Recently, one of Iran’s key turbaned bosses threatened that Azerbaijanis may soon take the noncommittally Muslim leader of neighboring Azerbaijan, President Ilham Aliyev, “by the scuff of his neck and kick him out of his seat.” Now, Baku is again hearing an angry rumble from its hardcore Islamist neighbor over its attempts to keep Azerbaijan walking the straight and secular.
“We regret that the criminal, anti-Islamic work of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is part of [the] official policies of Baku,” opined scholars, clerics and students in a joint statement issued at a gathering in the Iranian city of Tabriz, which contains a large ethnic Azeri population.
Azerbaijan has just agreed to export gas to Iran and is also keen to talk business with its neighbor, but Baku and Tehran find it increasingly hard to hide their differences behind a neighborly veneer. Azerbaijan’s efforts to restrain Islam by allowing an informal ban on Muslim headdresses in public schools and restraining the publication of certain Islamic literature, have long had Iran’s spiritual leaders hot under their collars. Influential Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi recently even came close to threatening jihad on the Azerbaijani authorities.
“The day will come when they [the people of Azerbaijan]…will drag you down from your seats,” he said. “Learn the lessons from the events in the region,” Ayatollah said in reference to the Arab uprisings, which he apparently sees as signs of an Islamic revival. In an earlier fatwa, Shirazi said that he may declare a holy war on Azerbaijani officials if they continue closing down mosques.
Strangely, such warnings sometimes seem to coincide with news about gas deals between the two countries. But, still, ever wary of its southern neighbor trying its hand at any funny business, Baku has answered in kind.
Azerbaijani Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Bahar Muradova last week advised the Iranian leadership to stay away from Azerbaijan’s domestic matters. “Let our Iranian friends not forget that Azerbaijan is an independent country,” Muradova said.