Placating Armenians & Turning A Blind Eye To Ethnic Azeris’ Demands, Iran Hastening Own Collapse

Fuad Muxtarlı Analysis 5 March 2019
Placating Armenians & Turning A Blind Eye To Ethnic Azeris’ Demands, Iran Hastening Own Collapse

In the light of the recent developments underway in cities and towns of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran, Tehran’s spin doctors are making futile efforts to blunt the fallout from the provocation the Armenian community reps undertook at a meeting with the visiting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

However, the spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, acted as the saying goes “wanted the best, you know the rest” principle. No doubts, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi knows about intricacies of his post, though he outpaced Russian FM spokeswoman Maria Zakharova and said more than he was going to say.

Speaking to journalists, he said that Iran does not want Tehran’s relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan to be conditioned and linked to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. That is, he inadvertently confirmed that Iran intends to develop relations with Armenia, not paying the slightest attention to its aggression against Azerbaijan, nor to ethnic cleansing, much less to destruction of mosques, shrines, even cemeteries in the occupied territories.

The fact that Iran has been pursuing a similar policy in the region has long been no secret to anyone, but Qassemi managed to confirm this quite officially. Then, however, he squeezed out: “The presence of the Armenian prime minister at the Ararat sports complex and his meeting with the Armenian community of Iran is not an unreasonable act, but undoubtedly, the display of some posters about the Karabakh conflict in the Armenian language in this complex is considered arbitrary and unacceptable action."

Moreover, his statement was made against the backdrop of violent protests that swept Southern Azerbaijan after the visit of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to Iran. An impressive wave of indignation has risen in the Azerbaijani sector of social networks - the Iranian authorities are being accused of direct pandering to the Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan and the occupation of Azerbaijani lands.

A slogan appeared on the wall of the Ararat football club: “Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan,” written in Azeri and Latin. The same leaflets appeared on the building of the Armenian embassy. At the stadium in Tabriz, Traktor Sazi fans chanted slogans "Karabakh is our and will remain ours," raised the flag of Azerbaijan and burned the flag of Armenia.

The Iranian authorities, who limited themselves to almost no reaction to the address of the Armenian nationalists, who at the meeting with Pashinyan raised a “Karabakh is Armenia and that’s all!” slogan, did not even think to bring them to justice, in the case of ethnic Azerbaijanis, who chanted slogans that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan, the repressive Iranian regime immediately reacted with repressions. Already at the exit from the stadium in Tabriz, the police detained 28 of our compatriots, including the famous Azerbaijani national-cultural activist Yusif Salahshur. Some of the detainees were beaten in prison.

Of course, the actions of our compatriots in Southern Azerbaijan deserve deep respect and most sincere gratitude. This is courage, and national self-consciousness, and solidarity with their brothers, and what today is called civil position and activity. And yes, such civic activity in the conditions of the repressive dictatorship of the Iranian mullahcracy requires much more courage and carries much greater risk.

With the help of repressions, the Iranian government may try to crush the protests by force, but by no means, to solve the problems that led to a new outburst of indignation in Southern Azerbaijan. For understandable reasons, they are outraged by the fact that the Iranian authorities, both literally and figuratively, are rolling out a red carpet to the country's prime minister, who has committed aggression against Azerbaijan and continues to occupy Azerbaijani lands.

This is too much at odds with Tehran’s slogans on the “Islamic solidarity”, etc. Finally, Azerbaijanis, of whom there are about 30m people in Iran, are at least entitled to respect their interests and to take their opinions into account in Iran’s foreign policy. Moreover, here they understand: Armenia for Iran is not at all such an indispensable partner. The press has already spoken about this more than once, but nevertheless, we recall that Tehran and Yerevan have a solid “political” agenda, but there is still no economic basis under it.

Yes, after Pashinyan’s visit to Iran, Armenian experts started talking about the supply of Iranian gas to Georgia through Armenia, but this is pardon, a “dummy” for the credulous. Georgia buys gas from Azerbaijan; Iran’s “blue fuel” is of little interest to it. Theoretically, it would be possible to talk about supplying gas to Armenia itself, in practice, Armenian gas networks owned by Russian Gazprom, so the question from whom Armenia will buy gas is decided not in Yerevan, but in Moscow and in favor of Moscow.

As for going through Armenia and Georgia to European markets, again, theoretically, you can draw such a scheme, if you set yourself the task to think of how to suffer a long-suffering Armenia to get a piece of transit pie, but in practice it does not make sense. First of all, the biggest obstacle for Iranian gas to enter European markets is sanctions imposed on Iran.

And second, the Azerbaijani export Southern Gas Corridor passes through Georgia and Turkey, in order for Iran to join it, it is much easier to join this pipeline in Azerbaijan or already in Turkey. “Multimodal transit” from the Persian Gulf is also a slogan and nothing more.

From Meghri, bordering on Iran, a broken road through dangerous mountain serpentines leads to Yerevan, from Armenia itself you can get to Georgia, but then you can either go by ferry or the Verkhny Lars checkpoint. And if in this situation, the mullahcracy really blows away dust particles from Nikol Pashinyan, this means only one thing: Iran needs Armenia first of all as an “anti-Azerbaijani” tool, and the friendship between Tehran and Yerevan is an obvious friendship against Baku.

Finally, Pashinyan’s visit simply played the role of a detonator: a fair amount of “explosive material” already accumulated in Iranian Azerbaijan. And the poster raised at the meeting of Pashinyan with local Armenians reminded about another problem: why, with understandable indignation, people ask in the streets of Tabriz, Ardabil, Maraga, Maranda, Armenians in Iran can develop their national culture, open schools in Armenian language, create their cultural centres but Azerbaijanis are deprived of all this?

Why do tens of millions of Iranian citizens not even have the right to their cultural identity, to study their language, history and culture? Repression is not the most convincing and not the most effective answer to these questions.

Parallels in politics are a risky thing. However, what is happening today in Iran is in many ways reminiscent of Soviet Azerbaijan of the late eighties, the time of the national awakening and the sharp rise of in national liberation movement.

Today, Iran, like the USSR of the time of Gorbachev, is confronted with a situation where the most sensible politicians already understand: to continue to live as before will not work, the ideology of the “hard Islamic regime” collapsed, protest sentiments simply spread the country from the inside.

Society’s fatigue from the “Islamic regime” also plays a role, most notably in Southern Azerbaijan, social and economic problems, and increased external pressure, and understandable fears that the Iranian authorities are simply leading the country to a catastrophic scenario: in Southern Azerbaijan, for obvious reasons few want to get involved in a war with the whole world together with Rouhani and his aggressive mullahcracy, not to mention that the Iranian government that over all these years has failed to make the point.

The country has not become home for Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Baluchis, and Arabs - in a word, for everyone except Persians and Armenians in the role of “showcase minority”. And this is precisely the reason why multinational empires fall apart.

And these are not the problems that can be solved by arresting activists and making easy adjustments to official statements. And even if the current protests in Southern Azerbaijan do not lead to large-scale political changes, such processes do not pass without a trace.