Staunton, September 14 – Sabir Rustamkhaly, a deputy in the Azerbaijani parliament, said that ethnic Azerbaijanis now form 52 percent of the population of Iran and that Baku should pay greater attention to Iranian Azerbaijan rather than restrict media coverage of what is for many on both sides of the border an extremely sensitive issue.
Rustamkhaly made his remarks to a meeting last week of the Congress of Azerbaijanis of the World devoted to “Processes in the Middle East: The Situation in Southern Azerbaijan,” and both they and that meeting drew immediate protests from the Iranian embassy in the Azerbaijani capital (kavpolit.com/articles/separatizm_dlja_irana-9437/).
In his report for Kavpolit.com about Rustamkhaly’s statement and the meeting as a whole, Rustam Shakhsuvarov pointed out that KAM claims about the percentage of Azerbaijanis in Iran have “grown from year to year.” Iran has not asked an ethnic question in a census for decades, but most experts put the Azerbaijani share of the population at about a third.
Other speakers at the meeting included Babek Muganly, head of KAM’s Southern Azerbaijan representative office, Sayman Aruz, head of the Southern Azerbaijan Department of the Union of Writers ofAzerbaijan, Mirmakhmud Miralioglu, head of the Party of the classical Peoples Front, and Azhdar Tagizade, chairman of KAM.
The Iranian embassy in its protest said that the statements the Baku activists had made were without foundation but were designed to help the enemies of Iran and Azerbaijan. It called on the Baku government to take measures against a group which it said was “casting doubt on the territorial integrity of the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Rustakhmkhanly responded that the Iranian complaints themselves were without foundation and that Baku needs to pay more attention to the fact that Iran “continues close cooperation with Armenia which is occupying the territory of Azerbaijan and isn’t taking measure to prevent an ecological catastrophe, the drying up of Lake Urmiya.”
Reaction in the Baku media varied, Shakhsuvarov said. Pro-Western opposition groups were positive but government ones were either neutral or critical, with some saying that KAM wants to undermine Azerbaijani-Iranian relations or simply by its “scandalous” declarations attract attention to itself.
Some leftist analysts suggested, the Kavpol commentator noted, that the KAM meeting took place because of Western concerns about Iran’s warming relations with Russia and fears in some capitals that Tehran will thus be able to escape from the Western sanctions regime and continue to develop its nuclear program.
Shakhsuvarov suggested that no one should “overestimate” what KAM and its activists can do. “They can of course generate a certain amount of attention by their declarations but they are insufficiently strong and influential in order to be able to seriously affect inter-governmental relations.”