By | Rachel Brooks, Interviews by Irina Tsukerman
Images were sourced from Twitter and courtesy of guests. Fair use.
Parviz Siyabi Gercan has felt the iron fist of Iran’s crackdown on South Azerbaijani protests against the regime’s support of Armenian oppression.
Gercan had previously been abroad, studying in Massachusetts. That was 40 years ago. In those days, he was part of the Iranian-American student association. It was a different time and a different world. He returned to a disillusioned and disenfranchised Iran. One where the Islamic Revolution had shaken the bedrock of the society he’d come from. No longer belonging to his domestic culture, he was arrested and tortured for his protest of the new order many times.
This is the standard issue for South Azerbaijanis under the occupation of the Iranian regime. Azerbaijani are targets of Iran above other ethnicities for complex ethnopolitical reasons.
For one, Azerbaijani is the largest minority in Iran. They generally have a command of the Turkic language group. As Iran attempts to establish the dominance of the Islamic Republic at the same time that Erdogan schemes of a Turkic hegemony, and the Turkic Islamic Republic, this can create associative issues of the Azerbaijani that do not, by default, reflect the interests of the Azerbaijani. Both Iran and Armenia have voiced fears of a “regional war” in which the two parties envision a regional alliance of Turkic peoples. This has been propagated to the point that Armenia has circulated false reports of Turkey sending Azerbaijan Syrian mercenaries to strengthen their position in the fight.
The dialect spoken by North Azerbaijani and Azerbaijani in Russia is a Turkic dialect that borrows from the Shirvani dialect, whereas the South Azerbaijani and those in Iran speak a variation of the Tabrizi dialect. The significance of this is that Azerbaijani can communicate with Turks to the same degree that Germans and Danish people can understand one another’s dialects with some relative ease, and can adapt to the similar language fluidly. This potential ease of communication between Azerbaijani and Turks, and the ethnic similarity of Azerbaijani and Turks, is the ground by which Iran shapes its idea that Azerbaijani who hail from Iran would likely defect to Turkey and stand against the state. To prevent this scenario from ever playing out, Iran needs to squash its largest minority, while placating them at the same time. Much like the domestic abuser, Iran does not want South Azerbaijanis to have the right to assemble or to have a political voice for the fear that they will envision their nationalism, even though the Azerbaijani who live in Iran are typically loyal to Iran due to the Persian ties they also share with the people. At the same time, Iran doesn’t want a mass exodus of Azerbaijani for fear of adding numbers to the machine of Erdogan’s Ottoman Renaissance vision.
Another reason for Iran to fear the South Azerbaijani stems from the republic of Azerbaijan’s open-mindedness toward Israel. Should ties with Azerbaijan and Israel increase their friendliness and potential, Iran’s window of access to attack the Jewish state will be walled off by the shield of the Azerbaijani support. By the same token, the potential for a growing presence of Azerbaijan and Turkish relations could generate a more direct Azerbaijani influence over Turkish politics. Turkey has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel, citing the Besa Center, since 1949, even though, under Erdogan, Israeli and Turkish relations have cooled over the West Bank issue.
Iran is therefore faced with two possible outcomes. Either the pacification of Turkish and Caucasian Israel policy under the influence of Azerbaijani friendliness or the potential for Azerbaijani diaspora in Iran to congregate under Turkish governmental theories. Neither of these outcomes is desirable for Iran, and so the Islamic Republic will squash the South Azerbaijani where they currently stand_on the soapbox of basic human rights.
The South Azerbaijani activist Babak Chalabi made a statement regarding the Iran targeting of South Azerbaijani protestors.
“With the beginning of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the people of South Azerbaijan are following it with enthusiasm and concern. Iran supports Christian Armenia against Muslim Azerbaijan in this conflict People are very angry with these two sides of the regime. As we saw last week, the people of Azerbaijan in Tehran, Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil, Zanjan, and other cities protested the policy of the Iranian regime in support of Armenia,” said Chalabi.
“Security forces arrested more than 80 people during the protests. Following the increase in pressure from the Azerbaijani community, the tone of the Iranian regime has changed somewhat. The Friday Imams of four Azerbaijani provinces issued a statement calling for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from Nagorno-Karabakh and other occupied cities. The spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated the same position. Ali Akbar Velayati, Khamenei’s adviser on international affairs, also called for the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.”
Pasha Hasanli, the current Tartar Chairman of the Central Council of All-Azerbaijani Hearths, and an employee of the Institute of History of the Academy of Sciences, also spoke to the conflict’s impact on Azerbaijani rights in Iran. He noted that homes and lives had been destroyed in Tartar, with many buildings collapsed.
“People are angry,” said Hasanli, speaking through an interpreter.
“The rocket attack on the center of Ganja was especially outrageous.”
Hasanli commented on the fact that, while human rights are violated at the state level, the South Azerbaijani have cared for each other despite it.
“In the villages, now, people leave their doors open at night. So that whoever’s house is destroyed, he can come in at any time.”
People likewise go on living as if this is a regular occurrence.
“What impresses me the most is that people are so accustomed to artillery fire that they fall very close, crash and crash, but no one is alarmed. It goes on like a simple thing, “said Hasanli.
He then went on to recall the daily habits of an elderly couple living among the turmoils of war.
“A very moving scene is the daily life of a very old couple in their 80s in the village of Seydimli. Several times a day, the husband and wife get up and carry the trench. Then, he pulls it out in the evening. He puts a seat in the trench, carries food and water there. He says that “This woman has served me all my life. Now is the war. I have to pay.” I love him. I was very impressed.”
But not everything that Hasanli sees comes away with inspiration. He also noted how frightful a scene it was when some horses were startled by battle.
“Under the sound of cannons and rockets, a herd of horses gallops whistling wherever they come from. It’s a very scary scene. They are afraid, but they do not want to stay away from people.”
Hasnali has also seen the effects of rocket fire when it strikes its intended target.
“I have seen a lot of artillery and rocket attacks. The battle with the living army and armed soldiers is between us. You can’t go there. I saw a lot of those attacks in the 90s. Now, I am not a soldier or an officer.
‘“The mood of the people is very high. Everyone comes to enlist and to volunteer in the army. People want to go to war. I have never seen such a high fighting spirit,” said Hasanli.
While this atrocity is jarring, studies find that it is not a new occurrence. The Islamic Republic has developed a track record of abuse against the Azerbaijani population that has been documented by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. UNPO cites the Association for the Human Rights of the Azerbaijani People, or AHRAS, on the issue, as of 2019. Throughout the year of 2019, AHRAS recorded the arrests of Azerbaijani Turks in Iran, typically inspired by the crime of “unlawful assembly.” These specific arrests record cases of people who were still in custody in 2019 who had been detained in 2018 as well. This supports the analysis that Iran has had a record of concern toward Azerbaijani assembly that is not associated with the current Nagorno-Karabakh conflict protests.
Yet, the Iranian human rights abuses of those protesting today’s Nagorno-Karabakh are potentially conducive to a change in Azerbaijani sentiment toward Iran. Chalabi’s hurt was felt by all his Azerbaijani brothers and sisters in the region. Gercan recalls police brutality, how his groups of protestors were beaten with electric batons and were arrested. They had only come to take photographs of the protest scene, protesting under a placard that noted Iran’s injustice in backing the recent Armenian attacks on Azerbaijan.
The need to deny the Azerbaijani assembly is the need to crush “pan-Turkism.” The need to define any assembly of Azerbaijani regarding their rights as “Pan-Turkism” is a manifestation of Pan-Persianism, also known as Pan-Iranianism, by the reflexive property. The hysteria is high, with the little attention Iran gave the minority assemblies to placate them reported by the Middle East Eye as the “danger of Pan-Turkism” and an apparent shift in the Iranian government in favor of Turks. Pan-Persian rhetoric is ever-present and feeds the hysteric flames of inciting ethnic Iranian Persians, as well as the other ethnic minorities within Iran, to fear, mistrust, and actively oppose South Azerbaijani.
Chalabi made a note of this as well stating that, despite a tonal shift among the Iranian regime leaders, they persist in fueling the conflict, sending aid directly to Yerevan.
“Despite the change in the tone of the regime leaders, they continue to provide practical support to Armenia. Iran sends fuel, food, and construction materials to Yerevan. Iran also transports Russian military equipment to Armenia. I think the continuing pressure of the Turkish community in Iran can change the stance of the Iranian leaders towards Azerbaijan. Iran must come to terms with the existence of Azerbaijan. The policy of denying the identity of the tens of millions of Azerbaijanis can call into question the existence of Iran,” said Chalabi.
Iran’s targeting of Azerbaijani protestors has been documented by ArchDH. Political persecution of Azerbaijani in Iran stems from the politically and racially motivated crackdown of the Iranian authorities. A complaint was filed on September 30 against the Iranian authorities. Organizations that typically support non-Azerbaijani causes, such as HRANA, Amnesty International, Iran International, and Radio Zamane_also brought attention to the end of the civilian persecution.
Note, the following reports are quoted directly from the human rights complaint of Association Arc pour la défense des droits de l’homme du peuple azerbaidjanais/Iran, ArchDH
The official complaints that were filed made the cases on behalf of individuals who best represent the Iranian regime’s targeting of protestors.
An image of the arrest scene
One such case was Javad Rezai from Urmia, Iran an Azerbaijani photographer, who exposed the lies of the Iranian authorities, which were stating explicitly that they recognize the legitimacy of the Republic of Azerbaijan to regain its territories occupied by Armenia and Iran takes no side. The photographer brought the lies of the Iranian authorities to the attention of the population in Azerbaijani provinces through social media. He was arrested on 2 October 2020 and his safety is a deep cause of concern for all Azerbaijanis.
Other reports from the official complaint listed the names and injuries of others who were reported in a follow-up by the advocates as targeted by the authorities’ attack on the protestors. They are listed as follows:
In Zanjan, complaints of human rights violations included Majid Karimi and Akbar Qarabagi.
In Urmia, complaints filed against breach of human rights include Salar Taher Afshar (سالار طاهر افشار), arrested on 1 October 2020 and detained since then. Abolfazl Asgarzade (ابوالفضل عسگرزاده), arrested on 1 October 2020 and no news since then. A lady kickstarted the protests in Urmia but was later arrested by colonel Ganjali (سرهنگ گنجعلی), who subjected her to severe physical violence; arrested on 1 October 2020 and detained since then. Sehend Behnemun (سهند بهنمون) was arrested on 1 October 2020 and detained since then. Mikayil Qulipur (میکائیل قلی پور) has been summoned to an interrogation center in Urmia.
In Ardabil, Sajjad Jolani (سجاد جولانی), broken nose, Asgar Akbarzadeh (عسگر اکبرزاده) was injured on eye and ear, Hosein Balakhani (حسین بالاخانی), broken hand, Hamed Heydari Baris (حامد حیدری باریس), Mehdi Hoshmand (مهدی هوشمند), Mohammad Jolani (محمد جولانی), Bahman Kherju (بهمن خیرجو), foot injury, Parviz Siyabi (پرویز سیابی), broken hand, Mojtaba Parvin (مجتبی پروین), foot injury., Mortaza Parvin (مرتضی پروین), suffered a heavy, Mostafa Parvin (مصطفی پروین), broken foot, Sobhan Bakhshi (سبحان بخشی), who detention was identified on 29 September 2020, along with three unidentified women.
Those Iranian Azerbaijani injured in the initially reported crackdown of the authorities included the following: Ali Kheyju (علی خیرجو), on 1 October 2020 in the evening and as shown by a film, security agents climbed over the wall of the neighbors, entered his house and brought him out, while he was bleeding, Ahmed Mohammadpur (احمد محمد پور), on 1 October 2020 in the evening, Yashar Muradi (یاشار مرادی), on 1 October 2020 in the evening, Ali Maali (علی معالی), on 1 October 2020 in the evening, Yunis Muradi (یونس مرادی), on 1 October 2020 in the evening, Meysam Jolani (میثم جولانی), on 1 October 2020 in the evening in his parental house Mohsen Ismayiali Moqaddam (محسن اسمعیلی مقدم), Marziyye Janavshir (مرضیه جوانشیر), The sister of Mrs. Javanshir (جوانشیر), Afsane Akbarzade (افسانه اکبرزاده), the wife of Mr. Ali Kheyrju, who was seeking information about her husband on 3 October 2020. She complained about the use of violence against her husband and the other detainees, but Judge Nonehal, of Branch 10 of Interrogation Facilities in Ardabil ordered her arrest and was subjected to physical violence. She was freed on 4 October 2020, Dariush Niyazi Shiran (داریوش نیازی شیران) was arrested on 1 October 2020 but was identified on October the 3.
According to the eyewitness accounts, he was beaten badly during the arrest. He was freed temporarily on 4 October 2020 on bail.
A report from earlier accounts of the mistreatments of Iranian Azerbaijani in the court system of Ardabil, who were deprived of civil liberty for speaking out for their ethnic rights, was recorded as of October 1 as follows:
Individuals who were subjected to abusive mistreatment in the Iranian court of law in Ardabil
The following female individuals are related to the above-detained individuals, who are mothers, sisters, or wives of the above. They were seeking information about their loved ones on 3 October 2020.
However, Judge Nonehal, of Branch 10 of Interrogation Facilities in Ardabil ordered their abuse and mistreatment.
Hemayil Azizi (حمایل عزیزی) the mother of Asgar Akbarzade
Khatm Gul (ختم گل) the mother of Bahman Kheyrju
Maryam Alizade (مریم علیزاده) the mother of the Parvin brothers
Also, since 29 September 2020, the Iranian authorities have completely stopped any communications by and/or with Mr. Abbas Lisani, who is imprisoned in Ardabil prison.
In Meshginshahr (Khiyov)
Individuals whose human rights were breached by the Iranian authorities on 1 October 2020 are:
Vahid Khavendi (وحید خاوندی), transferred to Khiyov prison until he was interrogated.
Siyamek Seyfi (سیامک سیفی) was transferred to Khiyov prison on October the 3rd, accused of “Propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran ”, who may be free temporarily if provided a bail of 300 million Rial.
Kazim Safabakhash (کاظم صفابخش) and was transferred to Khiyov prison on October 3, accused of “Propaganda against the Islamic Republic of Iran”, who may be free temporarily if provide bail of 300 million Rial.
Mehdi Ibadollahi (مهدی عبادالهی) was interrogated but set free.
Qudret Manafzade (قدرت منافزادگان) was interrogated but set free.
Shahruz Hommatoglu (شهروز همتاوغلی) was interrogated but set free.
Ahmed Yaqubi (احمد یعقوبی) was also arrested on 1 October 2020 but at his home in the evening, where security agents broke their way in without having any court summons and subjected him to physical violence before the arrest.
Aydin Zakeri (آیدین ذاکری) security agents broke into his house but were unable to arrest him because he was not in the house.
Individuals whose human rights were breached by the Iranian authorities are:
Hamed Yeganepur (حامد یگانه پور), summoned to a detention center on 1 October 2020 but released later.
Davud Azimzade (داود عظیم زاده), summoned to a detention center on 2 October 2020 but released later.
In Tabriz (Tebriz), East Azerbaijan
An estimated number of peaceful participants of ordinary citizens in Tabriz, the historic capital of Azerbaijan, is more than 100,000. However, the police opened pellet shots to civilians, as well as used tear gas to disperse them but to no effect and they managed to save the injured one from the arrest.
Many have been arrested at their house and therefore no names are still available but the Individuals whose human rights were breached by the Iranian authorities include:
Mehdi Dustdar, as well as Murtuza Naghizade (مرتضی نقی زاده), was arrested on 1 October 2020 and taken to an undisclosed location.
Mujtaba Naghizade (مجتبی نقی زاده) was arrested on 1 October 2020 and taken to an undisclosed location.
Mohammad Naghizade (محمد نقی زاده) was arrested on 1 October 2020 and taken to an undisclosed location.
Zeynal Tanhai (زینال تنهایی), arrested on 4 October 2020 by security agents raiding his home, confiscating his laptop, mobile and personal belongings, and subjecting him to physical violence. Was taken to an undisclosed location.
In Tehran and Karaj
Individuals whose human rights were breached by the Iranian authorities include:
Mrs. Zahra Aslani was arrested on 1 October 2020 and no more news on her whereabouts.
In Bazurqan, East Azerbaijan
Individuals whose human rights were breached by the Iranian authorities are:
Mrs. Zahra Aslani, and Meysam Hommentzade (میثم همت زاده) who was arrested on 27 September 2020 and still there is no news on his whereabouts.
Reports of arrests in East Azerbaijan are most distressing because Iran would be crossing state lines to do so.
In Parsa-Abad, Ardabil Province
Individuals whose human rights were breached by the Iranian authorities include:
Peyman Agai (پیمان آقایی) arrested on 2 October 2020, who suffer severe physical violence during the arrest at 3:00 p.m. and was taken to an undisclosed location.
In Zunuz and Julfa, East Azerbaijan
Individuals whose human rights were breached by the Iranian authorities include the following:
Said Sultani (سعید سلطان ) who is also known as Altay Julfali, was arrested on October 4, 2020
by security, agents dispatched from Tabriz and raided his business center.
They searched his house and confiscated his laptop, mobile, books, and other items of personal belongings.
Babek Keyumerzi (بابک کیومرثی) was arrested on October 4. Police raided his house for the arrest.
He and his wife were subjected to physical violence. He was taken to Tabriz.
ArchDH, along with Gercan and Chalabi were not the only voices to cry out against the injustices against Azerbaijan, both domestically and abroad. As brutal response raged against South Azerbaijan, Pasha Hasnali witnessed war shred through Tartar. Hasnali, speaking through his interpreter, stated his eyewitness account of the protests and corresponding brutality in Tartar. Hasnali’s account was recorded on October 12.
“Armenia forces are attacking civilians in Tartar and region villages, and targeting the source of attacks. There are many wounded. Most of the houses in Tartar are damaged. Lots of the city has collapsed, “said Hasnali.
The Daily Sabah reported these attacks as “thwarted” within the last few hours, but the risk to human settlements presented by Armenia’s relentless press forward is still high.
Despite the paralyzing facts of the Armenian, onslaught, Iran will not condemn the onslaught against its major minority ethnicity in their domestic country.
The Milli Chronicle recently reported that Iran has taken a somewhat placating approach to both sides of the conflict. It cannot risk direct conflict with Azerbaijan as Azerbaijan is a direct regional neighbor, but it also cannot risk the critical blow to the regime’s agenda in failing to empower the Armenian offensive that would shake the regional security trifecta. Milli Chronicle quoted Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is an audio article. He wrote that Iran’s placating of both sides is likely only in favor of its need to fend off Turkey from an intensified regional conflict.
“#Iran demonstrating some degree of sympathy with #Azerbaijan and its ally #Turkey may be to safeguard itself from the #militias stationed a stone’s throw away from its borders”, writes Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami (@mohalsulami),” tweeted Milli Chronicle.
One might assume from Al-Sulami’s statement that Iran would want closer connections with Azerbaijan for the mere purpose of its security, if for nothing other than to stave off an internal demographic uprising from the great Iranian Azerbaijani population within national lines. Iran, however, has positioned a preferential affair with Armenia since as early as the fall of the Soviet Union. Seen from the eyes of endgame agenda interests, Iran’s pacifying of both nations is only thus a political ploy, and Iran’s true purpose is directly opposed to Azerbaijan and directly favors Armenia because Azerbaijan is a key security ally in the Caucasus of Israel. Azerbaijan’s alliance with Israel is the major reason why Iran would side with Armenia, although Armenia professes to be a Christian nation.
Iran has played the long game of foreign relations with the Caucasus, since the fall of the Soviet Union. Elnur Kelbizadeh, Ph.D., with the Azerbaijani National Academy of Sciences, commented on this extensively in his “Geopolitical and Regional Analysis of the Armenia-Iran Relations in 1998-2008.” Early on in the forming of Armenia as a post-Soviet republic, Iran and Armenia shared common interests. Iran’s interests in the independent Caucasus was the gateway to global relations the region could provide. This was important as Iran, at the time Armenia became self-governed post the USSR, had limited external relations after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. As early as the 90s era, Iran formed a non-objective bond with Armenia due to Azerbaijan’s undying connections to Turkey, which stem from a shared ethnic background.
The repercussions of the Iranian support for Armenian hostilities are far-reaching. Security analyst and human rights lawyer Irina Tsukerman reported in the Jewish News Syndicate an analysis stating that the collaboration between Armenia and Iran has direct implications for Israel’s security. Tsukerman noted that the internal conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is an opportunity for Iran to weaken any Israeli strategic security points in Azerbaijan, which is an established security partner. Jerusalem’s relationship with Baku and Abu Dhabi, Tsukerman analyses, creates increased pressure for Iranian regime agendas. The relationship between Israel, Baku, and Abu Dhabi brokered by the recent Abraham Accords has created a “security triangle” between Eurasia and the Middle East. Tsukerman analyses that Iranian interventionism could weaken the political constructs of these accords, and risk the Abraham Accords arrangement.
Brenda Schafer, a visiting researcher with Georgetown’s Center for Eurasian, Russian, and Eastern European studies, and an affiliate of FDD emphasized the great domestic pressure of the Iranian people against the Iranian regime. Schafer noted that, despite a demand for change from the United States that includes continuously more intensive sanctions, and despite the swarm of outrage from the people, the mullahs have no catalyst for change. Iran is intensely devoted to its philosophically political system, to the exclusion of its many ethnicities.
The exclusion of ethnic diversity in Iran stems, at least in part, from pan-Persian thought, also known as pan-Iranianism. This is a political movement of conservative Iranian thought, that emerged in the wake of the Islamic Republic. The movement is nationalist, but Iran, at the inception of the Islamic Republic, condemned the behaviors of nationalists as the belief was that nationalism was anti-Islamic, see International Policy Digest. Yet, as Iran has appeared to struggle with control over its wide-reaching Islamic brotherhood, pan-Iranist have sought to establish a reunified Persian nationalist control over regions that have been reinhabited by Iran’s ethnic diversity. Because Pan-Iranians believe Iranians to be superior to the other races, their influence over regional politics pushes out the minority groups as being a direct or indirect threat to the endgame goals of a greater Islamic Republic vision.
The idea that Iran has always been under the control of a Persian regime is a fallacy. Irina Tsukerman, in a recent appearance on Gunaz.tv, refuted the background of this ideology.
“There is a myth about Iran, part of which was made in the Pahlavi period and the other part of this myth has been accepted by the regime of the Islamic Republic and has entered a new phase. According to this legend, all Iranian citizens, regardless of how their lands were formed, have always been under the control of a particular regime and have always had a common history and language,” said Tsukerman.
“Of course, this is an absurd vote because each of these nations has been placed in the framework of Iran in different ways. For example, there are Ahwazi Arab people in Iran whose land has practically joined Iran. They have always spoken Arabic. Their culture is Arabic and absolutely nothing is Persian. Pan-Persian activists refuse to acknowledge the contribution that Arab civilization has made to Persian culture and language. These are seen as foreign cultures that have come from different parts of the Middle East but do not seem to have.”
Tsukerman then went on to give some ethnic background examples on the Azerbaijani, who are a distinct ethnic group sharing primarily Turkic but also Persian ancestral heritage.
“As for the Turks, the Pan-Persians have the same attitude. The Qajar dynasty was Turkish, so I do not know how the Pan-Persians can deny this part of history and claim that these people of ethnic and ethnic diversity who contributed to the composition of Iranian identity do not have their own unique identity.”
“If you deny this rich history, you have made this Pan-Persian idea meaningless. It does not make sense. But the regime’s goal is for them to fight with each other rather than to unite against the regime and to overthrow it,” she also said.
Minority Rights Group partnered with the European Union to research the impact this nationalist train of thought has on Iran’s internal domestic denigration. Such think-tanks and parties contribute to arbitrary arrest, the violation of basic civil liberties. MRG also noted among its key findings that, while the constitution of Iran provides for religious freedoms for all faiths, it only recognizes and enforces the rights of Islam. This enforces the Pan-Persian nationalism at a state level by demanding rights for only the primary religious group of its ethnic majority.
Schafer states that it is this ethnic diversity that drives the majority of anti-government rallies in Iran, as Azerbaijani, Kurds, Ahvaz Arabs, and Baluch are united in their ire against the regime. The minorities demand just representation, but the government continues to crush their interests. The world looks on in condemnation of this fact, yet also condemns the Azerbaijani in their pursuit of affirming a repatriation state where their scattered people could find that equal representation, apart from Iran.
This is perhaps one driving factor of the complicated relations between Iran and Azerbaijan. Iran’s brutally rigid social theory is unrelenting. Azerbaijan, however, has been a haven of cultures since the Silk Road days. Azerbaijan’s ethnic and culturally welcoming national standard is a direct challenge to the validity of control that the Iranian regime, duly to the south, has in the region. While not a direct enemy, Azerbaijan is also too welcoming of Iran’s enemies to suit the Islamic Republic. It is perhaps, likewise, this undermining of Islamic control that continues to allow Iran to placate Armenia in the onslaught. If Azerbaijan, as the national home of Azerbaijani Turks, were undermined as ethnically diverse, then Iran would seize control over the nation. Iran would use the power of the conflict that currently means to ethnically purge Azerbaijan at the hand of Armenia to accomplish this.
Belfer Center notes that, due to Azerbaijan’s large Shi’i Muslim community, Iran and Azerbaijan must always be, in a sense, brethren states. Yet, the cultural diversity in Azerbaijan will never allow the two states to walk in a complete agreement where Shi’i is the sole religion, and Azerbaijan is an Islamic republic.
Armenia has likewise convinced the international community that the war in the Nagorno-Karabakh is religious persecution where Azerbaijani exploits the predominantly Christian population of Armenia. Azerbaijan, despite having a large Shi’i community, has a Christian community that dates back to the Caucasian Albanian era. Armenia bombed the relics of the Caucasian Albanian era, and the active churches of the Azerbaijani Christian community in Ganja, effectively denouncing its claim that the war is religious. Were that the case, the brethren of the self-proclaimed faith would have been spared over.
Tsukerman’s article at JNS notes that Azerbaijan lends an intellectual ear to its society, renouncing a marriage to ijtihad, which is the Islamic legal precedent. Azerbaijan’s divorce with clericalism was official by the early 20th century, citing Tsukerman.
Regarding this fact, Azerbaijan stands as a gatekeeper of sorts between the South Caucasus and the Islamic Republic. The full authoritarian control of the region, under the hand of Iranian regime think tanks and backing of extremism, is prevented by the presence of a strong Azerbaijani republic entitled to all of the lands it has rightfully possessed since antiquity.
Iran makes no motions to justify human rights or the living conditions of minorities. Iran seeks to justify the mythos of pan-Persian identity, and this is a root cause for the neglect of minority rights. Weakened from the lack of resources, minorities within domestic Iran are unlikely to have the resources to wage a long-term opposition sit-in against the regime. This is due largely to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic hit Iran with greater force than some of its counterparts.
In a report with the Middle East Institute’s Frontier Europe Initiative, Brenda Schaffer and Ramin Jabbrali, Ph.D., noted a decided lack of medical resources in the minority provinces of Iran, with the East Azerbaijani province coming into focus. This lack of resource and impact of the global pandemic is enough to create a weakness in any potential uprising attempt to catalyze regime shift and change in Iran.
It is also unclear if some of the Azerbaijanis would be pressed by the Islamic Republic to leave the nation in favor of Baku, despite the threat of Armenian terrorism at home. It is unlikely that Azerbaijani, despite state oppression, would leave to return to their country of origin in the case of expatriation because, as a study by The Middle East Journal found, Azerbaijani is loyal to Iran despite the ethnic grievances. This may be traced to a commonality in Shi’i faith for a large demographic of Azerbaijani. A significant portion works in official institutions. Still, the unrest in the peripheral areas largely populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis continues to face unrest, and many Azerbaijanis have fled the country due to oppression and inability to practice their culture. And should the majority of Azerbaijanis ever feel compelled to withdraw from the Iranian bureaucracy, the regime would collapse, which is why Tehran plays a complicated game concerning this “majority-minority”.