Since 1988, Armenia and Azerbaijan have been engaged in a dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh; this temporarily frozen conflict flared up again in 2020. Vladimir Khanin examines the sizeable presence of anti-Semitism in both countries’ political conversations about the subject, and Iran’s role in fomenting it.
On the one hand, Tehran is interested in weakening Azerbaijan as much as possible, as Azerbaijan is the Jewish state’s close ally, Israel’s leading oil supplier, and a large-scale buyer of Israeli military and civil technologies. On the other hand, Tehran wants to enhance the dependence on Iran of Armenia, its own strategic partner, in view of the drastic reduction of the Russian presence in the South Caucasus.
Anti-Semitism has become part of the efforts of the Iranian secret services to destabilize Azerbaijan. This task is not easy, however, as the country has traditionally shown a highly tolerant attitude toward Jews and Israel. Jerusalem has shown itself to be a reliable ally for Azerbaijan, playing a critical role in its security and technological development, and Baku has opened its embassy in Tel Aviv. As a result, Israel’s popularity has boomed among Azerbaijani citizens, mitigating Tehran’s efforts to stir up anti-Semitic ferment. The Iranians have had to limit their attempts, for example, to delegitimize “the Zionist regime of President Aliyev.”
Along with the surge of anti-Israeli propaganda against Baku, which accompanied Iranian military drills near Azerbaijan’s borders and the activation of disruptive local detachments of Tehran within the country, a significant escalation of anti-Semitic rhetoric is also taking place in Armenia. The concurrence of these two trends, including a sharp increase in the number of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist stories appearing online and in other Armenian media, suggests that Iran is playing a significant role in this case as well.
All this anti-Semitic delirium [appearing in Armenia] is written in Russian—often quite good Russian. This could be because of the desire to influence both Russian speakers outside Armenia and Russian migrants inside Armenia, the number of whom now exceeds 100,000.