Tehran's turnaround
    Sincerity of a neighbour or Persian cunning?

    ANALYTICS  22 November 2022 - 17:01

    Matanat Nasibova

    The protests that have been sweeping Iran for more than two months are evidence of a systemic crisis of the current state system which is literally bursting at the seams. There is a real threat of revolution for the Islamic clergy that has usurped power in the country. According to Iranian human rights organisations, more than 400 people have already been killed in clashes with police during protests over this period, including students and dozens of minors.

    On Friday, November 18, a 23-year-old ethnic Azerbaijani girl Aylar Haghi, a medical student, was buried near Tabriz, East Azerbaijan province, after she was brutally killed by security forces during an anti-clerical rally. The details of the girl's tragic death were reported by the opposition channel Iran International. As it turns out, Aylar managed to take refuge in one of the buildings when the police dispersed the demonstration. But she was discovered by the regime's supporters and thrown from the roof of a high-rise. She died of her injuries on the spot. It is also known that Aylar Haghi's family was pressured by the authorities to hold the funeral ceremony in secret, without making the incident public and even passing it off as an accident to avoid protest riots. However, as later events showed, the true cause of the student's death could not be concealed, and the funeral turned into a crowded demonstration, with participants shouting "Mullahs, get out!" and "We are all Aylar and we will fight!"

    Radio Liberty later reported that according to Aylar's relatives, there were gunshot wounds on her body, meaning it was premeditated murder. Such atrocities are far from isolated incidents in Iran. On the day Aylar Haghi was buried, other victims were being buried including 10-year-old Kian Pirfalak from Izeh who was also shot dead the day before. All these facts show conclusively that the mullocrats who have usurped power in Iran are not willing to surrender and are openly shooting freedom fighters, not even sparing minors. Videos circulating on social media clearly show Iranian security forces ruthlessly opening fire on people on the platform of an underground station in Tehran, with passengers hit by bullets falling directly onto the tracks. There is other video footage of law enforcers beating with batons women who are not wearing the hijab, as established by Muslim law. It should be recalled, by the way, that the unrest in Iran began in September this year precisely because of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was beaten to death in a police station for the inappropriate wearing of the hijab. Earlier, the occasion for unrest was the economic factor and only occasional calls were heard for the resignation of the government. The current protests are evidence of widespread dissatisfaction with the Shiite clergy's monopolisation of political power, people are protesting against repression and violence from the clerical administration. This is why ethnic Azeris, whose rights have been violated for decades, participate so actively in the protests.

    It is known that the human rights situation in Iran with regard to our blood brothers is far from good. The Iranian security services regularly raid activists of the national liberation movement in Southern Azerbaijan, subjecting them to arrest and torture. The fact that openly discriminating against the national rights of Azerbaijanis in Iran has become part of the state policy of the mullahs' regime resonates with the Republic of Azerbaijan. The Persian authorities have always seen the Azeri population, which makes up as much as one-third of the country's total population, as a threat. That is, if all southern Azeris took to the streets not only in Tabriz and Ardabil but also in Tehran, where there are also many of them, demanding independence, it would be difficult to deal with them, not to mention the international publicity.

    For now, this is indeed a dangerous trend for the mullahs' regime, which could turn into a collapse of clerical power. There are more than enough facts to prove the infringement of the rights of our brothers. According to HRANA, an Iranian human rights organization, Azerbaijani activists are protesting against the harsh treatment of prison guards and ignoring the rights of political prisoners, almost all of whom are ethnic Azerbaijanis. They are the ones who most frequently go on hunger strikes, while their comrades-in-arms go on peaceful protests demanding that constitutional rights, such as education in their mother tongue, be guaranteed.

    Ethnic Azeri protests in the IRI are quite a significant reason for the Iranian side to launch diplomatic attacks against Azerbaijan. However, there are also other reasons that displease Tehran. During the last two years, Iran has been openly confrontational towards Azerbaijan, due to the changed balance of power in the region after the 44-day war in 2020. At first, Baku tried not to give any political connotation to Tehran's individual outbursts, so as not to escalate tensions with the neighbouring state. Although it is obvious that the Azerbaijani side has a lot of reasons to complain about the policy of Iran - both internal, carried out against 30 million ethnic Azeris, and external, in relation to Baku. Suffice it to note that since the end of the Karabakh war Iran has conducted three military exercises on the border with Azerbaijan. The last was the largest, during which Iranian soldiers practiced crossing the Araz River and used mostly offensive weapons in the exercises. In other words, this was far from the traditional type of exercise, as Tehran officials claimed.

    It is noteworthy that the Iranian side has never conducted similar manoeuvres near Karabakh in the 30 years of Armenia's occupation of Azerbaijani territories. It was only in the post-conflict period, when Azerbaijan, having restored its territorial integrity, undertook the revival of the liberated lands, that Tehran made such an outright challenge. Although it would have been logical for Tehran to conduct such exercises to protect its borders during the Armenian occupation and not after it. But de-occupation of Azerbaijani territories does not seem to be in the interests of our southern neighbour at all, and Tehran demonstrates this by concrete actions against Azerbaijan and openly favours Armenia.

    Meanwhile, officially, the Iranian side has been discreet but consistent in its support for the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, while at the same time sometimes covertly, and sometimes openly, supporting Armenia by providing financial and other support. During the Second Karabakh War convoys of fuel, food and weapons were sent from Iran to Armenia. Moreover, the Iranian military even intervened in Azerbaijani territory in the direction of Khudaferin TPP. The armed clash between the advanced units of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces and Iranian provocateurs in military uniform was narrowly avoided.

    Today, the mullahs' regime has another reason to express its hostility to Azerbaijan - Baku has organized a barrier for drug trafficking from Iran to Europe, after restoring control over the 130-km long section of the border with Iran, which was previously under Armenian control. Azerbaijani authorities blocked unimpeded drug trafficking from IRI to Karabakh and later another drug route was disrupted by the establishment of checkpoints on the Gorus-Gafan road. According to statistics, between November 2020 and October 2021 Azerbaijani customs officers detected 46 cases of drugs and psychotropic substances smuggling, and over 99% of drugs taken out of circulation were seized during attempts of smuggling across the border in Astara, Bilasuvar, and Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic bordering Iran. There are also known facts of fuel transportation from Iran to Khankendi in the post-occupation period.

    It must be stated, however, that the provocative policy of the Iranian authorities towards Azerbaijan has dealt a tangible blow to Iran itself in the first place. Firstly, it has further exacerbated internal contradictions in the country, as the number of Azerbaijanis living there who sympathise with their own authorities has significantly decreased. In addition, the number of people sympathetic to the clerical regime in the Republic of Azerbaijan has sharply dropped - it is difficult to sympathize with a state that threatens your homeland and flexes muscles on its borders.

    Secondly, Azerbaijani special agencies have engaged and thoroughly destroyed Iran's network of agents in Azerbaijan and blocked particularly aggressive Iranian information resources.

    Thirdly, the complication of relations with Iran gave impetus to the South Azerbaijani discourse in Azerbaijani society, and indeed in Iran itself.

    In addition, Baku, now without looking back at Tehran and without fearing to offend its neighbour, began to strengthen ties with Israel, the sworn enemy of Iran, according to the mullocrats. As we know, the Azerbaijani parliament has decided to open an embassy in Israel, which was surely an unpleasant surprise for Iran. Official Tehran is angered by this news, although it itself, practically ignoring the current situation with Azerbaijani-Armenian relations, opened a consulate in Gafan, and also allowed Armenia to open a consulate in Tabriz in 2023, that is, in the centre of Southern Azerbaijan with the relevant population.

    It is safe to say that Iranian-Armenian relations have become stronger than ever in the last 30 years. Even today, Tehran periodically makes statements in support of Armenia and sends high-ranking politicians and officials there on official visits. Moreover, Iran is already voicing the need to annex the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Tehran does not consider that it may further aggravate the rift with Azerbaijan.

    It is the Iranian side that is provoking the diplomatic conflict, claiming that "violation of the territorial integrity of the countries of the region" (meaning Armenia) and attempts to cross the "red lines" during the September Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes in the Kalbajar region, threaten the peace and stability of their country. Iran probably hoped to harass Azerbaijan in the hope that the high-profile "attacks" would succeed. But that was a miscalculation. Baku responded to the attacks of Tehran with sangfroid and measured pragmatism.

    It is worth noting that Azerbaijan has always demonstrated a friendly stance towards neighbouring countries (except Armenia, of course), and has never closed the door to constructive cooperation with its neighbours, including Iran. However, this time Baku has made it clear to Iran in a very serious and reasoned manner that the language of threats is unacceptable for our country and that we are capable of defending our statehood.

    Meanwhile, on November 20, Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, made a press statement in which he commented on rumours that Iran was going to start a war against Azerbaijan. With the Persian cunning Velayati stated that the reports about preparation for war against Azerbaijan are vile slander to the Iranian authorities. "Iran, both in the Caucasus and elsewhere, does not intend to attack any country. Iran does not intend to attack its neighbours, who share the same origin, language, religion, traditions, and history. That is, the people of the Republic of Azerbaijan are the light of our eyes," he proclaimed, adding that "if Azerbaijan is subjected to aggression by any country, Iran will rush to its aid."

    "The people of Azerbaijan rule their country, and such inappropriate words and accusations are groundless, and let them know (the enemies of Iran and Azerbaijan) that their efforts in this regard will be in vain. Today, Iran has such power that its enemies, including America and Zionism, reckon with it. Still, our power is not against our friends, but against our enemies, the enemies of Azerbaijan and the enemies of neighboring countries," the Iranian politician stressed.

    Ali Akbar Velayati is a prominent figure who influences the foreign policy decisions of the country's leadership, accordingly, his statements about Iran's readiness to normalise relations with Azerbaijan and ease the tension are a clear indicator that Tehran has backtracked, realising the futility of pressure on Azerbaijan.

    Of course, Baku welcomes the positive position of the Iranian high-ranking official and, in general, the revision of Iran's policy towards normalization of relations with Azerbaijan. In this regard, presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev said that Baku welcomes Velayati's reminder that our peoples have a common history, religious, cultural heritage, and traditions, a long history of Azerbaijani-Iranian ties.

    At the same time Hajiyev made it clear to Tehran that Baku is not the initiator of the tension in bilateral relations, and that the Iranian armed forces' military exercises near the borders of Azerbaijan have not served to strengthen confidence between the two countries, but on the contrary, they had a negative impact. That is, Baku has once again demonstrated a diplomatic gesture, stating its readiness to develop relations with Iran, but at the same time, it has very intelligently prioritized Azerbaijan's foreign policy, reflecting the identity of statements and concrete actions, unlike the Iranian side. Time will show how well Velayati's loud statements will match Tehran's subsequent steps and actions. In the meantime, judging by Tehran's rhetoric, the neighbouring state is determined to smooth over the faltering relations and restore Baku's trust.


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