BAKU: Iranians Flock To Azerbaijan At ‘Slightest Hint Of War’

April 14 2010

Leyla Aliyeva News.Az interviews Azerbaijani political scientist
Leyla Aliyeva.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned Israel not to launch
hostilities against Iran, as this may lead to the use of nuclear
weapons and global disaster. May Israel start a war against Iran?

The world community is mobilizing both in the region and the West
over sanctions on Iran. US President Barack Obama is working on it,
while Russia has voiced a positive attitude towards sanctions. Indeed,
the more countries join the sanctions, the lower the possibility of
war against Iran. Taking into account the fact that Obama’s policy
in this regard is different from his predecessor’s and that Obama
prefers to use diplomatic channels as much as possible to avert
threats, and considering Russia’s positive stance on these sanctions,
Israel may be concerned. Iran is a direct threat to Israel because
of its uncontrolled nuclear program. Israel is also concerned at the
role Iran plays in the Middle Eastern conflict. Therefore, Israel is
using threats of attack as a means to put pressure on Iran. However,
Israel is doing this in order to sort out its problems. I am not sure,
therefore, that Israel will take any action against Iran alone,
especially at a time when international sanctions on the Iranian
nuclear program are mobilized.

In his interview with ABC TV in the USA, President Medvedev expressed
concern at the humanitarian implications of a war in Iran. How would
you comment on Moscow’s position in this conflict?

The statement of the Russian president is quite natural because Moscow
is now trying to show itself as a civilized player in the region. On
the one hand, it has agreed with the United States on reducing nuclear
weapons and, on the other, it has expressed a positive attitude
towards international sanctions against Iran. This means that,
in this case, Russia supports US policy which gives preference to
multilateral actions. When Israel is threatened with war, Medvedev’s
statement is a signal to Israel, on the one hand, and, on the other,
it shows Russia’s attitude in general to any unilateral action by
countries outside the region against the countries that Moscow views
as its own backyard. In fact, Russia could have merely said that
this region is in its area its interest and Israel has no right to
go there. But in this statement Medvedev has cast the problem as a
humanitarian disaster, for which there are certainly good grounds –
it is reasonable and logical since not only Russia but also our local
experts have said that any war in the neighbourhood may result in a
flow of refugees to neighbouring countries.

How realistic do you consider the threat of a mass influx of ethnic
Azerbaijanis from Iran to Azerbaijan if Israel starts war against Iran?

We have already seen that the number of Iranians in Baku grows whenever
there are tensions in relations between the West and Israel and
Iran. This trend already exists. Even when there is no war, Iranians
move to Azerbaijan at the slightest hint of war. They say that they
even buy flats in Baku. Therefore, I think Medvedev’s statement is
not groundless.

There are 30 million ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran, so is not difficult
to guess where they would primarily move to. What are the humanitarian
implications of a mass influx of Iranian Azerbaijanis?

Any war is a great burden on neighbouring countries. Indeed, there are
30 million people there, while the population of Azerbaijan reached
9 million only recently. Don’t think that Azerbaijan is indifferent
to this process. It is also putting effort into averting possible war.

Azerbaijan played a mediatory role to soften the positions of the
supporters of extreme sanctions against Iran and Tehran. As Azerbaijan
will feel all the burden of the neighbouring countries if there is
a war against Iran, it has an interest in mitigating the positions
of the conflict parties. It’s another matter that Azerbaijan cannot
influence Iran to stop its nuclear program, but Azerbaijan can and
does voice its concerns in public.

The commander of the Iranian infantry, Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan, said
Iran would resist countries that attacked it and would declare states
supporting this attack to be their enemies. Does Azerbaijan have a
chance of not being declared Iran’s enemy considering our partnership
relations with the United States and Israel?

I think our chances are quite good since Azerbaijan has so far
managed to preserve the diplomatic balance. At the same time, I think
Azerbaijan will certainly join some international sanctions on Iran
that are not extreme. Azerbaijan will probably be selective as to
these sanctions because there are aspects that it cannot ignore, for
example, the vitally important trade with Iran. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan
cannot betray its strategic partnership with leading states that
propose sanctions.

Don’t you think that Azerbaijan’s support for the sanctions, though
selective, will automatically make it Iran’s enemy?

Certainly, it will, but Azerbaijan can always persuade Iran that it
has obligations towards its strategic partners. It is always possible
to find a way out of the situation and I think Azerbaijan will
try to do so. Our government has repeatedly declared balance in its
foreign policy as a priority. On its part, Iran is not so sensitive to
Azerbaijan’s threat. We all know that both during the Karabakh war and
up to now Iran has continued trade with Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Therefore, Azerbaijan also has grounds to join sanctions against Iran.

However, it is always possible to find a compromise that would not
undermine relations with Iran and would not bring relations with Iran
to extremes, on the one hand, and would not undermine its strategic
alliance with Western partners on the other.

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