Mr. Aliyev this is Simorgh arena

TEHRAN, Nov. 14 (MNA) – The remarks by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev about a major portion of the Iranian population have caused a political uproar that is likely to lead to serious diplomatic repercussions for Tehran-Baku relations.

Azerbaijani officials and media have long sought to resort to insinuations and innuendoes when referring to Iran’s Azerbaijani citizens due to the sensitivity of the matter. There has always been an undertone of meddling in this regard. But Baku used to rein in its ethnically-based revanchism and put the frequently-referred-to issue of Azerbaijanis living abroad on the shelf. 

On the other hand, Iran has always tried to contain the situation and make the Republic of Azerbaijan understand that toying with ethnic minorities is not an option.
 
This delicate equilibrium came to an end on Friday when President Aliyev alienated a large swath of the Iranian population under the pretext of ethnic solidarity, a meddling stance that Iran quickly responded to. 

Speaking at the 9th Summit of the Organization of Turkic States, the Azerbaijani president egregiously interfered in Iran’s internal affairs, describing millions of the Iranian population as “compatriots.”

Of note, Iran is one of the most diverse countries in the West Asia region. It includes many ethnic and religious minorities, including Azeris. But these minorities all comprises Iran’s identity and have defended Iran in various times of crisis, including during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s (locally known as the Sacred Defense). In this war, Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq, also made similar claims regarding Iran’s Arab minority. But when the war broke out, Iran’s Arabs refused to back Saddam and defended their homeland. 

“The Turkic world does not consist of independent Turkic states only, its geographical boundaries are broader. I believe that the time has come to permanently keep in mind, within the framework of the organization, issues such as preventing the assimilation and protecting the rights, security and national identity of our compatriots living beyond the countries that are members of the Organization of Turkic States,” Aliyev said at the Samarkand summit. “The young generation of the Turkic world should have the opportunity to study in their mother tongue in the countries of their residence. Unfortunately, majority of the 40 million Azerbaijanis living outside Azerbaijan are deprived of these opportunities. Education of our compatriots living outside Turkic states in their mother tongue should always be on the agenda of the organization. Necessary steps should be taken in this direction.”

He added, “The state of Azerbaijan pays special attention to the protection of the rights, freedoms and security of Azerbaijanis living abroad. We will continue our efforts so that our compatriots, who were separated from the state of Azerbaijan due to bitter fate, preserve our language, traditions, and culture, remain loyal to the ideas of Azerbaijanism, and never cut ties with their historical homeland.”

This is the first time such a statement being made by the highest-level official of the Republic of Azerbaijan.  And it seems that the Azerbaijani leadership has made a strategic decision to further undermine relations with Iran. But the arena of Simorgh is not Aliyev’s place of display, as a famous Persian poem puts it. 

In Persian politics, no other verse has so far been frequently used in political and diplomatic debates like the Simorgh couplet from a Hafiz ode. “O fly, the arena of the mighty Simorgh is not thy place of display. Thou smear thy reputation and cause trouble for us” says Hafiz of those who fail to appreciate their capacity, and undertake tasks beyond their power.

On Sunday, a number of Iranian lawmakers sought to make Aliyev appreciate that entering the arena of Simorgh is not in his power. 
Lawmaker Seyed Alborz Hosseini reminded the Azerbaijani president of the fact that the Republic of Azerbaijan itself was excised from Iran in the Golestan Treaty. So, the lawmaker advised Aliyev to read history. 

Ali Nikzad, the deputy parliament speaker who is ethnically an Azeri, quipped that the “grandson cannot deny his grandfather” and that the remarks of the Azerbaijani president are unfounded.

Lawmaker Mohammad Reza Mirtajuddini went so far as to call for the annexation of Nakhichevan, the autonomous Azerbaijani region bordering Iran, Armenia, and Turkey.

Lawmaker Mahmoud Ahmadi Bighash strongly inveighed against Aliyev, rejecting Azerbaijan’s “meddlesome remarks” and “continued insolence.”

The strong reactions come amid a diplomatic fray between Tehran and Baku. The Iranian foreign ministry has summoned the Azerbaijani ambassador to Tehran. And the Azerbaijani foreign ministry did the same thing.

By Mehran Shamsuddin

First published in Tehran Times

News Code 193624

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