By Paul Goble
Iran’s growing threats to Saudi Arabia have attracted widespread attention, but its potentially equally dangerous ones to Azerbaijan, including military maneuvers on the Iranian-Azerbaijani border and the establishment of a Nakhichevan Popular Movement of Iran among ethnic Azerbaijanis, Avraam Shmulyevich says.
Iran’s military maneuvers along its northern border with Azerbaijan have attracted some attention as has the Azerbaijani response in the form of maneuvers just to the north of the Iranian border (jamestown.org/program/moscow-opens-the-way-for-iran-to-increase-its-influence-in-the-caucasus/).
But the Israeli analyst, who heads the Institute for the Eastern Partnership and who is an expert on the Caucasus, is perhaps the first to point out the risks that come from the organization of the Nakhichevan Popular Movement inside Iran (newcaucasus.com/politics/21771-avraam-shmulevich-ugroza-dlya-azerbajdzhana-so-storony-irana-sohranyaetsya.html.)
Although any Iranian military move would threaten the Tehran regime which already faces opposition in the streets, if the extremists in the government there decide to undertake one anyway, they are far more likely to move north into Azerbaijan than south into Saudi Arabia, Shmulyevich says.
The US would be far more likely to come to Saudi Arabia’s aid than to Azerbaijan’s, he continues; and a move northward would address two serious concerns in Tehran: the loyalty of its own Azeri Turks who constitute more than a third of the population of Iran and the expansion of Turkish and Western influence in the Caucasus, a trend Iran sees as a threat to itself.
But Tehran has to now that “if Iranian forces really seized Nakhichivan and began to move toward Baku, Turkey would not be able to avoid intervening.” But if Iran simply engaged in provocations to show its displeasure and keep the pot boiling, then Ankara likely would avoid getting more deeply involved. Thus, Tehran is likely to do the latter rather than the former.
This problem is likely to continue, however, because the Iranian authorities view any expansion of Azerbaijani culture and language as “a threat to their own existence.” And consequently, they will continue to stir the pot even if that sparks a more serious crisis. The creation of a Nakhichevan Peoples Front in Iran is a clear example of this