Azerbaijan Wrestles with Rising Iranian Influence
Analyst: While Azerbaijani criticism of Iran-Armenia relations is not new, it appears to have reached a new level.
Azerbaijan’s government is growing increasingly concerned about what it sees as growing Iranian manipulation of the country’s Shia Muslim believers.
Azerbaijan’s security services recently presented senior government officials with a report describing how Iran has “increased its capabilities in Azerbaijan’s regions,” one analyst close to the government told Eurasianet.org. “Many more people are now under Iran’s influence, and this has sounded alarm bells inside the government,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In 2013, Azerbaijan relaxed restrictions, in effect an informal ban, on religious figures linked to Iran on preaching in public. This tactical embrace of Shiism was aimed at stemming the flow of Azerbaijanis joining ISIS and fighting in Syria and Iraq, a trend that Baku believed was inspired by a rise in hardline Sunni tendencies.
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Zaur Shiriyev is an Academy Associate at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House).