Why does Azerbaijan not trust Iran? (OPINION)
by Javid Valiyev
Although five days have passed since the attack on Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran, Iran has not conducted an investigation that would please Azerbaijan. Such a move by Iran made President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to express his dissatisfaction in a video conference meeting with Turkish officials. President Ilham Aliyev underlined that despite the fact that the process of the terrorist act committed by that person in the building of the embassy took a long time, no serious measures were taken by the police and security forces of Iran.
As a result of the armed attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran on January 27, an Azerbaijani security guard was killed and two embassy security employees were injured. As can be seen in footage from the embassy, two employees of the Azerbaijani embassy park their cars and enter the building. Then another vehicle crashes into their car. A man gets out carrying a Kalashnikov. Meanwhile, although the Iranian police in front of the embassy see the incident, they take no action against the aggressor, who uses his hand to signal to the police not to move. The police stay where they are. The attacker opens fire as he enters the embassy, martyrs one security guard, and injures the other. The third security guard manages to tackle the attacker and throws him out of the building. Later, the attacker is apprehended outside.
After the terrorist attack, Azerbaijan evacuated its diplomats from Tehran, and completely suspended the activity of the embassy. The President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, wanted this terrorist incident to be investigated as soon as possible and the perpetrators punished. Meanwhile, foreign ministers and other countries’ embassies issued statements condemning the attack. On this occasion, the ambassadors of some countries were visiting the assistant to the President of Azerbaijan and head of the Foreign Policy Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration, Hikmet Hajiyev. Meanwhile, the ministers of foreign affairs of some countries called Ceyhun Bayramov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, to show support for Azerbaijan. In his message, President Recep Tayyib Erdoğan of Türkiye expressed his strong condemnation for this heinous attack and that he stands by his brother, Azerbaijan. Reinforcing this, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that it is of great importance to take all necessary measures to ensure that those responsible for this vile attack are immediately found and brought to justice, and that it does not happen again.
Although the expectation was that this incident, which has caused a diplomatic crisis between the two states and has damaged Iran’s reputation, would be investigated in an appropriate manner, the Iranian police and prosecutor's office tried to present this event as merely a murder based on personal grievance, rather than a terrorist attack. Immediately after the attack, the Iranian authorities put out the message that there was no need to escalate the incident. They explained that this incident was of a personal nature, on the basis of statements by the attacker. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that, according to the the initial investigation, the attacker had stated that his motivation for the attack was “personal issues and family problems.” Tehran police issued a statement, immediately after the events, explaining that the incident took place “on the family level” and the attacker “came there with his children.” But the cameras at the scene of the incident reveal that the attacker was not accompanied by any of his children. According to a statement from the Tehran prosecutor, the attacker has been searching for his wife for eight months, since, allegedly, she came to the Azerbaijani embassy and disappeared. Naturally, these statements of Iranian officials, whose record is not very reassuring and cannot be trusted in such developments, did not satisfy Azerbaijan, where these explanations are perceived as a diversion from the real events and an attempt to hide the real motivation.
The relaxed attitude towards the aggressor of the Iranian police, known for their harsh attitude towards people involved in recent demonstrations in Iran, drew attention. And, as if this were not enough, after the incident the attacker started giving interviews to Iranian television in which he tried to justify his actions. This situation raises doubt about whether the Iranian state will genuinely investigate this attack.
The Iranian press, on the other hand, immediately found a culprit and declared that third-party states were trying to disrupt Azerbaijani–Iranian relations. Some newspapers blamed Armenia, others Israel, putting out the message that the state of Iran was not responsible for the incident.
The Azerbaijani press, on the other hand, reported that the Iranian government had organized this event to send a message to Azerbaijan, drawing on Iran’s support for terrorist activities in the past and the tension in Iran–Azerbaijan relations. In fact, in parallel with tensions in relations between the two countries, threats from Iran against Azerbaijan have been increasing. Last year, Azerbaijan imprisoned and expelled Iran’s proxy supporters within the country. This limited Iran’s power in Azerbaijan. Moreover, Azerbaijani citizens working to overthrow their government and instigate regime change have been taken into protection in Iran and not extradited, despite the request of President Ilham Aliyev.
The increasing anti-Azerbaijani atmosphere in Iran in recent years has played a major role in this attack. During the term of the new Iranian government, the Iranian press has issued publications reinforcing the anti-Azerbaijani position in the country. In particular, politicians, state officials, and diplomats have targeted Azerbaijan in their statements. This increasing anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric and the targeting of Azerbaijan have combined to trigger the aggression of already radical groups. Iran has tried to demonize and marginalize Azerbaijan for Iranian society. By accusing Azerbaijan of collaborating with third parties and defining the country as pro-NATO, pro-Israeli and anti-Iranian, Iran legitimized aggression against Azerbaijan in the eyes of its society.
Of course, for the last 30 years, there has been an anti-Azerbaijani position in the Iranian press and among its politicians. Although this opposition has, from time to time, been reflected in relations between the two countries, the governments were nevertheless able to find a balance and bilateral relations were therefore not significantly damaged. However, under the new government of Iran, anti-Azerbaijani groups have gained serious influence and been set free. While anti-Azerbaijani groups have increased their influence, those who want good relations with Azerbaijan have been completely isolated. Moreover, the rightful voice of Azerbaijan has never been heard in the Iranian press. The most recent example of this occurred on the day of the attack against the Azerbaijani embassy: the Iranian government gave permission to Armenians to hold an anti-Azerbaijan demonstration. This despite the fact that, for the last 30 years, Iran did not give Azerbaijanis living in Iran the right to demonstrate against the occupation of Karabakh, and refused permission to hold a demonstration in commemoration of Khojaly.
It is apparent that the Iranian state must take responsibility for this terrorist attack on several grounds. First, within the framework of the 1961 Vienna Convention on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, the duty of the Iranian state is to ensure the security of foreign missions on its territory. But, as can be understood from the videos from the scene, it failed to provide this. In addition, the increasing opposition to Azerbaijan in the Iranian press and the targeting of the country are conditions that encouraged this aggressor. Finally, the Iranian media tried to legitimize the attack on a social level by giving the aggressor the opportunity to justify his attack in the Iranian press.