An Iranian lawmaker threatened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Twitter over the weekend after Erdoğan recited a poem last week allegedly promoting separatist sentiment among Iran’s Azeri minority.
“Iranian lawmaker Ali Asgar Hani threatened the Turkish president by posting a picture of Saddam Hussein hanging on Twitter with the caption: ‘Mr Erdogan, this was the fate of the last person who coveted Iranian land.’ The image was later deleted,” Arab News reported Sunday. The image appeared to be a reference to the poem in question.
Erdoğan recited excerpts of the Azeri-Iranian poem during a visit to Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, on December 10. The poem concerns the division of Azerbaijani territory between Russia and Iran in the 19th century. Erdoğan visited Baku to attend a parade celebrating Azerbaijan’s resumption of control over sections of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region and adjacent districts following a recent war over the territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan that ended in a ceasefire on November 9. A close ally of Azerbaijan and its ethnically Turkic population, Turkey supported Baku in its recent conflict with Armenia.
Iran’s three northwestern provinces — West Azerbaijan, East Azerbaijan, and Ardabil — are home to predominantly ethnic-Azeri populations. Iranian Azeris speak a Turkic language but largely observe Shi’ite Islam, Iran’s state religion. Tehran has grown concerned that Azerbaijan’s victory in the recent Nagorno-Karabakh war may have incited separatist attitudes in its northwest that threaten its territorial integrity.
Iranian diplomats argued Erdoğan’s recitation of the Azeri-Iranian poem last week, which refers to Iran’s northwestern provinces as belonging to Azerbaijan, fanned the flames of this separatist sentiment.
“Pres. Erdogan was not informed that what he ill-recited in Baku refers to the forcible separation of areas north of Aras from Iranian motherland [sic],” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter on December 11. Aras is a village in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.
Iranian authorities summoned the Turkish ambassador to Tehran on December 11 to protest Erdoğan’s “interventionist and unacceptable remarks.” Turkey retaliated the next day by summoning the Iranian ambassador to Ankara over the “groundless” claims. By Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran was ready to move past the diplomatic spat.
“In my opinion, with the explanations (Turkish officials) gave, we can move beyond this issue, but the sensitivity of our people is very important,” Rouhani said at a televised news conference in Tehran, according to Reuters.
“Based on my past knowledge of Mr Erdogan, it is very unlikely that he had any intention of insulting our territorial integrity,” Rouhani said. “He always recites poetry in his speeches,” the Iranian leader added.