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Azerbaijani Tempers Flare Over Iranian TV's Criticism Of Peres Visit

Israeli President Shimon Peres delivers a speech at Baku University. Azerbaijan welcomed his visit as an opportunity to forge closer economic and defense trade ties.
Israeli President Shimon Peres delivers a speech at Baku University. Azerbaijan welcomed his visit as an opportunity to forge closer economic and defense trade ties.
By Khadija Ismayilova
BAKU -- Sahar TV, Iran's state international broadcaster, is not licensed to broadcast in Azerbaijan.

But its transmitters have nonetheless beamed uninterrupted -- and highly popular, programming in the local language to Azerbaijanis for years. As Baku has systematically banned all other foreign broadcasters -- including the BBC, Voice of America, and RFE/RL -- Sahar remains the sole alternative in an otherwise uniform media market.

Now, however, Sahar has angered Azerbaijani officials by airing harshly critical coverage of a recent visit to Baku by Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Azerbaijan had welcomed the June 28 Peres visit as an opportunity to forge closer economic and defense trade ties.

But Sahar castigated the move as offering what presenter Bahrul Ulumi, the host of the "Compass" program, called on the eve of the visit "support for a Zionist regime that has committed genocide against Muslims" (see video here, in Azeri).

Ulumi also criticized the Azerbaijani government for what he called its "disrespectful action," warning the move would "have its own consequences."

Nuanced Relationship

Iran, which in 1979 severed all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel, has remained deeply hostile toward the Jewish state. But Sahar's commentary took many by surprise in Azerbaijan, which has long enjoyed a neighborly, if nuanced, relationship with Iran.

At a time when much of the world was still waiting for confirmed results from Iran's June 12 presidential poll, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was among the first state leaders to congratulate Mahmud Ahmadinejad on his highly controversial reelection win.

The Azerbaijani and Iranian governments also enjoy cooperation in what experts call the United Nations' "Islamic club," with diplomats from both countries coordinating their voting strategies.

Iran's Mahmud Ahmadinejad (right) with Azerbaijan's Ilham Aliyev -- still friends?
In one such example, Azerbaijan voted in the UN against a Canadian proposal criticizing Iran for human rights abuses and violating the cultural rights of minorities -- a group that includes ethnic Azeris, the largest minority in Iran.

The Azerbaijani government was widely criticized within the country for neglecting the discrimination against Iranian Azeris in favor of maintaining good ties with Tehran.

Rasim Musabekov, an Azerbaijani political analyst, says many people in Azerbaijan resent Tehran's treatment of their ethnic kin in Iran. That, combined with Sahar TV's recent threats that Azerbaijan would face the wrath of the world's Muslims, could have a surprising backlash.

"The threats may result in a counter-reaction, with Azerbaijan becoming a platform for anti-Iranian groups. There are plenty of them," Musabekov says.

'Friend Of My Enemy'

There is also the sense that Iran is applying a double standard in its critique of the Peres visit. Tehran has pursued friendly ties with Armenia, which remains locked in a bitter dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Ahmadinejad himself visited Armenia in 2007, and has pursued cross-border transportation and energy cooperation deals. Such moves, says Mubariz Gurbanli, a lawmaker from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, mean Tehran has no justification for criticizing Azerbaijan's ties with Israel.

"Why is it that the Armenian president can go to Iran, receive a warm welcome, be embraced, and receive support there? We didn't complain about that," Gurbanli says. "Israel is a legitimate state. And Azerbaijan, as an independent country, can have a relationship with whomever it wants."

Azerbaijan, which has used its energy wealth to assert itself as an independent agent on the world stage, chafes at the suggestion that it answers to any of its powerful regional neighbors, be it Russia, Turkey, or Iran.

Panah Huseyn, an opposition lawmaker, said the Sahar broadcasts may have been directed at Azerbaijan's Islamic opposition, which aims to undermine the still largely secular government of Ilham Aliyev. But, he says, the criticism may ultimately have the opposite effect.

"I think these comments are provocative and represent interference into our internal affairs," Huseyn says. "The channel frequently airs provocative programs that violate ethics, the principles of neighborliness, and Islam. Honestly, this harms Iran's influence in Azerbaijan."

'Any Alternative Is Good'


Still, experts say Sahar's influence is bound to grow in Azerbaijan's "no alternative" media environment.

Azerbaijan's Communications Ministry and its National TV-Radio Council have both warned Iran that its unauthorized Sahar broadcasts represent a violation of international telecommunications rules.

But Azerbaijani officials admit there is little it can do to stop the Sahar signals from reaching Azerbaijan. The only way to prevent negative programming from reaching the country, National TV-Radio Council member Gafar Jabiyev recently acknowledged, "is to keep relations with the neighbors good."

Others inside Azerbaijan suggest there are other ways of tempering Iran's influence.

Media lawyer Alaskar Mammadli suggests the government has brought this problem on itself by clamping down on Azerbaijan's media environment to the degree that any alternative seems like a good one.

Freeing up access to the airwaves to a broader range of voices within the country could do much to lessen the influence of a station like Sahar.

"If we distribute empty frequencies to broadcasters and potential broadcasters in an effective and pluralistic manner, there will be nothing left for foreign intervention," Mammadli says.

Sahar TV has offered a defense of its coverage. In a statement posted on its website, it criticized a piece on the controversy by RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Radio Azadliq. The statement calls RFE/RL "a mouthpiece of the Zionist regime."

In a second statement, it defended its "Compass" program as "highlighting the fact that [Azerbaijan's] 8 million Muslims should not depend on foreigners."
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by: Dariush Sharifpour from: Shiraz, Iran
July 02, 2009 17:31
Dear Ms Khadija Ismayilova, first off let me start with correcting you, there are no “Iranian Azeris” in Iran unless by that term you mean a few Iranians that have become citizens of the Republic of Azerbaijan, a fake state by the way, and now reside in Baku. In Iran, we only have Azeri Iranians, Armenian Iranians, Kurdish Iranians etc. and they’re all good citizens of our multi-ethnic country. In case anyone is wondering "Why is it that the Armenian president can go to Iran, receive a warm welcome, be embraced, and receive support there?” It’s because no matter who rules in Tehran or Yerevan, Iranian and Armenian people have a very deep rooted history together and they are bound by strategic considerations. Additionally, Armenia does not mock Iran, does not stir ethnic enmity in my country and does not provide a platform for anti-Iranian activities like Azerbaijan does. Comparing Iranian-Armenian neighborly relationships with Azeri-Israeli ones is a total non sense. Iran and Armenia are bound with centuries of coexistence, they are neighbors and they base their relationships on mutual respect. Armenia, in no way, can be compared with Israel. Israel is an occupier state that doesn’t recognize rights of local Palestinians and it’s a state that made Palestinians refugees on their own lands. Armenia, in contrast, has done nothing wrong. It was Baku that massacred civilian Armenians in their homes in Baku, hundreds of miles away from the conflict zone, it was Baku who tried to ethnically cleanse Karabakh and expel all Armenians from their ancestral homeland and it is Baku that still today is talking about expelling local Armenians from their homeland if they dare to voice their opinion to form their own state in any referendum of self determination. In these circumstances, my brothers, you will achieve nothing. No Armenian would give up his survival and homeland by turning over his freedom and security to savage warmongers like you. You are lucky to keep what you currently have because your state is a fabricated one anyways, before 1918 there has never been any trace of country of Azerbaijan but only Iranian province of Azerbaijan, who are essentially ethnic Iranians who were turkified while Ottoman Empire controlled the area for a few decades, Azeri Iranians are, by the way, our good citizens. Long live Iran, long live Armenia.

by: Sinav from: South Azerbaijan
July 03, 2009 13:53
- Part 2<br /><br />Sahar TV’s defense of its coverage was no surprise. The heads of the Iranian government have already casted their mindset that is anyone abiding by the Islamic regime is a friend and the rest are the foes hired by Zionism, western leaders or U.S. to undermine the Islamic Statehood. Per se in the ensuing protests over controversial presidential Election, the Iranian government ridiculously accuses the 27 states of Europe of systematic plan to overthrow the Islamic regime.<br /><br />Azerbaijan's National Council on Television and Radio announced on 30th December of 2008 that as of 1 January it would not renew FM licenses for broadcasters including the BBC, Radio Liberty and Voice of America. The Council has said the broadcasters should instead use the Internet, satellite radio, Cable TV or shortwave transmissions. Council's Chairman, Nushiravan Maharramli stated that FM will be withheld for domestic media stations. Ali Hasanov, head of the political department of presidential administration, told reporters that: &quot;We are not closing down foreign radio stations but we want their activities to be regulated according to international practice,”<br />

by: Sinav from: South Azerbaijan
July 03, 2009 13:53
This is really interesting that over 25 million Azerbaijani in Iran are deprived of studying and writing in their own mother tongue and having a TV station that could represent their culture while The Iranian regime broadcasts programs in native Azerbaijanis language for the North Azerbaijani people. I’m wondering why in South Azerbaijan we are not allowed to register web-sites in the Azerbaijanis language but the web-site of the Iranian supreme leader and all the other Iranian web-sites that expose Iranian Shiite despotism are all equipped with Azerbaijanis language section. Even a moron form hell would sense the Iranian government’s malevolent ambitions of insatiable brainwashing appetite for destabilizing the Azerbaijanis Republic. <br /><br />Besides Iranian humanitarian assistance in refugee camps (Under the pretense of Komiteye-Emdade-Emam-Khomeyni, an Iranian fund raising committee after the name of Ruhollah-Khomainy, one of the Iranian 1979 revolution leaders), exporting religious literature by dissemination thousand of books and booklets free of charge, dispatching missionaries and TV broadcasting, Iranian authorities create and support radical organizations in the Azerbaijan. A branch of the Hezbollah organization that was closely related to the Iranian special services was active in Azerbaijan in the second half of the 1990s. This branch was accused by the government of assassinating the famous academician Ziya Bunyadov in 1997 and was neutralized after unprecedented pressure by the authorities. As Mr. Bahrul Ulumi talks about “… Have its own concequences” he ensures that Iran will keep on using `Komiteye-Emdade-Emam-Khomeyni` to fund and shore up terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, NIMA(North Imam Mahdi army), Salafi extremism and etc.<br /><br />I concur with Mr.Mubariz Gurbanli that Tehran has no justification for criticizing Azerbaijan's ties with Israel. Iran quartered Armenia during 1991-1994 Karabakh(Qarabağ) war. What a pity that the Shiite Leader of Iran backed Christian Armenians to massacre Shiite Azerbaijani Muslims in Karabakh to the point that there is no single Azerbaijani living in Karabakh now. This is all in the light of Iranian call for a brotherhood between Muslims and establishment of Prophet Mohammad’s sharia. This is the call in the wake of slaughtering South Azerbaijanis Shiite Muslim human rights defenders in the streets of Tabriz, Urmiya, Zangan, Ardabil et al, Executing a 23 year old Ms. Delara Darabi with no substantiate proof of a crime, Bloody quelling of protests against rigged polls of the 2009 July 12 presidential election, Murder of Neda Aga-Soltan, Smothering Azerbaijani community in Iran and hails of Human rights watch and Amnesty International’s censuring of inhumane handling of human rights and dignity. One needs to hint Sahar TV that Iran is most likely to draw the wrath of world Muslims rather that Azerbaijan which has been grappling with Iranian plots since her independence in 1991. But I am dead-sure about Iranian mobilizations of mercenaries for provisioned protests against Azerbaijan due to Iran’s use of oil revenues to buy people for political purposes in lieu of feeding its own starving people and helping its own economy that is muddle in stagnation. They will do so as they feed Hezbollah of Lebanon, the terrorist groups in Iraq such as Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq(League of the People of Righteousness - AAH) with dollars from the state coffers and as Palestinian terrorists are brought for flexing their muscles in the streets of Iran by suppressing opponents of the Islamic regime.

by: RD
July 03, 2009 15:00
If Azeri leadership had any sagacity, they would realize the Israeli government is using them against Iran while selling Azerbaijan arms for hundreds of millions of dollars. Money that Azerbaijan could use as part of post petroleum economy.

by: babak from: tabriz
July 03, 2009 15:35
As an Azeri who happens to have born, and lived in Iran; I don't remember to have assigned anyone from the &quot;Great Persian Empire&quot; to speak on my behalf. Azeries as a distinct ethnic group along with other ethnic groups; including Fars (Parsies)have been living within the geographic entity called Iran for many centuries, way before the Ottoman Turks existance. It is so interesting that people blinded by the fars chauvinism, fail to see the contradiction in what they say. On one hand they deny even the existing of Azeris, on the other hand they call them an ethnic group like the others. Well, let me tell you Mr Dariush; we Azeris do not allow anyone including you to redefine us; let alone try to determine our destiny. It is true at the present time we are under the influence and thumb of the current regime,but that does not change the fact that we have a right to determine our own destiny.And our rights are not negotiable!!!

by: azer from: Zanjan- South of Azerbaijan
July 03, 2009 15:52
A little logic lesson to Mr. Dariush Sharifpour.<br />Kechel hesan or Hesan kechel both are referring to same person. <br />Iranian Azeris &amp; Azeri Iranian both are same thing.<br />Both refer to Azeris living in part of Iran that is called “South of Azerbaijan” (starting from state of zanjan to state of Azerbaijan).<br />

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
July 03, 2009 18:00
Azeris, what is your problem with the state of Iran?<br /><br />Even the supreme leader Ali Khamenei is an ethnic Azeri. And also the presidential candidate Mir Hosein Musavi is also an Azeri.<br /><br />Turks are saying one nation - two states. But the truth is that one nation - three states. The third turkish state is the Islamic Republic of Iran. With its 15-20 mln Azeri population.<br /><br />Anyway people of the Republic of Azerbaijan, if you dream about Great Azerbaijan and extremly keen on the Karabakh issue why do not you have claims against Iran?<br /><br />I tell you the answer: because you are brave only against the small and weak Armenia not the strong and big Iran.<br /><br />Do you want to create Great Azerbaijan? Then you have to seek the solution not in Karabakh but in North-Western Iran. But still the leadership in Baku is too coward for this.<br /><br />Long live Iran!

by: Sinav from: South Azerbaijan
July 03, 2009 22:39
To Zoltan:<br /><br />Azerbaijani people do not have any expansionist Ideas despite the Armenians. Azerbaijan has problems with Armenia only because Armenia has occupied our territories. <br /><br />The republic of Azerbaijan is not looking for a Greater Azerbaijan and it is why she has no territorial problems with Iran unilaterally; however whole the Azerbaijani people either from South Azerbaijan or from the North Azerbaijan want their Karabakh back. <br /><br />Your answer is shame since your question is base on a misconception sir. Azerbaijan also is not weak against Iran due to the fact that over 25 million South Azerbaijani people are enough to set Iran ablaze. <br />Since the demise of Qacar Empire in 1921, The South Azerbaijani people have been deprived of their fundamental rights. We have witnessed our friends being killed in front of our eyes by the Iranian forces (Please read my comments in this section thoroughly). In south Azerbaijan we have problem with Iranians because they humiliate our dignity and we are fed up with their racial discriminations. <br /><br />By the way, Mr.Khamnei himself in his biography has stated for several times that he is not an Azerbaijani.

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
July 04, 2009 11:38
The Iranians want to change the regime in Azerbaijan?<br /><br />And if yes why should we feel sorry for the Aliyev regime?<br /><br />The West labelled Lukashenko president of Belarus as the Last Dictator of Europe.<br /><br />The truth is that Aliyev is not better than Lukashenko. Still while Lukashenko was isolated until recently President Aliyev is an extremly &quot;popular&quot; person in the West...<br /><br />The West - not the first and surely not last time - is hypocrite again.<br /><br />Two similar authoriter leader but the one has oil while the other has not. And what a suprise the one with oil is not considered as a &quot;dictator&quot;.<br /><br />Even in Iran - which is considered an &quot;evil&quot; in the West - can be hold multicandidate elections while in Azerbaijan not. <br /><br />Then it's up to you to decide which country is the worse or better.

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
July 04, 2009 11:47
Sinav, do Azeris want &quot;their&quot; Karabakh back?<br /><br />What do you think would be Turkey's reaction if Armenia would claim back Western-Armenia?<br />Erzurum, Sivas, the Lake of Van?<br /><br />Your arguments are a bit incoherent...<br /><br />You say you - Azeris - have problems only with Armenia and with Iran no. <br />(You say Armenia occupied &quot;our&quot; territories - why do you use this word from the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran? Does Karabakh belongs to Iran???)<br /><br />And in your next sentences you begin to talk about atrocities committed against Azeris by &quot;Iranians&quot;? Do you mean Persians under the term &quot;Iranians&quot;?<br /><br />So still the question is live: do you have problem with the current state of Iran or not? I see you are unsatisfied despite your comment that you have problems only with Armenia...
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