A top Iranian military official has taken aim at neighboring Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, saying the government in Baku may become a victim of a "people's awakening." That has prompted angry replies from Baku and a disavowal from Iran's foreign ministry. The controversy began with remarks made by Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, quoted by the Fars News Agency:
"I hope Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would pay heed to the issues which strengthen pillars of his government, otherwise he will face a dark future since people's awakening cannot be suppressed," Firouzabadi said.
"People's awakening cannot be suppressed. Some neighboring and Muslim states with which we enjoy friendly relations continue to ignore friendship criteria and give freedom to Zionist regime (of Israel) to meddle in their country's affairs. They also give command to bar Islamic rules," Firouzabadi added.
Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have always been wary, as Iran mistrusts Baku's secular leadership and suspects them of having claims over the roughly 25 percent of Iranians who are ethnically Azeri. Tensions have increased recently with the shooting death of an Azerbaijani border guard, apparently by an Iranian counterpart. And, as the Fars piece reported:
Azerbaijani officials have been preventing Muslim schoolgirls wearing headscarves from attending schools.
Hundreds of people staged demonstrations in Azerbaijan and called on the government to overturn the decree. They also chanted slogans against the anti-Islamic law.
The peaceful demonstrations were stopped by police and security forces that resorted to force and detained a number of people.
The Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry spokesman Elkhan Polukhov publicly criticized the statement, saying "It is at least surprising to hear political statements made by a military man.... It would be better if military men are busy doing their job, and politicians are busy doing theirs." (from the Azadliq newspaper, via BBC Monitoring)
Azerbaijan's foreign ministry also summoned Iran's ambassador to Baku and delivered a note of protest, and the Iranian embassy issued a statement saying Firouzabadi's remarks were a "misunderstanding," but not apparently explaining in any more detail. And the story on Fars hasn't been corrected.