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A new name for Azerbaijan?

By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, February 7
A proposal to rename Azerbaijan has been initiated by several of that country's members of parliament – with potentially dangerous consequences.

In the first session of this year's Azeri parliament, several MPs suggest changing the name of the country, from the Republic of Azerbaijan to the Republic of Northern Azerbaijan. As one opposition MP claimed, two-thirds of historic Azeri territory is currently in Iran, so there is some logic to the idea that Azerbaijan should refer to itself as "Northern".

Precedents were cited, such as North and South Korea, and Northern and Southern Cyprus. Minority MP Fazim Aghamaghli suggested a referendum, and some members of the ruling party applauded the motion. Although both countries are majority Shia Muslim, and Iran backs Azerbaijan on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, relations between the two countries are poor and such an attempt at irritation is not out of character for Azeri politicians.

At this stage, only a name change has been suggest, without an accompanying claims on Iranian territory. However, with the implication that Azerbaijan considers itself divided by Iran, the possibility of prompting territorial claim is not out of the question.

Russian analyst Alexei Bluminov suggests that this may be evidence of an attempt to include Azerbaijan in any upcoming confrontation with Iran over its nuclear weapons program. Some Armenian commentators have gone so far as to imply that Azerbaijan would side with Western powers in such a dispute, in an attempt to annex so-called "Southern Azerbaijan".

A similar idea gained popularity in the 1940s. Leader of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, saw the Second World War as an opportunity for expansion, including moving south by putting pressure on Iran and Turkey. Soviet forces occupied Iranian Azerbaijan in 1941, and in 1946 it existed for two months as a Soviet republic, before being reunited with Iran. After Stalin’s death, the idea was scrapped. Former Azeri President Abulpas Elchibey mentioned the division during his tenure in the 1990s, but no serious moves to reunify the nation were made.

There is no doubt that if Azerbaijan becomes Northern Azerbaijan, Iran will see it as a provocative act. One can only hope that Azeri MPs recognize that such a petty move will bring more trouble than it is worth.