Iran on edge as Azeri minority backs Karabakh war (2023)

RASHT – Tensions flaring up between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia over the intractable Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, deemed to be Europe’s oldest “frozen war,” have spilled over into the neighboring Iran, which shares borders and longstanding amicable relations with both nations.

When the exchange of fire started on September 27 to reignite a three-decade-old battle on the sovereignty of a mountainous enclave both Azerbaijan and Armenia claim to be part of their territory, it was scarcely expected that the skirmish involving two Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe member states would degenerate into ethnic chaos in Iran, which has mostly been preoccupied with its own economic pains and global isolation.

But Iran, home to nearly 20 million ethnic Azeris and about 200,000 Armenians, has been shaken by the repercussions of the tussle in South Caucuses and appears to be prodded into taking sides, rowing back from an initial position of neutrality.

Ali Rabiei, the spokesperson for the government of Iran, said in a press conference on Tuesday that the official stance of Iran is that Armenia should evacuate the “occupied regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan,” respect its sovereignty and uphold the United Nations Charter.

In recent days, widespread protests broke out in some of Iran’s major Azeri-speaking cities including Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil and Zanjan. Demonstrators called for the “liberation of Karabakh” and voiced anger at rumors that the Islamic Republic had dispatched truckloads of military aid to Armenia.

According to some accounts, 60 people have been arrested in these cities.

Iran on edge as Azeri minority backs Karabakh war (1)

Racially-charged slogans

The demonstrations also became a venue for the expression of racially-charged and secessionist sentiments, with some participants chanting slogans decrying Iran’s Persian-speaking majority and other ethnic communities as the nemesis of the Azeri people.

(Video) The Armenia and Azerbaijan war, explained

In one instance, large groups of protesters in Tabriz chanted “Kurds, Persians and Armenians are the enemies of Azerbaijan.”

In a rare move, widely criticized by Iran’s pro-reform newspapers and social media users, representatives of the Supreme Leader in four Azeri-speaking provinces unconditionally threw their weight behind the Republic of Azerbaijan. They emphasized in a joint statement that “there is no doubt that Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan, that it is being occupied and that these territories need to be returned to Azerbaijan.”

The four influential clerics – Seyed Mohammad Ali Al-e Hashem, Seyed Hassan Ameli, Ali Khatami and Seyed Mehdi Ghoreishi – attributed their decision to issue the statement to the verses of the Quran and the “philosophy of Islamic Republic” necessitating the “protection of the oppressed.”

They also called those Azerbaijani troops and civilians killed in the clashes “martyrs.”

Shargh, a major reformist newspaper, warned that the clerics having a political axe to grind in a dispute which is the jurisdiction of Iran’s foreign ministry will “undermine the position of the administration to further the role of an intermediary” between Azerbaijan and Armenia, while giving a pretext to ethnic extremists to stoke sectarianism.

Many Iranians have been posting patriotic comments on social media since then, in reaction to what they perceive to be machinations to put Iran’s independence and territorial integrity in jeopardy.

Iran’s Azeris

Iran’s Azeris, represented in high political offices, large businesses and key economic and social sectors, share cross-border cultural ties with the Republic of Azerbaijan and Turkey, intermarry with families in the region, travel to the two countries frequently, watch Azeri and Turkish movies on satellite TV and some view themselves as successors of a historic Ottoman civilization.

(Video) Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia vs. Azerbaijan explained

In extreme cases, fans of Iran’s football clubs from Azeri-speaking cities have been seen carrying the flags of Azerbaijan and Turkey to the stadiums, to the chagrin of authorities in Tehran.

This latent Azeri Turkic nationalism has at times unsettled the Islamic Republic leadership that has been struggling for some 40 years to preserve the territorial integrity of a multi-ethnic country in which minorities of Azeris, Arabs, Kurds, Lurs, Turkmens, Balochs, Armenians and Gilaks make up more than half the population.

Iran on edge as Azeri minority backs Karabakh war (2)

Emil Aslan, a researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, says Iran’s Azerbaijanis have become increasingly exposed to ethnic nationalism over the past two decades, and it is against this backdrop that they are wading into the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which to them is a largely symbolic cause.

“Available evidence suggests that a significant portion of Iran’s urban Azerbaijani community has come to politically side with Azerbaijan in a nationwide process of return to ethnic roots,” he said.

“For youth that are more educated, secular and hedge against increasingly strong Persian nationalism, Karabakh has become a cornerstone of their Turkic Azerbaijani nationalism, partly due to their larger exposition to Azerbaijani and Turkish media,” he told Asia Times.

Yet Aslan believes a predisposition to independence from Iran or annexation with either Azerbaijan or Turkey is quite uncommon among Iran’s Azeris, even though nationalistic tendencies are markedly powerful.

“My experience from fieldwork in Iran’s Azerbaijan (community) suggests that even in the midst of nationalist urban youth, the attitudes toward the idea of Iranian statehood are quite strong, with only a minority, albeit vocal, being in favor of attaining independence from Iran,” he said.

(Video) The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and the Risk of Regional War

“Most wish to coexist with Persians, which is particularly the case amid more religiously-minded Azerbaijanis, who equate Shiite Islam with Iranian statehood,” he said.

Professor Brenda Shaffer, a foreign policy specialist and faculty member of the US Naval Postgraduate School, echoed those views, ruling out the unification of Iran’s Azeri-speaking provinces with Azerbaijan or Turkey as a possibility.

“While Turkey and Azerbaijan, especially through their TV broadcasts widely viewed among the Azerbaijanis in Iran, are important cultural magnets, I don’t see any meaningful interest of unification with either among the Azerbaijanis in Iran,” she said.

“In parallel, Turkey and the Republic of Azerbaijan are interested in the welfare and fulfillment of rights of the Azerbaijanis in Iran, but neither seeks a change in Iran’s borders nor to incorporate the territories populated by the Azerbaijani group,” she told Asia Times.

Iran on edge as Azeri minority backs Karabakh war (3)

Warning the neighbors

But while separatist attitudes might be inconsequential, there are media and political elites in the Republic of Azerbaijan and Turkey who refer to Iran’s Azeri-speaking provinces as “South Azerbaijan,” holding conferences and events in Baku and Istanbul from time to time advocating the separation of these provinces, featuring speakers from Iran and elsewhere.

The Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, based in Baku, was founded in 2002 and claims to represent the interests of Iran’s Azeris, seeking to unify Azerbaijanis “living on both sides of the Aras river.”

Iran’s Azeris also have their own grievances. They complain about being sometimes belittled by the national media, being the target of racist jokes and not being entitled to use their language for education in schools and universities.

(Video) Avoiding war in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict - BBC News

Shaffer believes these grievances and the simmering Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will not pit Iran’s ethnic groups against each other, even though Tehran’s policies with each of its neighbors can have domestic implications since the country’s ethnic minorities mostly reside in border provinces.

“The Azerbaijani community numbers approximately 28 million, while the Armenians number close to 200,000. In Tabriz, which is an almost all Azerbaijani city, there is an Armenian community and the leaders of the protest movement in Tabriz have openly stated that they want no harm to come to this community,” she told Asia Times.

It is difficult to predict the outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, especially given that Turkey is openly backing Azerbaijan, and major powers such as Russia and France may also wade in with conflicting interests.

Yet Tehran’s role in the fighting may become more explicit with time as it works to moderate the tensions raging in close proximity to its borders.

Several rockets and some shelling have been reported to have inadvertently hit Iranian soil since fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia. At least 20 mortar shells have landed in villages of the border city of Aslan Duz in Ardabil Province, while three rockets have fallen inside the villages of Khoda Afarin County, injuring a six-year-old child.

Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami stated these mistaken firings are not acceptable and that “necessary and serious warning” was given to both countries to ensure Iran’s territory is not encroached on while they fight.


What percentage of Iran is Azeris? ›

Azeris compose around 16 per cent of the overall population of the Islamic Republic of Iran and 3 times the population of neighbouring Azerbaijan.

What ethnicity are Azeri in Iran? ›

Iranian Azerbaijanis are primarily found in and are native to the Iranian Azerbaijan region including provinces of (East Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, West Azerbaijan) and in smaller numbers, in other provinces such as Kurdistan, Qazvin, Hamadan, Gilan, Markazi and Kermanshah.

Is Iran friends with Azerbaijan? ›

Although Azerbaijan and Iran share strong historical and cultural connections, the countries are not natural allies.

Are Azeri Iranians? ›

The Iranian origin of the Azerbaijanis defines a link between present-day Azerbaijanis and their pre-Turkification Iranian past and mostly applies to Iranian Azerbaijanis. Although the Azeri people are known to be Turkic, their ancestors roots back in Indo-Iranian tribes and ethnic groups.

Who are Azeris genetically closest to? ›

In summary, Azeris are genetically the closest analysed population to Kurds and prehistoric people around Caucasus and North Mesopotamia according to our HLA data: genetic distance, Neighbour-Joining and correspondence analyses [4].

Are Iranian Azeris Caucasian? ›

The assessment of genetic distances reveals that the Iranian Azeris are mixed population with substantial North Caucasian genetic contribution being genetically much closer to their immediate neighboring ethnic groups.

Are Iranians Aryans? ›

The term Aryan has long been used to denote the Indo-Iranians, because Arya is indeed the self-designation of the ancient speakers of the Indo-Iranian languages, specifically the Iranian and the Indo-Aryan peoples, collectively known as the Indo-Iranians.

How did Armenians end up in Iran? ›

New Armenian settlements began to emerge in Iran since the 11th century. As a result of the mass deportations, organized by Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), 150-200 thousand people settled in the capital Isfahan and the surrounding provinces. Nowadays, there are around 60-80,000 Armenians living in Iran.

Can Azeris understand Turkish? ›

Azerbaijani and Turkish

Speakers of Turkish and Azerbaijani can, to an extent, communicate with each other as both languages have substantial variation and are to a degree mutually intelligible, though it is easier for a speaker of Azerbaijani to understand Turkish than the other way around.

Who is the biggest enemy of Azerbaijan? ›

Armenia. According to a 2012 opinion poll, 63% of Armenians perceive Azerbaijan as "the biggest enemy of Armenia" while 94% of Azerbaijanis consider Armenia to be "the biggest enemy of Azerbaijan." The root of the hostility against Azerbaijanis traced from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Which country has the best relationship with Iran? ›

China and India have also emerged as friends of Iran; these three countries face similar challenges in the global economy as they industrialize, and consequently find themselves aligned on a number of issues. Iran maintains regular diplomatic and commercial relations with Russia and the former Soviet Republics.

Which country is friendly with Iran? ›

Syria and Iran are strategic allies. Syria is often called Iran's "closest ally", the Arab nationalism ideology of Syria's ruling Baath party notwithstanding.

Are Armenians and Azeris related? ›

In a comparative study (2013) on the complete mitochondrial DNA diversity in Iranians has indicated that Iranian Azeris are more related to the people of Georgia, than they are to other Iranians, as well as to Armenians.

Are Azeris Kurds? ›

Azeris, who are Turkic speaking, are mainly Shi'ite Muslims. Kurds, meanwhile, have their own distinct language and are predominantly Sunni Muslims. Both communities are geographically concentrated in Iran's northwest along the border with Iraq, Turkey, and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Is Azeris an Aryan? ›

Azeris: The Azeri people are among the oldest of the Aryan race (Rashidvash, 2013a). Northwest of Iran has been a passageway and a residential region from the age of primitive humans, meaning many tribes emigrated from here to other places and others immigrated here.

Who is closer to Armenian DNA? ›

The lower the number, the closer they are genetically. As you can see, out of all the populations, the Urartian DNA from Van is closest to modern Armenian populations.

Who is genetically closest to Armenians? ›

Armenians were found to have genetic affinity to several other populations including the Jews, Druze, and Lebanese Christians, in addition to showing genetic continuity with the Caucasus.

Which two races are the most genetically different? ›

Geneticists have known for some time that Africans are highly genetically diverse. The claim has even been made that East Africans are more genetically different from West Africans than Europeans are from Asians. That diversity has fit well with the fossil evidence that the human species originated in Africa.

Are Iranians related to Armenians? ›

The Armenian people are amongst the native ethnic groups of northwestern Iran (known as Iranian Azerbaijan), having millennia-long recorded history there while the region (or parts of it) have had made up part of historical Armenia numerous times in history.

What is the largest ethnic background of Iranians? ›

The majority of the population of Iran (approximately 67–80%) consists of Iranic peoples. The largest groups in this category include Persians (who form the majority of the Iranian population) and Kurds, with smaller communities including Gilakis, Mazandaranis, Lurs, Tats, Talysh, and Baloch.

Where are Afro-Iranians from? ›

Afro-Iranians (Persian: ایرانیان آفریقایی‌تبار) are Iranian people of African Zanj heritage. Most Afro-Iranians are concentrated in the coastal provinces of Persian Gulf such as Hormozagan, Sistan and Baluchestan, Bushehr and Khuzestan.

Are Iranians and Indians genetically related? ›

The results obtained indicate that the four Indian subcontinent populations and the Sinhalese are genetically closer to Iranians and Afghans (Caucasoid) than to the other neighboring Mongoloid populations. Genetic distance analysis shows a clear-cut dichotomy between the Caucasoid and Mongoloid populations.

Do Iranians have Arab ancestry? ›

Over 1 million Iranian Sayyids are of Arab descent but most are Persianized, mixed and consider themselves Persian and Iranian today. The majority of Sayyids migrated to Iran from Arab lands predominantly in the 15th to 17th centuries during the Safavid era.

What are Iranians mixed with? ›

People of Iran

But the people who are generally known as Persians are of mixed ancestry, and the country has important Turkic and Arab elements in addition to the Kurds, Baloch, Bakhtyārī, Lurs, and other smaller minorities (Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Brahuis, and others).

What ethnicity is closest to Turkish? ›

Turks are closest to OCA (Caucasus) and OME (Iranian and Syrian) groups, compared to other groups or populations such as East-Central European populations (OEC), European (EUR, including Northern and Eastern European), Sardinian, Roma, and Turkmen.

Can Azeris speak Russian? ›

The Russian vernacular spoken in Azerbaijan (the Azerbaijani dialect) differs from standard Russian due to the influence of the Azeri spoken throughout the country.

What language is similar to Azeri? ›

Azerbaijani is member of the Oghuz branch of the Turkic languages and is closely related to Turkish, Qashqai, Turkmen and Crimean Tatar.

Who are Azerbaijan's closest allies? ›

The elevation of bilateral diplomatic relations was preceded by vital Israeli military support to Azerbaijan over the years, including, importantly, while Azerbaijan's closest ally, Turkey, was not yet in a position to supply it with the same types of advanced arms.

Why is Azerbaijan against Iran? ›

Azerbaijan has also criticised Iran for allegedly backing Armenia in the decades-long conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Is Azerbaijan an American ally? ›

The United States established diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan in 1992, following its independence from the Soviet Union. Together, the two countries work to promote European energy security, expand bilateral trade and investment, and combat terrorism and transnational threats.

Is Iran a Chinese ally? ›

Official diplomatic relations were first established in 1937. The two civilizations have had a history of cultural, political, and economic exchanges along the Silk Road since at least 200 BC, and possibly earlier. They have developed a friendly, economic, and strategic relationship.

Is Japan friends with Iran? ›

With the exception of World War II, the two countries have maintained a relatively friendly, strong and strategic relationship throughout history. Japan's foreign policy and investment with Iran have been significantly influenced by its historically secure demand for energy supplies.

Are Turkey and Iran allies? ›

In recent times, Turkey has allied with Saudi Arabia against Iran, but tensions have grown due to differing geopolitical goals and Turkey's support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey has also sought rapprochement with Iran, but their relationship has been marred by territorial disputes and regional power struggles.

Is Iran an American ally? ›

Iran and the United States have had no formal diplomatic relations since April 7, 1980. Instead, Pakistan serves as Iran's protecting power in the United States, while Switzerland serves as the United States' protecting power in Iran.

Who is Saudi Arabia best friend? ›

Saudi Arabia and the United States are close strategic allies and partners.

Are Pakistan and Iran allies? ›

Pakistan-Iran bilateral relations are rooted in historical linkages and based on religious, linguistic, cultural linkages and spiritual affiliation. Relations between Pakistan and Iran have by and large remained positive. Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan after independence.

How many Azeris are in Iran? ›

The vast majority of Azerbaijanis live in the Republic of Azerbaijan and Iranian Azerbaijan. Between 8 and 18.5 million Azerbaijanis live in Iran, mainly in the northwestern provinces. Approximately 9.1 million Azerbaijanis are found in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

How many Azeri Turks are in Iran? ›

Azeris. Azeris are Iran's largest ethnic minority, numbering at least 12 million. But according to some estimates, up to 20 million live in Iran—almost one-quarter of the population. Most Azeris are well integrated into Iranian society, although their traditional language is closer to Turkish than Persian.

What percentage of Iran is Turkic? ›

Turkic peoples constitute a substantial minority of about 7–24%, the largest group being the Azerbaijani. They are the second largest ethnicity in Iran as well as the largest minority group. Other Turkic groups include the Turkmen and Qashqai peoples. Arabs account for about 2–3% of the Iranian population.

How many people speak Azeri in Iran? ›

Azerbaijanian speaking countries

The Azerbaijanian language (native name: azərbaycan dili) has its roots in the Turkic language family. With 12.57 million native speakers, Azerbaijanian has the highest prevalence in Iran. As a percentage of the total population, the largest share of around 93 percent is in Azerbaijan.

Which state has the most Iranians? ›

California has the highest number of Iranians in the United States, with 210,128 individuals, making up 0.54% of the state's population.

How many Azeris are there in the US? ›

Pop. Source: According to the 2000 U.S. census, there were an estimated 14,205 Americans born in Azerbaijan, out of which 5,530 were naturalized U.S. Citizens and 5,553 identified themselves as Azerbaijani of either primary or secondary ancestry.

Are Turkish and Azeri intelligible? ›

Azerbaijani and Turkish are two closely-related languages from Oguz branch of Turkic languages, which are said to be mutually intelligible.

How many Azeris live in Ukraine? ›

Currently there are over 45,000 Azerbaijanis in Ukraine.

Do Turkish people have Turkic DNA? ›

A study of 75 individuals from various parts of Turkey concluded that the "genetic structure of the mitochondrial DNAs in the Turkish population bears some similarities to Turkic Central Asian populations".

What is the largest Turkic ethnic group? ›

The Turkish people, or simply the Turks (Turkish: Türkler), are the world's largest Turkic ethnic group; they speak various dialects of the Turkish language and form a majority in Turkey and Northern Cyprus.

What is black in Azeri language? ›

As in other Turkic languages, in the Azerbaijani language too, the word “qara” has other meanings, in addition to “black”, such as “dense”, “thick”, ”big”, “dark” etc.

How difficult is Azeri? ›

Azerbaijani Spelling and Pronunciation are Straightforward — You Say What You See. Azerbaijani is written in the Latin alphabet and (unlike English) it is pronounced as it is written, which makes it a breeze to learn pronunciation! For example, there are no silent letters like the English “-e” at the end of words.


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