Monday, October 22, 2018

Talysh Call on Putin to Block Baku’s ‘War’ Against Them in Azerbaijan and Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 21 – The Talysh, an Iranian-speaking minority numbering some 600,000 in Azerbaijan and 400,000 in the Russian Federation, has appealed to Vladimir Putin to intervene with the Azerbaijan government which that nation says is conducting “a war” against them both within their historical homeland and in Russia as well.

            In an open letter prepared by Ismail Shabanov, president of the Talysh diaspora of Russia and a member of the Russian Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relation, the Talysh say that over the last six months, Baku has unleashed its armed forces against their activists in what has become “a reign of terror” (

            What is especially worrisome, the letter to Putin continues, is that these attacks are occurring “not only on the territory of Azerbaijan. Instead, the Azerbaijani authorities openly and boldly are carrying out against us terror and unequivocally threatening physical reprisal of activists of the Talysh diaspora on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

            According to the letter, “the authorities and media in Azerbaijan make absurd accusations against the Talysh all the time,” with Baku suggesting that “they are agents of Russia and Iran” or even of Armenia. The Azerbaijani authorities, it says, have even beaten in public Talysh from Russia whose only crime is to return home to Azerbaijan to visit their relatives.

            “The Talysh are an ancient Indo-European people, and for millenia, we have been living in our historic lands … along the shores of the Caspian Sea and the Talysh mountains from the Sefirud River inn Iran to the Kura River in Azerbaijan.”  In 1993, they established the Talysh-Mugan Autonomous Republic within Azerbaijan, but Baku suppressed it as “separatist.”

            The letter to Putin says that “the main goal of the Azerbaijani authorities and elites consists of gradually pushing out the Talysh from these strategic territories in order to liquidate the Talysh barrier between the Turkic-speaking population of Iran and Azerbaijan” and in their place putting ethnic Azerbaijanis from Armenia, Karabakh, and Nakhchivan.

            Baku’s “assimilationist machine” has been directed against the Talysh “since the times of the USSR” and must be stopped. The only ally the Talysh have is Russia, and therefore, the letter says, the Talysh are now appealing to Putin “as the head of a great power which historically has been the guarantor of the existence and security of many peoples, including the Talysh.”

            And the letter concludes: “The disappearance from the map of the Trans-Caucasus of the Talysh people would in no way improve the situation but to the contrary would lead to the domination in the Caucasus of non-indigenous peoples and that in turn would entail the most serious consequences.”

            It is unlikely that this letter would have been prepared, let alone published, without the backing of some in Moscow who view the Talysh as a lever against Baku and a bridge to Iran at least in reserve even if such people do not intend to do anything about the Talysh at the present time.

            But it is a reminder of the complexity of the region and of the ways in which the countries of the South Caucasus remain sufficiently ethnically diverse for outside powers and especially Russia to cause trouble or threaten to (cf.

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