As a rule, the confrontation does not reach the point of no return, although the new and most global crisis in the history of these relations can lead to a protracted period of confrontation.
The root of the problem is the view the Iranian theocracy has of the place and role of the Azerbaijani state in the new regional geopolitics, in the so-called “internal geopolitics”.
The Iranian political elite has viewed Shia Azerbaijan as a second Lebanon since the first days of its foundation, as a suitable geographical base for containing Turkey, who was pro-Western in the early 1990s and neo-Ottoman after the “end of history”, their eternal strategic rival over the past six centuries, as well as for an offensive against Central Asian region. In the imagination of the narrow-minded Iranian mullahs, Azerbaijan was a historical appendage, an arena for the permissiveness of “proxies”, a satellite prototype of some Mahdi army. The secular pearl of the Greater East turned into a giant wretched, grotesque slum, something like Dahieh, the fetid suburb of Beirut, the turf of the sallow thugs from Hezbollah controlling the drug trafficking routes operate, is the ideal image of North Azerbaijan in Iran’s eyes.
The skyscraping Baku and the secular Azerbaijan in general are a sacred and cherished dream for millions of Azerbaijanis driven into the medieval darkness on the other side of the Araz, as they cherish the illusory hope for the longed-for deliverance from religious feudalism in its most disgusting cave form.
Iranian ideologists, who have built their philosophy on the denial of Western political modernism, on a fascist loathing for the Jewish national-religious identity and a blind denial of the Sunnah of the Prophet and its followers, cultivating the 8th century Bedouin lifestyle, tried to steer the national movement in Azerbaijan in the early 90s towards the awakening of religious identity. Naturally, they soon failed.
Firstly, the musty worldview they tried to impose on Azerbaijani hipsters, the successors of the Soviet intelligentsia, was rejected out of hand by the emerging national elite. Secondly, having failed the attempt to reinvent the national democratic movement, the Iranian theocracy relied on poorly educated clergy formed in pseudoscientific Soviet seminaries and the offices of the Bolshevik KGB. It was the portrayal of this clergy that became the foundation of the stinging satire written by the first Azerbaijani classics, on which several generations were brought up in Northern Azerbaijan. For over two centuries, there has been a visceral animosity towards comic Shia mullahs—characters of the national classics—among the people. Mullahs in the Azerbaijani consciousness are identified with the Shia burial ritual, and nothing more.
Besides, Iranian ideologists and pro-Iranian minds tried to revive the class of religious petty bourgeois from the traditional pious Shia villages of Absheron and Lankaran—uneducated crooks who came up with a hierarchy of social influence of people with the ranks of Karbalai and Meshadi for the ignorant masses. The honorable position of these petty bourgeois was determined by the opportunity to visit the holy places, that is, to purchase a ticket to the cities of Mashhad and Karbala. In Azerbaijan in 1990-1991, getting through the Iron Curtain and even pressing one’s low brow to the tombstones of Shia martyrs was something unthinkable, an incredible achievement in life. For persuasiveness and confidence, these bourgeois grew long nails on their little fingers, wore silver rings and fingered beads brought from Iran. Religiously ignorant people touched those dirty beads with their lips, as if they were something holy…
With the progressive elite born of the national movement blocking its path, Iran chose this class of bourgeois and the ignorant marginal mass as its main social base. A striking representative of this class was Haji Alikram, one of the activists of the Popular Front who later used Iranian money to found the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan—Tehran’s hornets’ nest. Iran began to weave its intricate political web in Baku, focusing on the poorly educated and ill-bred rabble. However, the rabble were no different from the Black Hundreds who joined the pro-Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and other parts of the world inhabited by Shia Muslims. This is a proven methodology for recruiting into the steel religious ranks.
However, to the great misfortune and disappointment of the Iranian mullahcracy, the society of post-Soviet Azerbaijan for the most part consisted of activists that were progressive and oriented rather towards Western values and the Turkish political model, whereas Iran, by its very nature, is an ideologized and dogmatic state. Iran is building an International only with those political forces and leaders who believe in the imminent second coming of the 12th Imam Mahdi. But no one in Azerbaijan except for Haji Mashadi Alikram believed in the upcoming reincarnation of the Messiah Mahdi.
Furthermore, enthralled by the maximalist dreams of political romanticism born of the awakened national identity, the Azerbaijani society came to believe in the great Turan, the path to which lay through the liberation of Tabriz, the capital of South Azerbaijan. People sitting in the offices of the Iranian Politburo understood the danger of this political romanticism, as Tehran still remembers the cunning fox Qavam os-Saltaneh, the Shah’s legendary Prime Minister, barely managing to snatch the idea of reuniting North and South Azerbaijans from Stalin’s hands… To top it all off, the undertaking with Haji Alikram’s Islamic Party proved a complete failure, as the soldiers of the Green Revolution were captured in the safehouses of the Iranian intelligence underground in Baku.
The outstanding political mind of the founder of the new republic, Heydar Aliyev, was aware of the “grandeur” of the plans nurtured by Iran, as it literally flooded the country with its bourgeois agents, philanthropic branches of its intelligence service, and Presbyterian minions during the years of utter confusion and paralysis of government institutions… In his first years in power, H. Aliyev crushed that hornets’ nest, limiting the religious influence of militant obscurantism to one Absheron village. They could knock obscurantism out of this village as well, but left a platform for contact with the enemy as an operational tactic. After the failure of the Lebanese scenario, Iran had to urgently change its foreign policy concept, returning to its original ideological boundaries along the long-suffering Araz River.
Having failed to swallow Azerbaijan, Tehran said goodbye to the delusional idea of Lebanonizing the northern bank of the Araz. Azerbaijan was introduced into a geopolitical space alienated by the system of counterbalances. Iran chose a hostile political course towards Baku, declaring it an outpost of the world Zionism. The tension in the relations with Tehran continued until the summer of 2002, when Iranian troops resorted to open provocation in the waters of the Caspian Sea, which Tehran also renamed. It was only under the pressure of the terrifying Turkish military aviation, which showed its might in the skies over Baku, that Iran took another step back. It was Iran’s first retreat before the might of Ankara’s re-emerging geopolitical power.
In its new foreign policy concept, Iran chose Armenian nationalism, familiar from the acts of sabotage in Lebanon and Syria, as a new deterrent system against Azerbaijan. In the minds of the mullacracy, the strengthening of the political influence and military power of the new outpost represented by the expansionist Armenia meant the weakening of the hostile Azerbaijan.
Of course, it would be cynical to say that Baku was unaware of Tehran’s insidious game. But the expert policy of Heydar and Ilham Aliyev made it possible to avoid sharp corners and open clashes with the Iranian political and ideological obscurantist machine. That is how it was when Iran tried to cause unrest in the southern regions of Azerbaijan through the Seher TV channel, when Iran fueled political passions in the rebellious Nardaran, when Iran lured naïve youths, the offspring of religious bourgeois who were looking for a ray of light in the gloomy universities of Qom, into the web of its secret services, and when Iran encouraged the vile occupation regime in Karabakh in every way possible…
How could we come to an agreement with a neighbor who was preparing to stab us in the back at any opportunity? It was only possible to avoid a direct, head-on collision with the hidden enemy for a while. This is what the Azerbaijani authorities have been doing quite skillfully for a quarter of a century.
Plunged into the maelstrom of the bloody Middle East wars, Iran cannot forgive itself for just one thing. The decrepit, but still standing regional power lost sight of the tectonic geopolitical process manifested in Azerbaijan’s jaw-dropping military-political success. And not only did Iran miss that process, it ended up outside the new geopolitical game shoulder to shoulder with the cornered Armenia.
In the new era of regional power domination, Iran has suffered heavy losses in the South Caucasus, when all the main players, including Azerbaijan, offer Tehran is to join the new geopolitical configuration. Only a few years ago, the influence of this power stretched from Baghdad to Beirut, it deposed unwanted governments and held back the onslaught of global players around the world. And all of a sudden, this power somehow missed the reformatting of the entire regional security system right under its nose and found itself face to face with the dominant position of its main competitors in the Islamic world—Turkey and Pakistan.
All the anger caused by powerlessness and hopelessness to change something resulted in a malicious, somewhat stupid and pathetic anti-Azerbaijan hysteria. This pathetic hysteria culminated in the pointless military exercises on the Azerbaijani border. Another disgrace for the regional power: Iran has lost face before the entire world by putting military equipment and combat tactics of the Iran-Iraq war era against Azerbaijan. A state can make a mistake in a fit of anger just as easily as an individual. Anger, let alone anger stemming from powerlessness, is the worst counselor. And the leaders of the Iranian state spew out threats, insults, curses… The decaying Iranian leaders know not what they do, because each threat, each curse moves Iran farther away from Azerbaijan.
In their latest statements, the Iranian leaders act as guarantors of “the territorial integrity of brotherly Armenia.” Iran has begun to openly call Armenia its brother! But Azerbaijan has never impinged on the territorial integrity of Armenia. It was our Shia mosques in Karabakh that were turned into cowsheds and pigsties. Did Iran know about it? It certainly did. But Iran has as much to do with Islam as Brezhnev’s Politburo had to do with Marxism. Iran simply takes every chance to stop Azerbaijan from becoming a self-sufficient state.
So, what’s next? How far can Tehran go in making good on its threats and hostile slogans? Before we answer this question, we need to look at the Iran of today, a country crushed by sanctions, a country whose economy resembles backward subsistence farming. A country with poverty-stricken villages, poverty-stricken and rebellious cities, gripped by corruption and a pandemic, a country that squandered its wealth on a delusional permanent green revolution. A country that could not defend its national and religious honor after the treacherous murder of the people’s idol Soleimani. A country that turned drug trafficking into a source of well-being for elites, proxies and its own armed forces… A country that still dwells in the past long forgotten and rejected by civilization.
Eynulla Fatullayev (Haqqin.az)