The relationship between Azerbaijan and Iran has been tense for years, but things got especially difficult this year. Border shootings, Iranian warnings of revolution to the north, protests by ethnic Azeris in Iran, and the recent murder of an anti-Iranian journalist in Baku have driven the relationship to a low ebb.
It now seems that both sides have realised things have gone too far and are keen to patch up the damage: to that end, Azerbaijan’s Presidential Administration Chief Ali Hasanov flew to Tehran recently. Hasanov announced that the neighbours have come to an agreement on non-interference and mutual understanding. This was diplomatic boilerplate, but Hasanov’s comments to the media were remarkably direct, given how euphemistic both sides usually are.
“If you respect my values, I will respect you," he said. "If you do not interfere in my domestic affairs, I will not interfere either. . . We oppose the artificial introduction of any sects, religious groups, as well as various political, ideological, spiritual currents in Azerbaijan. They aim to create anarchy in Azerbaijan under the guise of democracy. We stop and will stop this."
He said that neither state had hostile propaganda towards the other at the state level. Iranian clerics may make an anti-Azerbaijan statement, but Azerbaijani historians might make anti-Iranian statements too. He also expressed support for the Iranian political system and made it clear that the same should apply to Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan’s communication minister has also got involved, saying that the two states would work towards improving the protocols on cross-border broadcasting. This reflects a longstanding Azeri complaint that pro-Iranian propaganda, spreading support for hardline Islam, is beamed into southern Azerbaijan. Iran also complains that broadcasts promoting separatism among its ethnic Azeris are transmitted from across the border, although less loudly.
Hasanov’s visit is fairly significant, much more than the usual protocol-heavy trips. The substance of his comments is that Baku and Tehran have explicitly agreed an end to their recent cold war, most of which was, in any case, out of the hands of the upper echelons of government.
It remains to be seen whether the truce will hold, but in this neighbourhood and at this time, both of them need all the friends they can get.