YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—High-ranking representatives of Azerbaijan’s ruling party have blamed Armenia and the worldwide “Armenian lobby” for their country’s mounting tensions with Iran that led Tehran to withdraw its ambassador from Baku on Tuesday.
The envoy was recalled “for consultations” after months of bitter recriminations traded by the two neighboring nations over alleged interference in each other’s affairs.
Iran has accused fellow Shia Muslim Azerbaijan of helping Israel to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists and facilitating possible Israeli and U.S. air strikes against the Islamic Republic’s nuclear facilities. The Azerbaijani government strongly denies this, saying implicitly that Tehran itself has been fomenting Islamic extremism on its territory. Dozens of people have been arrested in Azerbaijan this year on suspicion of links with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Earlier this month, hundreds of angry Azerbaijanis demonstrated outside the Iranian Embassy in Baku in a series of apparently government-organized protests. They condemned, among other things, Iran’s warm ties with Christian Armenia. Some of the protesters carried derogatory pictures of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Tehran reacted angrily to the protests this week, with a senior Iranian cleric reportedly urging Muslims in the region to protest the Azerbaijani government’s “anti-Islamic” behavior. In particular, Ayatollah Sobhani cited Baku’s hosting of the annual Eurovision Song Contest that began on Tuesday.
The ensuing departure of the Iranian ambassador drew a strong condemnation from senior members of Azerbaijan’s government-controlled parliament. “The Armenian lobby is behind the anti-Azerbaijani propaganda conducted against the background of the Eurovision song contest,” the parliament speaker, Oktay Asadov, was quoted by the Baku daily “Zerkalo” as saying.
“Armenian [Internet] sites reported beforehand on the scenario of the anti-Azerbaijani campaign launched in Iran,” Asadov said during a parliament session. “There is evidence of that.”
Mubariz Gurbanli, the deputy executive secretary of President Ilham Aliyev’s Yeni Azerbaycan Party, likewise alleged on Wednesday close cooperation between the Iranian leadership and “the Armenian lobby.” “Some circles as well as groups within the current Iranian regime are repeating the actions of the Armenian lobby and executing its orders,” he said, according to the Trend news agency.
Gurbanli claimed that the Armenians also had a hand in recent anti-Aliyev demonstrations held in Tebriz, a city in northern Iran mostly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis. He also made the point that Azerbaijan’s victory in last year’s Eurovision, which entitled it to hosting the 2012 show, demonstrated his country’s “superiority over Armenia.”
“Worried about this success by Azerbaijan, the Armenian side is making every effort to hinder this event and denigrate it in eyes of others,” the Azerbaijani official charged.
Armenia announced earlier this year that it will boycott the Eurovision show in Baku because of Aliyev’s March 1 remark that “the Armenians of the world” are his nation’s main enemy.
The Azerbaijani president made a similar, albeit more carefully worded, statement on April 16. “For us, the number one enemy is the Armenian lobby,” he said, holding it responsible for Western criticism of his government’s poor human rights record.