By Seymur Kazimov
As nuclear scientists are assassinated in Iran, and that country is accused of attacks on Israeli diplomats abroad, Azerbaijan has found itself drawn in – accused of helping Mossad agents.
After nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan was killed by a bomb attached to his car on a Tehran street on January 11, the Azerbaijani ambassador was called in and given a protest note demanding that his government stop the Israeli secret service from using its territory for operations against Iran.
A spokesman for the foreign ministry in Baku, Elman Abdullayev, called the allegations absurd, and said it was the Iranian secret service that was operating covertly in Azerbaijan.
“Some time ago, we issued a protest about individuals linked to the Iranian secret service operating in Azerbaijan. This casts a shadow over relations between our two countries. Not only has Iran taken no action, it levels absurd allegations against our country without having any grounds whatsoever to do so,” he said.
He was referring to the January 19 announcement by security officials that they had uncovered a plot to kill Israel’s ambassador in Baku, a rabbi and other Jewish figures in Azerbaijan.
Less than a month after the arrests, a car bomb targeting an Israeli diplomat in neighbouring Georgia was found and defused. Israel has accused Iran of being behind that attack.
Azerbaijan and Iran have never really got on, despite or perhaps because of the significant Azeri population living south of the border. The Baku government suspects Tehran of stirring Islamist sentiment – both countries are predominantly Shia Muslim – but tensions are easily raised over many issues. (See Anti-Iranian Feeling Runs High in Azeri Capital http://iwpr.net/report-news/anti-iranian-feeling-runs-high-azeri-capital
Tehran’s Mossad allegations predictably caused anger in Baku.
“Do they believe everything that’s written in the papers?” asked Fazil Gazanfaroglu, a member of the Azerbaijan parliament. “Iran is very hot-headed on foreign policy issues. It pronounces even weak countries its enemies if they have good relations with Israel and the United States.”
Gazanfaroglu spoke resentfully about Iran’s close ties with Armenia, which he said it sought to justify by “Azerbaijan being friends with Israel”.
Other politicians seemed determined to stir up more tension.
On February 1, Gudrat Hasanguliyev of the United Azerbaijan Popular Front Party suggested that the country be officially renamed “Northern Azerbaijan”.
This reflects a view held by Azerbaijani nationalists that their country should unite with parts of northwest Iran, and that the present border, drawn up between Imperial Russia and Iran, is an artificial one.
“Today two-thirds of Azeri territory is in Iran, and just a third of Azerbaijan is independent. I therefore believe we must revisit the… 19th century agreements between Iran and Russia, which were signed without the participation of our nation,” Hasanguliyev said.
There was no chance that the proposal would be go much further, but analysts said it reflected the difficult relationship between the two countries.
Sulhaddin Akbar, the head of the Euro-Atlantic Council, a group campaigning for closer Azerbaijani involvement in NATO and other western structures, noted that Baku and Iran also found themselves on opposite sides in the current politics of the region.
“Azerbaijan is a strategic partner of Turkey, and Iran an ally of Syria. Turkey is openly pressuring the regime in Syria, and Azerbaijan as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council also voted for the motion against the current Syria authorities,” he said.
Seymur Kazimov is a freelance journalist in Azerbaijan. This article was published at IWPR’s CRS Issue 630.