• 3 hours UK On Track To Approve Construction of “Mini” Nuclear Reactors
  • 7 hours LNG Glut To Continue Into 2020s, IEA Says
  • 9 hours Oil Nears $52 With Record OPEC Deal Compliance
  • 12 hours Saudi Aramco CEO Affirms IPO On Track For H2 2018
  • 14 hours Canadia Ltd. Returns To Sudan For First Time Since Oil Price Crash
  • 15 hours Syrian Rebel Group Takes Over Oil Field From IS
  • 3 days PDVSA Booted From Caribbean Terminal Over Unpaid Bills
  • 3 days Russia Warns Ukraine Against Recovering Oil Off The Coast Of Crimea
  • 3 days Syrian Rebels Relinquish Control Of Major Gas Field
  • 3 days Schlumberger Warns Of Moderating Investment In North America
  • 3 days Oil Prices Set For Weekly Loss As Profit Taking Trumps Mideast Tensions
  • 3 days Energy Regulators Look To Guard Grid From Cyberattacks
  • 3 days Mexico Says OPEC Has Not Approached It For Deal Extension
  • 4 days New Video Game Targets Oil Infrastructure
  • 4 days Shell Restarts Bonny Light Exports
  • 4 days Russia’s Rosneft To Take Majority In Kurdish Oil Pipeline
  • 4 days Iraq Struggles To Replace Damaged Kirkuk Equipment As Output Falls
  • 4 days British Utility Companies Brace For Major Reforms
  • 4 days Montenegro A ‘Sweet Spot’ Of Untapped Oil, Gas In The Adriatic
  • 4 days Rosneft CEO: Rising U.S. Shale A Downside Risk To Oil Prices
  • 4 days Brazil Could Invite More Bids For Unsold Pre-Salt Oil Blocks
  • 4 days OPEC/Non-OPEC Seek Consensus On Deal Before Nov Summit
  • 4 days London Stock Exchange Boss Defends Push To Win Aramco IPO
  • 5 days Rosneft Signs $400M Deal With Kurdistan
  • 5 days Kinder Morgan Warns About Trans Mountain Delays
  • 5 days India, China, U.S., Complain Of Venezuelan Crude Oil Quality Issues
  • 5 days Kurdish Kirkuk-Ceyhan Crude Oil Flows Plunge To 225,000 Bpd
  • 5 days Russia, Saudis Team Up To Boost Fracking Tech
  • 6 days Conflicting News Spurs Doubt On Aramco IPO
  • 6 days Exxon Starts Production At New Refinery In Texas
  • 6 days Iraq Asks BP To Redevelop Kirkuk Oil Fields
  • 6 days Oil Prices Rise After U.S. API Reports Strong Crude Inventory Draw
  • 6 days Oil Gains Spur Growth In Canada’s Oil Cities
  • 6 days China To Take 5% Of Rosneft’s Output In New Deal
  • 6 days UAE Oil Giant Seeks Partnership For Possible IPO
  • 6 days Planting Trees Could Cut Emissions As Much As Quitting Oil
  • 7 days VW Fails To Secure Critical Commodity For EVs
  • 7 days Enbridge Pipeline Expansion Finally Approved
  • 7 days Iraqi Forces Seize Control Of North Oil Co Fields In Kirkuk
  • 7 days OPEC Oil Deal Compliance Falls To 86%
Oil Fundamentals Overturn Geopolitical Risk

Oil Fundamentals Overturn Geopolitical Risk

Geopolitical risk from Iraq and…

Controversial Azeri Pipeline Receives $500M Funding

Controversial Azeri Pipeline Receives $500M Funding

The European Bank of Reconstruction…

Future Of Azerbaijan Uncertain In Light Of Situations In Iraq And Iran

Future Of Azerbaijan Uncertain In Light Of Situations In Iraq And Iran

The unraveling of Iraq may have some interesting, even alarming implications for the Caspian Basin state of Azerbaijan.

Unlike other Arab states in turmoil, including Libya and Syria, Iraq has a religious and cultural profile that somewhat mimics Azerbaijan’s. For one, both countries have Shia Islamic majorities with large Sunni minorities. In addition, both have lengthy experience with coercive, top-down secularism. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party promoted secularism during the three-and-a-half decades it held power in the country. In Azerbaijan, the secular tradition dates back to the Bolsheviks’ arrival in power in the 1920s and extends to the present day.

There are two significant ways in which the disintegration of Iraq might pose security challenges to Azerbaijan. The first and most obvious is connected with the rise in Iraq of a Sunni jihadist movement, known as ISIS. This development, over time, could stoke sectarian tension in Azerbaijan, a country where, even though secularism remains a powerful force in society, religion is making a strong comeback.

For Shias worldwide, including those in Azerbaijan, opposing the violently anti-Shia ISIS movement is an existential issue. For now, Shia leaders in Azerbaijan have urged sectarian restraint. Even so, there has already been an incident in the southern Azerbaijani town of Sabirabad, where local Shia residents attacked a man who followed the tenets of Salafi Islam. Such incidents are still rare in a secular Azerbaijan where the numbers of passionate believers, Shia and Sunni alike, are still relatively low. Even so, secularism in Azerbaijan appears to rest on shaky ground, and a rapidly rising number of citizens are using faith to help define their identities.

Where older generation of Azerbaijanis saw themselves as Muslims mostly in a cultural sense, often with a blurred distinction between Shiasm and Sunnism, new believers are very conscious of their identities, and globalist in their outlook.  When the wider community of believers is perceived to be threatened in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere, young Azerbaijanis are more prone to be galvanized into action against perceived enemies.

Among Azerbaijani Sunnis, the consolidation and expansion of the territorial foothold of ISIS in Iraq could act as a magnet, attracting the discontented to the jihadist banner. This phenomenon has already occurred in Syria, where some Azerbaijanis, such as a prominent An-Nusra fighter, Hattab al-Azeri, have taken up arms against Bashar al-Assad’s regime with an eye toward gaining experience that could be used one day against Ilham Aliyev’s administration in Baku. ISIS’ gains in Iraq, then, would seem to significantly increase the opportunities for and capabilities of Azerbaijani jihadists one day to launch terror and propaganda campaigns in Azerbaijan.

A second set of challenges is linked to the prospect of Iraq´s disintegration along ethnic lines. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has announced plans to prepare a referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. While a vote is not imminent, there is little doubt that if and when it took place, the pro-independence stance would win easily. This would encourage Kurds in Turkey and Iran to want to join their brothers in a new Kurdish state. And while no state other than Israel has so far expressed clear support for an independent Kurdistan, an expectation that a Kurdish state might be pro-Western in orientation could conceivably lead to a subtle change in the position of the West. Indeed, the idea of remapping the Middle East along more homogenous sectarian and ethnic lines, once a purely mental exercise, is now being taken more seriously in Western policy-making discussions.

The problem for Azerbaijan is that there is considerable overlap between the Kurdish and Azeri populations in western Iran. A Kurdish attempt to neatly separate, then, could easily spark tension in Iran, Azerbaijan’s neighbor. That, in turn, could ignite a nationalistic backlash among Iranian Azeris, placing the government in Baku in a difficult position. On the one hand, Baku would feel pressure to show solidarity with "southern Azerbaijanis," as Iranian Azeris are known in Azerbaijan proper; on the other hand, Azerbaijani leaders need to maintain a good working relationship with the Iranian government in Tehran. While the Aliyev administration has been careful not to antagonize Tehran on nationality issues, the idea of a 'greater Azerbaijan' might gain more traction if regional borders start being re-drawn, and  if the West and Iran fail to reach a mutually acceptable nuclear deal, thus causing new Western efforts to economically and diplomatically isolate Tehran. A potential 'greater Azerbaijan' would be as likely to be as pro-Western and Israel-friendly as an "independent Kurdistan.”

But it would be folly to expect that any process of re-drawing the maps of Iraq and Iran could go as smoothly as the velvet divorce between Czechs and Slovaks in 1990s. It would be an inevitably brutal and bloody affair, and it is highly unlikely that the Republic of Azerbaijan would be left unscathed by such a process.

Azerbaijan has little or no ability to influence events in Iraq and Iran. Under the present circumstances, the Aliyev administration can best prepare to contend with forces that it can’t control by taking steps to unite Azerbaijani society behind it, rather than divide it. A good way to start such a unification process would be to stop jailing dissidents, human rights and civil society activists, and release those already in prison.

By Eldar Mamedov

Originally published by EurasiaNet.org

Join the discussion | Back to homepage

Leave a comment

Leave a comment

Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News