The unraveling of Iraq may have some interesting, even alarming implications for the Caspian Basin state of Azerbaijan.
Unlike other Arab states in turmoil, including Libya and Syria, Iraq has a religious and cultural profile that somewhat mimics Azerbaijan’s. For one, both countries have Shia Islamic majorities with large Sunni minorities. In addition, both have lengthy experience with coercive, top-down secularism. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party promoted secularism during the three-and-a-half decades it held power in the country. In Azerbaijan, the secular tradition dates back to the Bolsheviks’ arrival in power in the 1920s and extends to the present day.
There are two significant ways in which the disintegration of Iraq might pose security challenges to Azerbaijan. The first and most obvious is connected with the rise in Iraq of a Sunni jihadist movement, known as ISIS. This development, over time, could stoke sectarian tension in Azerbaijan, a country where, even though secularism remains a powerful force in society, religion is making a strong comeback.
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Eldar Mamedov is a political adviser to the Socialists & Democrats Group in the European Parliament. He writes in his personal capacity.