Ankara-Baku-Tehran: maturity exam passed

Ankara-Baku-Tehran: maturity exam passed

The sharp tension in Iran’s domestic political situation, which was watched closely by all the world's media and politicians, has declined to zero.The theocratic regime’s change, for which Washington and Tel Aviv hoped openly, never happened. The numerous ‘support tweets’ and statements by US President Donald Trump and his closest associates had no effect - on the contrary, they did more harm than good for the protesters in Iran. According to the data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran, just over 40 thousand people took part in the protest actions around the country.

Several hundred participants of the protests were arrested, more than 20 were killed in clashes with the Iranian security forces. It is still too early to judge what internal political consequences the past riots and rallies will have. But there is no doubt that there will be consequences. The competing groups within the Iranian elite will try to use the protests as much as possible to strengthen their own political positions in the country and weaken the positions of their rivals.

The reason for the rapid decay of the protest fuse, in addition to the repressive actions of the strong state apparatus, was the absence of any intelligible agenda of the protest movement, which could find resonance everywhere in the country. For example, the fight against corruption mentioned at the rallies, though being important, is rather commonplace and very ephemeral requirement. Especially in Iran, where corruption, like in many other Eastern Muslim societies, remains familiar, ubiquitous and, moreover, quite tolerable. Without being tied to a specific major corruption scandal that would shake the entire Iranian society, resorting to such slogans is ineffective in terms of mobilizing the masses.

The termination of funding for Hamas, Hezbollah or military campaign in Syria amid the unresolved socio-economic problems in Iran itself is undoubtedly more thoughtful political demand. However, due to the fact that the information on the funds allocated for these purposes is unavailable, the Iranian society, like the rest of the world, has a very vague idea of the real scale of funding, so it is difficult to make any substantive accusations. In addition, Iran's actions in Syria are justified in terms of promoting its regional interests, and many people in Iran share this position.

Finally, at least the part of the demonstrators advocated the complete change of the current religious regime in Iran. But the protesters did not offer any alternative model, except that some called for a return to the monarchy. However, Iranians has hardly forgotten that under the Shah's power the ordinary people in Iran also lived far from sweet, the gap between rich and poor was huge, and corruption in the state apparatus that had grown on the rabid oil revenues and contained tens of thousands of American advisers (the number of only military advisers was 30,000), reached the monstrous proportions.

It is noteworthy that Iranian Azerbaijanis, who make up about 40% of the country's population, according to the assessment of the former Foreign Minister of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, completely ignored the protest actions. In the provinces of Iran, inhabited mainly by Azerbaijanis, no protest actions were recorded. Even in a traditionally ‘revolutionary’ city of Tabriz, it was absolutely calm. At the same time, Iranian Azerbaijanis are a politically active group of the population. They have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to mobilize when it comes to infringement of their rights and dignity. One need recall only the mass protests in 2006 caused by a caricature in the Iran newspaper that hurt their national feelings, or the protests of Azerbaijanis in 2015 after the Fitileh program was broadcasted on the state-run IRIB television channel, which also hurt the national feelings of Azerbaijanis. In both cases, the protesters achieved their goal - journalists were dismissed and even arrested, the newspaper and TV program were closed. Why did not  Azerbaijani population of Iran join the protests this time? In our opinion, several factors contributed to this.

It is highly probable that an antisystem political movement, which in fact refuses to bet on Shiite Islam as the cornerstone unifying element of Iranian society, will rely on the ideas of Persian nationalism and pan-Iranism. When they were elevated to the rank of the state ideology during the reign of the Pahlavi dynasty, Azerbaijanis, along with other non-titular nations, were punished even for conversations in their native language at the university. The governor of the province of Azerbaijan in the 1930s, Abdullah Mustafi did not hide, for example, that the aim of his policy was to prevent the use of the Turkic language. It was out of the question to publish newspapers and magazines in the Azerbaijani language and to have the faculties of the Azerbaijani language operating in the universities, as it is now happening in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Last but not least, for this reason, the Islamic revolution was widely supported by the national minorities of Iran and, first of all, by Azerbaijanis, who were at the forefront of the revolutionary movement. So, the most massive protest against Shah's power was held in Azerbaijani-populated Tabriz in February 1978.

Today, a significant part of the Iranian clergy are ethnic Azerbaijanis. They are widely integrated into the ruling elite of the country. The Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself is an ethnic Azerbaijanian, and at the meetings with state delegations from Azerbaijan, he often switches to his native language. Recently, a video of the conversation between the supreme leader of Iran and the family of Iranian Azerbaijanis has been widely spread in the social networks. Having learned that a five-year-old child does not know the Turkic language, Khamenei said: "Farsi is taught in school and on the streets. You should teach him the Turkic language at home. Let him know both languages." The situation with the rights of national minorities in modern Iran is not smooth, but the national policy under the Pahlavi dynasty was incomparably less liberal.

It is obvious that Turkey and Azerbaijan also played a positive role influencing the moods of Iranian Azerbaijanis, who took a loyal stand in the IRI during the recent protests. Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan Hikmet Hajiyev expressed hope that the events will proceed in a peaceful manner and in accordance with the Iranian legislation. The last clarification is an indirect condemnation of the unrest. Turkey spoke out against provocations in Iran, and President Erdogan even personally expressed his support for Hasan Ruhani, accusing US President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu of supporting Iranian protesters.

In fact, Baku and Ankara have a number of reasons to be interested in maintaining stability in Iran. For Turkey, Iran remains a key partner in countering the growing Kurdish factor in Iraq and Syria. Baku, which has seriously strengthened the foundation of the bilateral political and economic relations with Tehran over the past four years, intends to develop them further. In particular, Azerbaijan is interested in the soonest implementation of the regional North-South project in cooperation with Russia and Iran. In addition, stability is extremely important for Azerbaijan on its southern and longest state border, as well as the fate of tens of millions of Iranian Azerbaijanis.

The reaction to the protests in Iran, not supported by either Azerbaijanis inside Iran, and by the two Turkic countries of the region neighboring Iran - Turkey and Azerbaijan -  has become a clear indication of the growing political trust between the countries and peoples of the region. We can say that in this situation the region has passed the ‘maturity exam’, and this will be a great help for the further development of the regional cooperation and mutual trust.