Influence from the South
An Iranian television station, Səhər, broadcasts up into southern Azerbaijan; Iranian goods get shipped across the border; political Islam slips north along the Baku-Astara highway together with potatoes and oranges. Azerbaijan is no stranger to seeping influence from their southern neighbors, who are trying to push their Azerbaijan towards a more politically religious stance. We talked about this a bit before in Iran and Azerbaijan, Part 1 and Part 2. The AFP has a new article written from Astara, the town straddling the Iran-Azerbaijan border:
Relaxing in a tea-house in Astara, local trader Elchin Ibrahimli said that Tehran was using the Azerbaijani-language broadcasts on its Sahar television channel as a propaganda weapon.
“This channel likes to exaggerate everything,” he said. “For example, if something minor has happened in Azerbaijan, the channel’s journalists are portraying it as a disaster or a global-scale problem.”
Another local trader, Agasan Hashimli, said that the channel “skillfully exploits problems that exist in Azerbaijan” such as a recent controversy about the banning of Islamic headscarves in schools. The hijab row sparked demonstrations by pious Muslims, causing officials to accuse Iran of helping to stir up discontent.
The Sahar channel also regularly relays criticism of Azerbaijan for its friendly links with Tehran’s foes, the United States and Israel.
As much as the media push is on a pro-Islamic Republic bent, it’s not shying away from trying to shout down the West, as well. However, while we might be concerned about the spread of religious states, the Azerbaijani government is probably more upset about this part:
At the bazaar itself, wholesaler Faig Jafarzade said that the Iranian people had the right to choose a strict Islamic regime if they genuinely wanted one.
“It’s their own internal affair,” he said. “If this system can feed their people, then it’s the best one for them.”
He said that the Iranian Sahar TV channel was only watched because local stations did not allow internal criticism of the Azerbaijani authorities.
With people like Faig around, the Azerbaijani government is probably doing just fine. Yet, that sort of criticism is rare on mainstream Azeri media. Azeri officials don’t take such criticism well.