Iran was nervous about Azerbaijan right from its independence, the idea of homeland for the Azerbaijani people is seen as dangerous. It may give “funny ideas” to its local Azerbajani population to join it.
There are also historical reasons for this fear; In 1945, Soviet troops moved into Iranian Azerbaijan and created a short lived Soviet-backed puppet regime by the name of “Azerbaijan People’s Government”, which was abandoned under international and local pressure.
More recently the regime in Azerbaijan has been making noise about being the home and leaders of “all the Azeri people,” something that deeply alarms Iran.
Most of all, the Iranian regime is worried about that the ethnic Azerbaijanis (at least 25% of the population of Iran) within its territory might demand the implementation of secular values and modernisation, or worse seek to join Azerbaijan. The Azeris are a Turkic people both ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Persians, the only thing that is common to both is that most come from a background or are Shi’a Muslim.
That is why Iran is taking great strides in launching a religious campaign out of Tabriz, the historical centre of Azerbaijani culture, against the “corrupt” and “morally defunct” Republic of Azerbaijan. It attempts to delegitimise and make the neighbour to the north less appealing to the population of Azerbaijanis at home, which are an oppressed minority.
The ruling regime in Azerbaijan, on the other hand has an element of calculation in how it uses this conflict. The government had been stung by western criticism of its human rights record, and was deliberately trying to show itself in a positive light, especially with the Eurovision contest, compared with Iran.
The Azerbajani regime is using Iran to stress its own importance to the West. It knows that the West is not friendly with Iran and will support Azerbaijan. Tensions have been raised deliberately so as to divert the West’s attention towards a contentious issue and away from its own appalling human rights records. It also keeps the Azerabajani population under the spell of anti Iranian nationalism that divert its attention from political-economic problems at home.
The whole issue with “gay pride” or “Israel” is part of a “side show”, journalists need to understand that and do their homework of research, rather than fixate on the superficial propaganda aspect between the two countries.