December 21, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9099

Russian Expert Mirzayan: Erdogan Is Trying To Exploit Azerbaijani Nationalism To Undermine Iran

December 21, 2020
Iran, Russia, Turkey | Special Dispatch No. 9099

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attending a December 10 victory parade in Baku, chose to recite a poem that Iran viewed as a claim on its territory.  The poem, written by the 20th century Soviet-Azerbaijani poet Bakhtiyar Vahabzadeh, refers to the Aras River, the border between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani provinces in northwest Iran. The passage selected by Erdogan implies that this border is transient and the Azerbaijanis on both sides of the border will be united.[1] After a diplomatic spat between Tehran and Ankara, both sides sought to paper over the incident, but according to Russian international affairs expert Gevorg Mirzayan this was no misunderstanding and Erdogan chose the passage with malice aforethought.

According to Mirzayan, Iran in terms of the nationality issue resembles the Soviet Union. Like the Russians in the USSR, the Persians in Iran confront the fact that while they are the most numerous, the other nationalities comprise a hefty percentage of the population. Both states were held together by a supranational ideology – the Soviet Union by communism and Iran by the Islamic Republic. Erdogan realizes that the nationality issue is Iran's vulnerable fault line, and he was directing his message to the Azerbaijanis in Iran, who were disgruntled by economic conditions in Iran and heartened by Azerbaijan's defeat of Armenia. They revered Erdogan as the leader, who had backed Azerbaijan in a time of crisis.

Mirzayan's article follows below:[2]

Presidents Erdogan and Rouhani. The caption reads: "Blow up Iran" (Source:

"The East, as one knows, is a delicate matter [the author references the 1970 Soviet movie "White Sun of the Desert"]. In the uncivilized West one country can pour slop over another with impunity: to accuse it of using chemical weapons against its own population, to offend a national leader, to demand something in a boorish manner.

"In the East, a few words can cost [one's] life (as happened with Muammar Gaddafi, according to rumors, it is rumored that before his death the killers sent him "greetings" from the Emir of Qatar, whom the Libyan leader ridiculed for being excessively portly), and the recitation of a poem read could serve as the pretext for a diplomatic scandal.

"Poem Of Discord

"Such a scandal, for example, happened between Ankara and Tehran. At the victory parade in Baku (where Erdogan and Aliyev celebrated their triumph in the second Karabakh war), the Turkish sultan read a passage from a poem by local poet Bakhtiyar Vagabzade. And everything would have been fine, except that the quoted passage speaks of the lands south of the Araks, which are currently the Iranian provinces of East and West Azerbaijan, as belonging to Azerbaijan. Ethnic Azerbaijanis by the tens of millions live on these territories, as well as in other Iranian provinces.

"Unsurprisingly Tehran perceived these words as a direct assault on its territorial integrity, and responded with an information "barrage" on all fronts: public (organized protests of Iranian Azerbaijanis, calling Iran their homeland, began at the Ankara consulate in Iranian city of Tabriz), political (Mojtaba Zonnur, Chairman of the Foreign Policy and National Security Committee of the Iranian parliament called on Erdogan to "draw the lessons from the fate" of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and "immediately apologize to the united Iranian people") and diplomatic.

"As part of the latter [diplomatic attack], Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif recalled that the text of the poem can also be interpreted differently - as a reminder of the "violent annexation of the regions north of the Araks River from the Iranian homeland" following the results of the Russian-Persian war of 1813. Then he subtly hinted that Erdogan probably wants to reunite these lands. that is to restore modern day Azerbaijan to Iran.

"Then, the Iranian and Turkish foreign ministries summoned each other's ambassadors for explanations. After that the foreign ministers (Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu) had a phone conversation. As a result, it was formally stated that "the misunderstanding has been eliminated."

"'Turkish society has in fact forgotten about the diplomatic scandal with Iran. The only one who has not forgotten is the leader of the Turkish nationalist party - Devlet Bahceli. He did not like the reaction of the Iranian side to the verse recited by Erdogan, so he recited it again, saying that everything said there was correct. And afterwards he quoted another verse that mentions the rivers Tigris, Euphrates and Araxes. The poem's author laments that the rivers that originate in Turkey, flow into other states.' - explained to the VZGLYAD newspaper Yashar Niyazbayev, a Russian journalist and author of the telegram channel "@turkeyabout".

Devlet Bahçeli (Source:

"As In The Soviet Union

However, Iranian [society] did not forget the issue. And the point is not that Devlet Bahceli is a member of the ruling coalition in Turkey, and even not that in a telephone conversation (according to some sources) the ministers simply maintained their positions: Zarif told his Turkish colleague that an assault on Iran's territorial integrity was inadmissible, and Cavusoglu demanded not to offend Erdogan.

"The point is, that the Iranians are convinced, that there was no misunderstanding here at all. Erdogan knew perfectly well what, where and when he read. And this poem was not off the cuff, but part of his strategy to turn Iranian Azerbaijan into the local equivalent of Idlib. In order to prepare the ground for such an endeavor Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the people behind him (of Turkish and European origin) working hard both in verse and in deeds.

"If anyone for whatever reason believes that the Iranians see Israel, Saudi Arabia or the United States as the main threat to their statehood, then he is mistaken. Ethnic nationalism is the main threat to the country.

"In case you did not know, there are even fewer Persians in Iran, than there were Russians in the USSR - from 50% to 60% of the population (for obvious reasons, the Iranians do not provide accurate data). About 20-30% of populations are ethnic Azerbaijanis (by the way, the current Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is also Azerbaijani). Another 7-10% of the population are Kurds, and further down the list are Arabs, Baluchis, Lurs and many others.

"This entire diverse membership is held together, as it was in the USSR, by a supranational idea - a state religion. If we had communism back then, then Iran has the concept of an Islamic republic. That is why those who attack the clerical nature of the government, as well as those who bet on Persian nationalism (in particular, for that reason they hated former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran), are struck down by the chastising hand of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The point is not only the ayatollahs' and generals' desire to retain power, but the understanding that without a spiritual idea, nationalism will tear Iran apart.

"And this is what not only the ayatollahs, but also Iran's external enemies understand. In particular, Turkey's head, Recep Erdogan, considers the Middle East too small for two great powers. So he is promoting nationalism in Iran, however not Persian but Azerbaijani nationalism.

"You have someone to lean on

"In conversations with the author, the Iranians admitted that the second Karabakh war began and ended with serious problems for the Islamic Republic. From the very beginning of the war, there was a sharp spike of pro-Azerbaijani sentiments among the population of Iranian Azerbaijan, to Tehran's displeasure.

"Local nationalists began accusing the Iranian authorities of supporting Armenia in the conflict. After that, according to rumors (the Iranians hide this information), some demonstrations had to be forcibly dispersed. Now, following Baku's triumph and Yerevan's capitulation, local nationalism reached a new level.

"'Eyewitnesses claimed that in Tabriz, the administrative center of East Azerbaijan province, Baku's victory was openly celebrated, and half of the city watched the victory parade taking place in the Azerbaijani capital.

"Against the background of the deteriorating economic situation in Iran, people see a shining victorious Azerbaijan, see the great Erdogan behind it - and begin to believe that they have someone to rely on." – a Russian expert on Iran said in an interview with "VZGLYAD" newspaper on condition of anonymity.

"Thus, it was precisely for those people that Recep Erdogan quoted the poem from Baku. He confirmed that the Iranian Azerbaijanis really have someone to rely on. And if anything happens, Ankara (which has a common border with Western Azerbaijan) may help the local "Turks" according to the "Idlib scenario".

"Ankara will not be alone in providing help. "As soon as the Turks manage to eject Russia from the South Caucasus and get an opportunity to act freely, they will actively work to resolve the Iranian issue, along with British friends. We used to think, that Americans suffer from savage Iranophobia, but compared to the British, the Yankees are a model of rationality. London has no rational interest in Iran's destruction, but the phantom pain simply does not let go of them. They still cannot forget the nationalization of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and the 1979 revolution." – argues the expert on Iran.

"That is why Tehran is interested in containing Erdogan, but they still do not know how to do this. They might think, that Moscow should do this, but it is unlikely that Russia will pull the chestnuts out of the fire for a third party. So, the only options the Iranians have is to be outraged and to think. They still have time."

Gevorg Mizaryan (Source:



[1], December 14, 2020.

[2], December 16, 2020.

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