those parties that are willing to see insecurity and dispute in Caucasus in order to make the most of the disturbed situation. The situation in Karabakh is a good example to the point. If fomenting ethnic issues was really beneficial, it would have been so for the Lezgi ethnic minority in the Republic of Azerbaijan, or it would have benefited the Taleshi people. Therefore, if the issue of furthering ethnic differences is going to be pursued, it would cause a lot of problems for both Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan, which would not be to the benefit of either country.

Q: How is the current level of relations between the two countries and what strategy Iran should adopt in the face of such problems?

A: I believe that although relations between the two countries have been somehow tense during the past year, on the whole, both countries have tried to respect and maintain good neighborly relations. It seems that despite all negative efforts, relations in economic fields have been relatively good, though they are still far from the optimal. As for the political ties, there has been regular exchange of visits between Tehran and Baku during the past few years at various levels. However, there have been also negative efforts undertaken by certain political circles inside the Republic of Azerbaijan which do not like to see improved relations between the two countries. Such efforts have been always extant and Israel has been one of the parties which has spared no investment in this regard and has used all its capacities to disturb Iran's relations with Azerbaijan.

The next important point is about Iran's strategy. Basically, if such meetings are going to be a regular event, Iranian Azari people in such cities as Ardebil, Tabriz, Urmia, or Zanjan should give an appropriate response to their baseless claims. The number of people who organize such meetings outside Iran does not usually exceed 200. Therefore, it seems that Iranian Azari people are in the best position to give a suitable answer to these claims because they have spared no effort to defend their homeland during their history. They have also fought for the independence of their country during all these years and have even laid down their life for this goal. Azari people were always at the frontline of defending Iran during the Constitutional Revolution, the victory of the Islamic Revolution, and throughout the imposed war with Iraq. Therefore, under these conditions when such baseless claims are put forth, more than state officials, it is a duty for national circles which love Iran in the cities of Iran's Azari provinces to give a strong answer to the separatists.

As a result of the above facts, if recourse is going to be made to such methods, the Republic of Azerbaijan would be more vulnerable. Baku is currently at odds with the neighboring Armenia over the situation in Karabakh and also has serious problems with other ethnic groups, including in Talesh region. Therefore, it would not benefit Azerbaijan to play the card of ethnic differences because it will deal more severe blows to Azerbaijan than Iran. At the same time, I believe that such issues should not be highlighted in Iran because it is not to the benefit of Iran to have tension in its relations with its northern neighbor, Azerbaijan, and should prevent such issues from getting out of hand.

Q: You pointed to the role played by Israel and the United States. How much influence, do you think, they sway on this issue?

A: In reality, they have swayed their influence at various junctures. It has been a major task for the US ambassador in Azerbaijan during the past years to form a central nucleus of Iranians who are present in Baku for political purposes and are engaged in Pan-Turkist activities. Although those Iranians know about the historical experiences of Ja'far Pishevari [a Pan-Turk figure and founder of Azarbaijan Democratic Party] and are aware of how he was used by the Russians as a tool and was finally betrayed by the same Russians who victimized him after reaching an agreement with then Iranian Prime Minister Qavam, they are still eager to repeated the same failed experience.

Therefore, although ethnic differences actually exist and they know that emphasis on such differences cannot benefit the central government in Azerbaijan in any way, there are still unfortunate activities inside the Republic of Azerbaijan, which are also represented in the government. The erroneous policy, which these political currents have been pursuing during the past years, has been unfortunately effective. Otherwise, relations between Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan could have been much more cordial than what they are today.

There is another important point which should be taken into consideration here. Azerbaijan is not to blame for the whole problem because Iran has also taken steps whose impact has been largely negative. However, in a fair judgment, one may still say that Azerbaijan has not shown enough enthusiasm to improve relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

*A researcher, documentary producer, and expert on nuclear issues, Hassan Beheshtipour was born on June 22, 1961 in Tehran. He received his BA in Trade Economics from Tehran University. His research topics span from US and Russian foreign policy to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.

Key Words: Anti-Iranian Meeting, Baku, Azerbaijan, Aras River, Transregional Powers, Beheshtipour

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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