Interviews 20:38 28/12/2013

Iran- Azerbaijani Relations in 2013: decrease in trade, border clashes, ‘‘cultural wars’’

During 2013 serious disagreements took place between Iran and Azerbaijan on different dimensions, including cultural, political, legal etc. conducted an interview with an expert on Iranian Studies, Armen Israelyan:

What kind of developments occurred in Iran-Azerbaijani relations in recent years?

-If we try to evaluate Iran-Azerbaijani relations during last 3 years, we can conclude that year by year the atmosphere of distrust present in mutual relations has deepened, meanwhile generating new issues and problems.

If from 2010 to 2011 the Azerbaijani authorities pursued anti-Iran policies indirectly, through the help of Media or other groupings, starting from 2012 to 2013 they didn’t even try to hide it and started to conduct the policy through high rank officials.

Why the relations deteriorated?

-The main reasons for emerging tensions in Iran-Azerbaijani relations are the following:

  • Azerbaijan’s manipulation of issues concerning Turkic speaking Iranians.
  • Azerbaijan raises claims on some territories of Northern Iran
  • There are unsubstantional detentions of Iranian citizens in Azerbaijan
  • Azerbaijan launched a process of declaring Iranian cultural heritage its own
  • Restrictions on Iranian representatives acting in Azerbaijan
  • Israel-Azerbaijan strategic relations
  • Armed clashes on border
  • Azerbaijan carries out unsubstantional detentions of Iranian citizens in Azerbaijan
  • Legal status of Caspian Sea: Ecological issues

It’s well known that Azerbaijan -Iran relations were at the highest point of escalation during the period when Ahmedinjad was the president of Iran. What’s Hassan Rouhani’s approach?

-If we try to evaluate the level of Azerbaijan-Iran relations during 2013, it can be claimed that in comparison to the last two years, this year as well hasn’t provided any positive shifts in the relations. Complete the opposite; there are spheres in which we can witness an escalation.

Newly elected president of Islamic Republic of Iran during the pre-election campaign declared that Azerbaijan became a security threat for Iran. In June of 2013 IRI Majlis Research Center published a report about Azerbaijan- Iran relations. According to the report in recent years Azerbaijan launched pan-Azeri ideology, the basis of which is the ideology of Turk-Azeri nationality which, on its turn, is presented as a part of Azerbaijani national identity. To create national unity Azerbaijan established an ideology of creating Greater Azerbaijan, which includes the territories of Iran where Azeri-speaking people live.

The authors of the report state that Israel -Azerbaijan economic, political as well as cultural ties are considered to be a serious warning for Iran.

Hassan Rouhani when already elected as a president declared that Iran would try to establish friendly relations with all its neighbors including Azerbaijan. Indeed, during first months in office, Rouhani with the help of Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan was making attempts to resolve disagreements with Azerbaijan. However, despite Iran’s efforts official Baku not only continued to pursue anti-Iran policy but also made certain steps which further escalated the situation

What role do Israel and Turkey play in Iran -Azerbaijan relations?

-The main supporters of Azerbaijani anti-Iran policy are Turkey and Israel: The latter, based on their political interests, have been trying to reduce Iran’s influence in Azerbaijan. Under these circumstances, Azerbaijani authorities starting from 2011 expelled from Baku 8 representatives of Islamic Republic of Iran, including the representative of Spiritual head of Iran, people working in Iranian telecommunication and cultural centers.

Speaking about so called Iran’s ethnic problems, it can be stated that recently Turkey together with Azerbaijan using Media, separatist groups and many other means openly pursued separatist policies in Iran. They never missed an opportunity to manipulate the issue of Turkic-speaking Iranians to put forward territorial claims to the Eastern and Western Atrpatakan states of Iran, calling these states “Southern Azerbaijan”.

It’s not a secret that one of Turkey’s long-term goals is to become united with Azerbaijan through the Turkic- speaking Northern states of Iran. As recent events show the actions of Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance is directed towards the above mentioned goal.

An agreement signed by Iran and “5+1” and in that context the positive developments in Iran-U.S relations contribute to the increasing role of Iran in the region.

Naturally, Turkey and Azerbaijan should be jealous of the fact. It’s obvious that under this conditions Turkey’s influence in the region would decrease, while Azerbaijan would lose its importance for Israel.

- It is known that Iran and Azerbaijan have serious disagreements in cultural sphere: What kinds of developments are recorded in 2013?

- In 2013 Azerbaijan was in a “cultural war”. In previous years Azerbaijan had managed to prescribe one of Iranian literature classics of the 12th century, Nazimi Gyanjavi, as well as the Iranian musical instrument “tar” to itself. This year it managed to prescribe the old, Iranian game polo.

The Iranian side protested only when a month was left for the annual meeting of UNESCO. Meanwhile, seeing that it is not possible to stop the registration process by UNESCO Iran suggested the organization to register the game as a common cultural heritage. The suggestion of Iran was not supported.

The previous authorities of Iran were not consistent of the activities of Azerbaijan in subscribing the Iranian culture to itself. The present leadership is more persistent in that issue. In that connection the Minister of Islamic culture and guidance Ali Jannati has recently made a statement, noting that some short-minded people try to eliminate the Iranian cultural heritage, the Persian language and literature; they, however, will not rich their goal.

- The armed clashes on Iranian-Azerbaijani border have become more frequent recently: What was the situation in 2013?

- Dozens of armed clashes have been recorded on Iranian-Azerbaijani border during the last 3 years. It is known that drag transportation from Afghanistan to Europe passes through Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani authorities, having direct participation in drag trafficking, make a fuss of any incident that occurs on the Iranian – Azerbaijani border. In this way the try to show as if they fight against the smugglers relentless.

However, as the Border Guard Commander and IRI ambassador to Azerbaijan claim, Azerbaijan does not cooperate with Iran in the fight against the drag trafficking. According to the IRI ambassador there are drag trafficking bands formed in Azerbaijan, the import of the illegal drags to Caucasus is mainly controlled by those bands.

- Have the tensed relations influenced the economic ties?

- As I noted already, Azerbaijan does everything to limit the presence of Iran as much as possible. Azerbaijan, under the pretext of the shootings on the Nakhijevan border closed the Iranian border from one side during the last year. This action was followed by Iran’s sharp answer; Iran on its turn closed the checkpoints in Bilesavari and Jolfai.

Though Iran has unilaterally abolished the visa regime for the Azerbaijani citizens, Baku refuses to do the same for the Iranian citizens.

About 12 years ago according to the agreement achieved by the two countries the border-close citizens had the right to move from country to country without visa regime, however, last year, Azerbaijan abolished this agreement.

It has been a long time now that Iran suggests Azerbaijan to establish small markets in the border-close territory; however this country does not accept the offer.

Because of the above mentioned circumstance the trade turnover has reduced during the last years reaching from 539 to 263 million dollars.

- How will Iran-Azerbaijan relations develop? Are there intentions of improvement?

- Analyzing the recent developments in Iranian – Azerbaijani relations we can say definitely that there can hardly be any improvement in the relations in the near future. This is related with both the bilateral problems and the interests in Israel-Turkey relations.

The thing is that the role of Iran will grow in case of improvement of Iran – U.S. relations.

Washington taking into consideration the Iran – Israeli, Iran – Turkey contradictions tries to reduce its dependence from those countries by the help of Tehran. In the same time it tries to use the issue of the settlement of the relations with Iran for keeping those countries under its control.

In that case the military strategic partners of Azerbaijan – Turkey and Israel – by all means will try to hinder Iran’s attempt of becoming superpower-country of the region.

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