Next US Target: Iran (and Armenia)

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Horizon
Montreal
Quebec, Canada
June 30, 2003

Next US Target: Iran (and Armenia)
By David Boyajian

It is no secret that Iran tops the list of countries the US is attempting, under the guise of the "war on terrorism," to destabilize. Indeed, Washington and others may be encouraging Azeri separatism inside Iran to help bring that about.

To see why so many Americans worry about current US policy, and to understand its effects on Armenia, we first need to take a look at the personalities hiding behind President George W. Bush.

Neo-cons Administration foreign policy is widely acknowledged to be driven by a controversial flock of hawks known as neoconservatives, or "neo-cons" (antiwar.com/justin/j032502.html). Predominantly Jewish, with a sprinkling of Catholics, they have for more than a decade openly advocated punitive American policies towards Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

Says Israeli journalist Ari Shavit in the Haaretz daily, "The war in Iraq was conceived by 25 neo-conservative intellectuals, most of them Jewish, who are pushing President Bush to change the course of history."

Traditional conservatives distrust neo-cons, as do moderate and liberal Jewish Americans. Predictably, neo-cons are big supporters of the current Turkish-Israeli alliance.

Top neo-cons include Deputy Defense Secretary and chief foreign policy strategist Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's Douglas Feith, Defense advisor Richard Perle (the last two are former Turkish lobbyists), and many more. Supporting them is a network of neo-con journalists, such as William Kristol and David Frum, and influential think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).

A Convenient Cover The "war on terrorism"--supposedly meant to target terrorists, especially Al Qaeda, and weapons of mass destruction--immediately became a convenient cover for two longstanding objectives. The first is US penetration of the Caucasus and Central Asia to access oil and gas. That is why, since Sept. 11, American troops, "advisors," and/or bases have settled into Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere, not just Al Qaeda-riddled Afghanistan.

The second objective is to neutralize Israel's foes--Iraq, Iran, and Syria--once and for all by lining them up in Washington's gun sights. Says Justin Raimondo, Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies: "The neoconservative network [is] not going to miss an opportunity to raise the banner of Imperial America in the Middle East and smite Israel's enemies in one fell swoop."

Given the long-standing American-Israeli friendship and alliance, that objective is hardly a surprise and is well on its way to being achieved: one down (Iraq), and two to go (Iran and Syria).

Iran's Azeris It is in Iran--a member of the "axis of evil"--where the goals of the administration and Tel Aviv intersect. Pressure on Iran, says American columnist Alan Bock, "emanates [from] mostly neo-conservative quarters."

America's only path into the oil and gas-rich Caspian basin meanders through Turkey and Georgia. But Iran borders the Caspian even more directly. If, therefore, Washington can somehow neutralize Iran--by, say, encouraging uprisings--it may become a second, easier US route into the Caspian region.

Of Iran's 67 million people, Azeris (or Azeri-language speakers) are estimated to number from 13-22 million. The CIA says 16 million. The precise ethnic composition of Iran's many provinces is unclear. It appears, however, that Azeris predominate in three strategic provinces in northwest Iran: West Azarbayjan (around Lake Urmia), East Azarbayjan (around Tabriz), and Ardebil. (Many Kurds also live in West Azarbayjan.)

Azeri nationalists refer to these (and some other) Iranian provinces as "south Azerbaijan" to distinguish them from the Republic of Azerbaijan ("north Azerbaijan") that lies just across the Arax River.

Unfortunately, Armenia's border with friendly Iran lies along so-called "south Azerbaijan," specifically East Azarbayjan. More ominously, "south Azerbaijan," which has often been the scene of unrest, forms a "corridor" directly from Turkey to the Azerbaijan Republic.

Suppose that "south Azerbaijan" were to achieve a high degree of autonomy, become independent, or merge with the Azerbaijan Republic. Armenia would be cut off from Iran and, except for its border with unreliable Georgia, encircled by Turks and Azeris.

What is Azerbaijan? The Azeri Republic is actually an artificial political creation. "Azerbaijan" is a geographic, not ethnic, term derived from the name of a Persian (Iranian) general, Atropates, circa 350 BC, or from the Persian word for fire, azar. Indeed, Colliers Encyclopedia states that there was no group of people named "Azerbaijanis" prior to the 20th century.

The people in question do speak a Turkic tongue imposed by Central Asian Turkic tribes perhaps 10 centuries ago. Historians maintain, however, that the Azeri Republic sits on the ancient lands of Caucasian Albania, Arran, and Armenia, none of which were Turkic. Indeed, Tehran claims that, if anything, the Azeri Republic should be incorporated into Iran, just as "south Azerbaijan" is.

Armenian Security Armenia's security hinges on a delicate balance. While it looks to Russia and Iran as partners against Turkey and Azerbaijan, Armenia also has excellent relations with the US, Europe, and others.

Yet, as Iranian and Russian influence continues to crumble under Washington's battering ram, Armenia finds itself increasingly isolated. And don't expect the US to ride to Armenia's rescue. Washington has always preferred more powerful Turkey. Says Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazetta newspaper, "A pro-American regime in Tehran would automatically reinforce the positions of Turkey in the Caucasus."

To neutralize Iran, the US may try to split off "south Azerbaijan" by instigating an Azeri uprising or other kind of upheaval under the pretext of "regime change" or "democracy" (in the tear-jerking words of Secretary of State Colin Powell, "the aspirations of [Iran's] youthful population").

Veteran British analyst Patrick Seale says the US and Israel might "undermine the Tehran regime by encouraging separatist tendencies among Iran's Azeri community."

Alternatively, the US may steer clear of Azeri separatism and simply try to install a friendly regime in Tehran, thus avoiding the messiness and risk of dismembering Iran. An intact Iran would probably pose less of a danger to Armenia.

There is, however, no doubting Washington's intentions.

Target: Iran "We will continue to isolate Iran," says Secretary Powell. Chimes in Richard Perle, "We will see regime change in Iran without any use of military power." According to former Assistant Secretary of State Edward S. Walker, "[Neo-conservatives] want to foment revolution in Iran."

Pro-Azeri Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) has introduced the "Iran Democracy Act," which calls for consultations with "Iranian-American opposition groups" and "an internationally-monitored referendum in Iran [to] peacefully change the system of government." The $50 million measure is described by investigative journalist Jason Leopold as "political warfare [to] force Iran's government from power."

Azeri separatism and covert foreign operations in Iran are not without precedent. In the mid-1940s, Azeri Iranians set up a short-lived "Provisional Government of Azerbaijan" with Soviet help. In 1953, the CIA and Britain helped to overthrow Iranian President Mossadeq and reinstall Shah Pahlavi in a covert action code-named "Ajax."

Turkey has reportedly lent political support to Azeri separatists but has partly backed off because of worry that Iran would, in turn, stir up Kurdish separatism in Turkey.

Interestingly, the Pentagon, State Department, and Congress have been meeting with Dr. Mahmud Ali Chehregani, the well-known Iranian dissident who heads the South Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement (cehreganli.com). Chehregani resides in the US. His group has offices in Turkey and Azerbaijan and is one of several militant pan-Azeri organizations, such as the South Azerbaijan National Liberation Movement (camah.com) and the World Azerbaijanis Congress (azerbaijanis- congress.com).

Clandestine Radio Watch, a widely respected research group, reports that in the late 1990s, the Voice of Southern Azerbaijan--a dissident Azeri station that was beamed into Iran--originated from Israel's "Yavne transmitter site" and was likely "supervised and arranged by Israel's intelligence agency: the Mossad."

Then there is Dr. Brenda Shaffer, research director of Harvard's Caspian Studies Program, partly funded by the US-Azeri Chamber of Commerce and major oil companies. In what one might imagine to be a purely academic position, Shaffer has been a high-profile political advocate for Azeris, writing and appearing frequently in the American and international media.

Two years ago she asked Congress to lift long-standing US sanctions on Azerbaijan. Dr. Shaffer also spoke before the nationalist, pan-Azeri Vatan Society in Britain earlier this year.

Her recent book, Borders and Brethren: Iran and the Challenge of Azerbaijani Identity, which touts Azeri identity and aspirations in "south Azerbaijan," has, says US-based, Iranian analyst Afshin Molavi "captivated the attention of [Iranian] regime change advocates in Washington."

The American-born, Israeli-educated Shaffer has been a "policy analyst" for Israel and served in the Israeli Defense Forces.

The Iranian Jewish Public Affairs Committee in California recently disclosed that "there is a pact emerging between hawks in the [Bush] administration, Jewish groups, and supporters of Reza [the late Shah's exiled son] to push for regime change" in Iran. Reza has spoken in front of the neo-con organizations AEI and JINSA, and the latter passed a resolution last year urging "American support for Iranian dissidents."

The US, of course, charges that Iran is lying about its nuclear capability and helping Al Qaeda. There is some evidence of the former, but little evidence of the latter. Perhaps, before accusing others, the administration itself needs to come clean about it and the real objectives of the neo-cons.

The Noose Tightens The noose around Armenia continues to tighten. Armenia's nearby friends are becoming weaker while its regional enemies--aided by some Americans whose aims bear little relation to US interests and values--grow stronger.

Samuel Johnson, the 18th century English poet, famously observed that "when a man knows he is about to be hanged, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." We will see whether Armenia and the Diaspora manage to concentrate their minds before the hangman opens the trapdoor.

Article used with authors permission.