Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev’s official visit to Iran, tentatively scheduled for September, faces obstacles which stem from the nature of Iran’s policy in the region. On August 3, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov summoned Iran’s Baku ambassador, Aliriza Bikdeli, to hand over a protest note in connection with Mahir Javadov’s activities in Iran. Criminally indicted in Baku, Javadov was one of the leaders of the March 1995 rebellion of OPON (the former OMON) troops against Aliev. Mahir’s brother, Colonel Rovshan Javadov, commanded that rebellion and was killed in action. Mahir surfaced in Iran last year, announced the formation of a political and paramilitary movement based in northern Iran in opposition to the Azerbaijani government, and began inflammatory radio broadcasts to Azerbaijan with the support of Iranian authorities (see the Monitor, January 28, February 2, March 18). Tehran has ignored Baku’s repeated demands to extradite Javadov or at least to stop his activities. Following Zulfugarov latest demarche, Aliev’s senior foreign policy adviser Vafa Guluzade stated that there would be no point to a presidential visit to Tehran as long as the Iranian government harbors Javadov.
Iran’s refusal to allow the opening of an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz–capital of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, one of Iran’s two Azeri-populated provinces–is also a contentious point. Aliev raised this issue on August 2 in Baku with the visiting governor of East Azerbaijan, Yahia Muhammadzade. Zulfugarov followed suit in more pressing terms when summoning Bigdeli. The Iranian ambassador conditioned the opening of the consulate on the fulfillment of certain preconditions by Azerbaijan. Those preconditions apparently included the cessation of irredentist activities in Baku by ethnic Azeris from Iran. Those groups consist mostly of students and other youngsters and are politically aligned with the anti-Aliev opposition, which openly demands the unification of “northern Azerbaijan” and “southern Azerbaijan”–that is, of the present Azerbaijani state and the Azeri-inhabited northern Iran (see the Monitor, July 28). The Azerbaijani authorities tolerate the activities of those groups to a limited degree. The authorities underscore–as Aliev and Zulfugarov did in their meetings with the Iranian officials–that official Baku does not question the existing borders and is interested in peaceful relations with Iran on the basis of the territorial status-quo.
Iran had promised as far back as 1994 to allow an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz in return for the opening of an Iranian consulate in Nakhichevan. Azerbaijan almost immediately lived up to its part of the bargain, but Iran stonewalled. The Azerbaijani authorities now intimate that they might close the Iranian consulate in Nakhichevan unless Iran clears the way for an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz. Azerbaijan is, however, interested in the reopening of the railroad connection between Iran and Nakhichevan, necessitating the rehabilitation of the key junction at Julfa astride the border. Russia and Armenia support that intention for their own purposes, hoping to restore the rail link between Russia and Iran via Armenia and Armenian-occupied territory in Azerbaijan proper beyond Karabakh. Baku is hardly likely to go along while Armenian troops hold that territory. Aliev and Zulfugarov reproached their Iranian visitors for Tehran’s support for Armenia in the conflict over Karabakh and the adjacent areas (Turan, Sharg, ANS TV, IRNA, July 30-31, August 2-4).
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