BAKU (RFE/RL)–Official Baku has indicated its strong disapproval of Iran’s deepening commercial ties with Armenia, with pro-government members of Azerbaijan’s parliament accusing Tehran of pursuing an “anti-Azerbaijani” policy in the region.
In a series of strongly-worded statements made on the parliament floor on Tuesday, they demanded that the Azerbaijani government reconsider and scale back its relations with the Iranians.
“Iran is consistently pursuing a policy directed against Azerbaijan,” one of them, Zahid Oruj, charged, according to the Baku daily “Zerkalo.” “Even the unilateral [Iranian] cancellation of the visa regime is a component of its anti-Azerbaijani strategy. Iran is engaged in illegal exports of narcotics into our territory and supports Armenia by all means.”
“I call on Azerbaijanis to discontinue visits to the neighboring country in protest,” Oruj said.
“The anti-Azerbaijani policy implemented by the Iranian authorities has been more active of late and is causing concern in Baku,” another lawmaker loyal to President Ilham Aliyev was quoted by the Novosti-Azerbaijan news agency as saying.
The deputies seemed particularly incensed by Armenian Energy Minister Armen Movsisian’s latest visit to Tehran during which the Armenian and Iranian governments reaffirmed plans to implement more joint energy projects.
Iran’s Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi said they will press ahead with the construction of a pipeline designed to pump Iranian petrol and other oil products to Armenia. The two sides also plan to soon begin the construction of two hydro-electric stations on the Arax river marking the Armenian-Iranian border.
“This [pipeline] agreement between Armenia and Iran directly threatens Azerbaijan’s interests,” said Azay Guliyev, another Azerbaijani deputy. “The Iranian side doesn’t take Azerbaijan’s interests into account and considers Armenia to be among its friends.”
Iran has repeatedly signed up to Azerbaijani-drafted resolutions by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) accusing Armenia of unleashing aggression against Azerbaijan. But that has not kept the Islamic Republic from developing a warm rapport with its sole Christian neighbor.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has personally promoted the implementation of the Armenian-Iranian projects. Visiting Baku in November, Ahmadinejad was careful, however, not to take sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Azerbaijani politicians and pundits have long accused the Iranian leadership of hypocrisy. The Azerbaijani government has until now avoided endorsing such accusations or publicly demanding that Iran join in Azerbaijan’s and Turkey’s long-running economic blockade of Armenia.
During their November talks, Aliyev referred to Ahmadinejad as a “brother” and said Azerbaijani-Iranian relations are currently “at the highest level.”