The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has said that the rise of the Islamic State (IS) militant group in Syria and Iraq is the “fruit of policies carried out in the Middle East over the past 10 years.”
In an exclusive interview with Russia’s Rossiya 24 news channel, Aliyev was asked to share his thoughts on the “aggressive phenomenon” of Islamic State and whether Azerbaijan was concerned about the extremist Sunni group’s activities.
Aliyev said that in order to assess the situation properly, an understanding of where Islamic State came from is needed.
“[Islamic State] did not fly in from another planet,” Aliyev said.
The Azerbaijani president did not overtly specify which policies in the Middle East he believed had given rise to Islamic State, but his response to the question contains a dig at the United States and its Western allies and is identical to Russia’s position on Islamic State.
“This proves once again that in matters of support for radical fanatical groups, more care and foresight is needed. You cannot divide terrorists into good and bad, so that a good terrorist is one that is fighting against your enemy and a bad terrorist is fighting against you," Aliyev said. "This is the central theme, I think, to which a solution should be found. Until it is solved by the leading countries of the world, until there is a common understanding of the war on terror and radicalism, then such a situation will constantly arise.”
Aliyev’s remarks echo those of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who on several occasions has directly accused the United States of dividing Syrian rebels into “good” and “bad” terrorists.
In a September interview with Russia’s Channel 5, Lavrov accused the West of previously sponsoring IS militants and of pursuing regime change in Syria -- Russia’s ally -- by sponsoring what Moscow has insisted are radical Islamist groups.
Lavrov’s position reflects Russia’s Syria policy of opposing any efforts by the United States to back Syrian rebel groups fighting Assad. Russia’s view is that all armed groups in Syria are radical extremists and that the West is exhibiting double standards by opposing Islamic State and Syria’s Al- Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, while arming and training what Washington has designated “moderate” groups.
“We need a general criterion. If we do fight terrorism, we do it everywhere and always. You cannot divide terrorists into good and bad, only because some of them help you to oust a legitimately elected leader of a UN member country that you don’t like,” Lavrov told Russia’s Channel 5.
Both Russia and Azerbaijan are facing a threat from Islamic State in that both countries have seen their nationals fighting in Syria, including for the extremist group. Both are concerned about domestic radicalization from extremist Islamist factions and about blowback from fighters returning from Syria and Iraq.
However, that Aliyev’s views should align with Moscow’s on Syria and Islamic State appear to go beyond this shared threat, as is reflected elsewhere in the interview, in which the Azerbaijani president emphasizes the close ties between the two former Soviet states.
“Azerbaijan and Russia are two neighboring friendly states that are actively developing and are ready to face all the world’s challenges,” Aliyev said.
Aliyev also talked about cooperation with Russia on a number of issues, including the oil and gas sector, electricity, transport and tourism, and well as culture and education.
“We have over 300 schools that teach in Russian, some only in Russian. All our state universities have departments that teach in Russian. A branch of Moscow State University has also been created,” Aliyev said.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk