London, 18 Feb - Iran is currently facing a turbulent time. There are widespread protests in Iran calling for the removal of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani – some by any means necessary – and the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria has led to power vacuums that the Regime is desperate to fill and everyone else is desperate that they don’t.
Thus Iran has turned to its favourite method of dealing with foreign and domestic crises: misdirection.
Iran has been attempting to strengthen ties with its neighbour Azerbaijan over the past few months and there are signs that it is working.
This represents a multitude of potential benefits for Iran from gaining control over a key geographical region, to subduing the protests of at least one group in Iran, to distracting regional and world powers from Iraq and Syria for long enough that Iran can turn them into full vassal states. Let’s deal with these points one at a time.
Iran is well-known to use interference in neighbouring countries as a distraction from both domestic and foreign crises. This is not the move of a strong government, but rather the move of a weak and cowardly regime who cannot face their crises and hopes that they will go away.
It is no coincidence that these new relations were pursued at exactly the same time that the nationwide anti-regime protests began. Iran knew it needed to distract the world from the people’s protest and from the Regime’s brutal suppression of it, which bring us on to the next point: silencing protests.
There are roughly 25 million ethnic Azeris in Iran, mainly because the Shah stole land from Azerbaijan in the 1920s and declared it an Iranian province. The Azeri people are routinely suppressed by Iran and as such they joined the nationwide people’s protest as well.
At a football game in January, crowds chanted the slogan “The people of Azerbaijan reject suffering and abjection” and it is likely that Iran sees closer diplomatic ties with Azerbaijan as a way to silence the protesters.
Azerbaijan represents an area that Iran, Turkey, and Russia have all fought for control of throughout the course of history, which is likely why Iran is trying to exert influence over it now, while also knowing that it will distract Turkey and the US (both allies of Azerbaijan) from the Syrian conflict.
While Iran’s current attempts at wooing Azerbaijan do not seem strong enough to dampen Turkey’s influence there, Azerbaijan should be very wary of its relationship with the Regime.
As for the international community who are tired of putting out the fires that Iran is starting across the Middle East, start by imposing sanctions that will take away its ability to buy matches and support the Iranian people’s protest which is like a firehose on the Regime.