Journalists have had
their hands full this week with reports of Iran's fake time machine, not to mention the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that shook the country's south. But somehow, in all the excitement, an
Iranian proposal to annex Azerbaijan went largely unnoticed.
On Tuesday, Iran's Fars
news agency reported that
Azerbaijani-speaking lawmakers in Iran had introduced
a bill to re-annex their neighbor to the north. Iran lost Azerbaijan in 1828 --
"The most frustrating chapter in the history class!" Fars laments -- when it was forced to sign the Turkmenchay
treaty, ceding the territory to Russia. The legislators propose
revisiting the terms of the treaty, which, according to Fars, means "the 17 cities and regions that Iran had lost to the
Russians would be given back to Iran after a century."
For its part, Azerbaijan
has told Iran to "bring it" -- diplomatically speaking. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports
that Siyavush Novruzov of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party has declared that revisiting the treaty would result not in Azerbaijan being annexed to Iran, but rather in Tehran ceding its northwestern territory to Azerbaijan.
While all this may sound like the makings of an international showdown in a strategically sensitive
region, here's the comforting part: in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, both sides have repeatedly brandished the treaty as an empty threat. Take a look at this January
1992 edition of one Kentucky daily:
Screenshot of the Kentucky New Era
Or a December 2011
headline from Azer News that reads, "MP wants to 'annex Azeri territory
On the other side of
the border, Azerbaijan has threatened more
than once to reclaim the region in Iran known as "Southern Azerbaijan." And
wrote in February 2012, minority lawmakers in Baku have even
provocatively suggested changing the country's name to "Northern Azerbaijan,"
implying ownership over the Iranian territory to the south.
Writing in Foreign Affairs in January, Iran expert Alex
Vatanka explained why, despite significant cultural and linguistic overlap, the two countries
remain tense neighbors. After securing independence in 1991, Azerbaijan failed to become the close Shiite ally
that Tehran wanted, he notes. And since 2003, Vatanka adds, "Baku has grown both considerably richer --
thanks to revenues from energy exports -- and noticeably bolder in its foreign
This boldness -- which includes the purchase
of weapons and technology from Israel in exchange for granting the country a
foothold on the Iranian border -- has driven an increasingly substantial wedge between Azerbaijan and Iran. In other words, don't be surprised if we see this headline crop up again ... and
again and again.