Commentary: Dreaming of a ‘Greater Azerbaijan’

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

If modern Turkey is permitted to dream of — and design — a new Ottoman Empire extending all the way to Central Asia, and if the modern state of Israel is permitted to claim Eretz Israel (described in Genesis 15 and Exodus 23), why not allow Azerbaijan to dream of a plan for a “greater Azerbaijan,” covering almost the entirety of the Caucasus region? Only Armenians are forbidden from harboring such plans, apparently. As one extremist Turkish writer stated recently, “the dream of Greater Armenia will only remain a dream.”

Azerbaijan, which had never been a sovereign state before 1918, now has begun to concoct a history to justify its claims over its neighbors, since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, with all its faults of being an “Evil Empire,” the Soviet system had imposed a forced brotherhood between constituent nationalities to forbid any interethnic conflicts. Now that the system no longer exists, the “brotherhood” has also evaporated, giving rise to conflicts and bloody clashes.

Since the Karabagh war, Azerbaijan has made outrageous claims against Armenia. The late Azeri president, Abulfaz Elchibey, was planning to occupy the entire territory of Armenia, to wash his feet in Sevan’s water and to drink tea on its shores. He also threatened to “liberate” Iranian Azerbaijan, or Northern Azerbaijan, and join it with the present Republic of Azerbaijan. Elchibey was perceived as a quixotic figure in the Caucasian politics and was dismissed as such.

But today, as the clouds begin to gather over Iran, Azeri leaders find a renewed chance of achieving those ambitious goals at the expense of a partitioned Iran, with the fallout extending over Armenia.

Indeed, until recently, President Ilham Aliyev’s bellicose rhetoric was directed against Karabagh. But, in a speech given recently to his armed forces, he indicated that Armenians had not existed in the Caucasus region and that they appeared in the area in the 18th century to be tolerated as they lived on Azeri lands. And this outlandish claim was made not withstanding Tigranes II’s empire, well before Christ, or Echmiadzin’s founding in 301 AD.

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But the Azeri plans are not just rhetoric; they are based on recent developments in the region. As the Arab Spring approaches Iran, Azeris believe they can be an accessory to the Western plan and become the first beneficiary of a potential Iranian disintegration. Former government advisor Vafa Guluzadeh has stated recently that “had there been a single US military base on our territory, our neighbors would not dare to use the language that they are talking to us with.”

However, Israel has been fulfilling that void through its military advisors and selling of weapons, including unmanned drones, which are not only directed at Karabagh, but also at Iran in case of a major confrontation in the region. The “Arab Awakening” or regime change in countries hostile to Israel, are being achieved by imploding those countries internally using sectarian fault lines. Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis were pitted against each other to destroy Iraq. In Libya, tribal differences became handy for the plan and these days the Sunni majority in Syria is being armed and organized by surrogate Turkey against the ruling Alevis to topple Bashar al Assad’s regime.

Since the pattern of this plan is obvious, there is no doubt that Iranian Azerbaijan will be used to destabilize the Iranian regime and achieve its eventual demise. That is why appetites are being whetted to benefit from a potential collapse of neighboring Iran. The Baku leadership is a willing partner in the designs to bring regime change in Iran, with the resulting dismemberment of its territory.

Recently a nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was assassinated in Iran, as an extension of Western designs to disqualify Tehran as a nuclear power. The Iranian government was accusing Israel of committing that terrorist act, but now it turns out that the culprit was from Azerbaijan, according to a government statement.

Recently, the US government aid to Armenia was announced to be $35.843 million, down from last year’s $43.430 (an 18-percent cut). The irony is that military parity has been maintained between Armenia and Azerbaijan, despite section 907 of the Freedom Support Act forbidding direct US aid to Azerbaijan. Using his executive privilege, President George Bush had suspended the ban, a policy still sustained by the Obama administration, contrary to President Aliyev’s war mongering and perhaps for Baku’s participation in anti-Iranian adventures.

Historically, a number of opportunities have arisen in the past to dismember Iran; the first attempt was undertaken by Ottoman Turkey at the turn of the last century, the second opportunity came in 1944-45 when Soviet occupation forces declared the formation of “Azerbaijani Democratic Republic,” a vassal state to Moscow and the third attempt came in 1989 when the border between Azerbaijan and Iran was wiped out.

These precedents inspire hope to Baku rulers that they are on the first line of the beneficiaries, should Iran fall.

The government circles, the media and academia have zeroed in on February 21, the anniversary of the Treaty of Turkmenchay of 1828 between Iran and Russia. The logic behind this renewed interest in the treaty is that it supposedly dismembered “historic Azerbaijan,” ceding it to Russia. Therefore, another treaty may restore Azerbaijan’s sovereignty on those lands, which they call Northern Azerbaijan. The master plan is to unite Iranian Azerbaijan with the present Republic of Azerbaijan, and while doing that gobble up Mountainous Karabagh, the entire territory of Armenia, Southern Dagestan, Akhalkalak and Akhaltzkha (the latter two regions in Georgia). This plan should worry not only Armenia, but also Russia and Georgia, whose territories are being compromised.

The Treaty of Turkmenchay is celebrated by Armenians as a historical event liberating Armenia from Muslim rule and transferring the territory under the supposedly more tolerant Christian rulers, the Russians.

The first Eastern Armenian novelist, Khatchadour Abovian, hails the event in his book, Wounds of Armenia, stating “blessed be the moment when Russian foot was set on Armenian land.” Indeed Armenians had much to celebrate. The treaty was signed at the conclusion of the 1826-28 war between the Russian Empire and Qajar Empire (modern Iran). Earlier, the Iranians had ceded some territories to Russia by the Treaty of Gulistan (1813). Later on Iranians reneged on their commitments, which led to a new conflict to be settled at Turkmenchay.

By the article 4 of the treaty, Iran renounced all claims over the Erivan Khanate (most of the present-day Central Armenia), the Nakhichevan Khanate (most of the present-day Nakhichevan autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan), the Talysh Khanate, the Ourdubad and Mughan regions (now also part of Azerbaijan), in addition to all the lands annexed to Russia by the Gulistan Treaty.

What is important for the Armenians is that the treaty also stipulated the resettlement of Armenians from Persia to the Caucasus, which also included an outright liberation of Armenian captives who were brought and had been living in Iran since 1804 and as far back as 1795. In addition, the resettlement permitted compensation for the loss of 20,000 Armenians who moved to Georgia.

The Treaty of Turkmenchay has become a tool in the hands of Baku leaders to claim territories transferred by one empire to the other in the year 1828. In this design, the Azeris have become willing partners and participants of a conspiracy to destroy Iran with enormous damage to Armenia. This is why Aliyev is tolerated in his unbridled war mongering and that is why the Azeri regime is compensated by suspending the Freedom Support Act.

If Elchibay’s claims were being laughed off, this time around Azerbaijan means business. It is the inherent law of politics that small nations have to line up their interests with those of major ones.

And today, that is Baku’s realpolitik in pursuing this design of a “Greater Azerbaijan.”

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