Israel mulls supporting South Azerbaijan’s independence from Iran: Ukraine should pay attention

Thirty-two Israeli MPs have sent an appеal to the Cabinet of Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs with a call to provide “as wide an international support as possible to the national aspirations of the peoples of South Azerbaijan”.

Western researchers еstimate that the number of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran ranges from 12 million to 20 million people. The majority live compactly in three north western provinces of Iran belonging to the historical region of Southern Azerbaijan. Its cultural and historical centre is Tabriz.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, this city has been the epicentre of major revolts against central authorities in Tehran three times.

The most recent time, in 1979, came to be a prelude to the fall of the Shah’s regime. At the end of 2022, south Azerbaijanis, especially residents of Tabriz, were one of the driving forces behind anti-government demonstrations throughout the country.

Since February, an activation of an underground movement for independence of Iran has been seen.

“The detachment of Tabriz as the capital of South Azerbaijan is perceived in Tehran as a catalyst for the fall of the regime. Is this scenario feasible? It all depends on the support, which the movement for independence will receive from abroad,” Israeli website i24News noted in March.

In their address to the minister, the 32 MPs point out that ensuring broad international support for the movement for independence of Southern Azerbaijan “will be a devastating blow to the ayatollah regime, and there is no doubt: if a sovereign state South Azerbaijan is created, Israel will get another ally in the region along with the Azerbaijan Republic. Their support will be an adequate response in foreign policy activism to the subversive activity of the ayatollah regime against us.”

The same thing is true for Ukraine which is being attacked by Iranian drones on a weekly basis, while according to reports in Western media and statements by the head of NSDC, Danilov, Iranian military advisers are deployed in occupied Crimea.

Therefore, the strengthening of the movement for independence of South Azerbaijan fully meets the interests of Ukraine: if the ayatollah regime is preoccupied with its own survival it won’t be bothered about participating in Russian aggression.

Moreover, in case Southern Azerbaijanis supported by Israel do manage to achieve independence, we can also expect that the newly formed state will pursue a friendly policy to Ukraine – just like its northern and kindred neighbour, the Republic of Azerbaijan.

It could even be expected that sovereign Southern Azerbaijan with its capital Tabriz will become Ukraine’s ally in the Middle East, if Ukrainians minimally give moral support to the movement for independence. That’s why it is gratifying that in March flash-mоbs and marches took place in several de-occupied villages of the Kharkiv region in support of the campaign of south-Azerbaijani activists.

“Despite the repressive efforts of the regime, a new protest movement is underway. It is managed by a new telegram channel (AZfront), and 8 different organizations of Azerbaijani national minorities have already joined the action,” the statement to the Minister of Foreign Affairs by the Israeli MPs said.

Subscribers of AZfront have been carrying out demonstrations all over Tabriz since the beginning of February: they have been putting up leaflets and hanging posters in administrative buildings as well as holding flash-mobs. Their goal is to inflame the moods of the local residents towards supporting the ideas of independence and showing the аspirations of South Azerbaijanis to the whole world.

“Despite the attempts by the agents of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to detain the distributors of flyers and banners, not one of them has even been noticed yet”– the Israeli news pоrtаl Walla noted in February. “Patrols are trying to tear off all the leaflets put up during the night, however within 24 hours they appear in other places”, Rаdiо Liberty reported at the time.

On March 23, European analytical resource EUreporter reported that the activists of AZfront managed to coordinate with eight other south Azerbaijani organizations and hold a joint protest. It is an unprecedented event since till that time personal and ideological contradictions had impeded taking joint action. “ The second wave of leaflets not only bore the flag but also the symbols of all major organizations,” German website Globusdeutschland repоrted.

On top of that, with almost 200 000 subscribers AZfront is clear and explicit on being pro-Ukrainian, anti-Iranian and anti-Russian.In December this Telegram channel raised $40 000 which were used for purchasing and shipping 15 large-scale generators. They arrived in the city before the New Year.

At the same time, AZfront posted a vidео of Azerbaijani children with wishes and sentiments, supporting the people of Ukraine. “We express our sincere gratitude to people of Azerbaijan and AZfront for personal involvement and sincere help,” Vladislav Kanevski, the Ukrainian ambassador in Baku, wrote on his Facebook page on December 22. Vladimir Usov, the first deputy chairman of regional state administration of Kharkiv, posting the video from AZfront with the address of Azerbaijani children with support for Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the year, this Telegram channel regularly posts video and photo reports about raising money for humanitarian aid for Kharkiv and Donetsk regions. Judging by these publications, it is clear that Igog Schitikov, an activist of the volunteer movement famous in Kharkiv, is the partner of AZfront.

In particular two analytical reports are of particular interest against this background. One of them was published in November under the heading “Eurasia on the threshold of a new era: Ukraine is becoming a superpower”. It said that after the liberation of Kherson and the coming liberation of Crimea “Kyiv will get a unique opportunity to intercept Moscow’s 250-year-old domination in Eurasia”.

The second report appeared in December: it featured a detailed statement of arguments for establishing a close collaboration between Ukraine with Israel and Azerbaijan against the common Iranian threat.

Thus, apparently, as early as two months before the AZfront movement for independence of Southern Azerbaijan was launched, forces behind the influential media source had been sending signals to Kiev about the prospects of a potential collaboration.

This should be at least taken into consideration, especially now that AZfront has been demonstrating real possibilities and influence in Iran, Israel and in Western media.

(Photo of Tabriz: Hoseinb007 via Wikimedia Commons)

Igor Chalenko

Igor Chalenko is an Ukrainian political scientist who heads the Centre for Analysis and Strategies, Ukraine.