Iran has recalled its ambassador to Azerbaijan after protesters outside its embassy insulted Iran's late revolutionary leader.
“Ambassador Mohammad Bagher Bahrami left for Tehran on May 21 in connection with the insulting of religious saints in Azerbaijan. He was recalled for consultations,” charge d’affaires Ahmed Nemati at the Iranian embassy in Baku said in a statement.
The move came after several dozen Azerbaijani protesters rallied outside the Iranian embassy last week. Some displayed signs mocking Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s late revolutionary leader.
According to the official IRNA news agency, Tehran reacted by summoning Baku’s ambassador, Javanshir Akhundov to the foreign ministry to be notified of the Islamic republic’s “protest over insulting religious sanctities."
The report also confirmed the recalling of Tehran’s ambassador in Baku.
Azerbaijani lawmakers strongly criticized Iran during a debate on the ambassador’s recall in parliament, saying Iran's timing was calculated for maximum media exposure.
“Iran is using Eurovision as a pretext to increase pressure on Azerbaijan. It is wrong and endangers peace and stability in the region,” said governing party lawmaker Mubariz Gurbanly.
Baku is set to host the prestigious Eurovision competition, which has been slammed as immoral by some Iranian clerics.
Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov charged Iran was spreading false rumors that a gay pride march would be held in Baku during Eurovision week.
"Tehran wants Azerbaijan to become an Islamic state and sever its friendly ties with the US and Israel," he added.
On Tuesday, Azerbaijani media reported that 11 Islamist radicals had been arrested in the city of Sumgayit for "plotting a campaign against Eurovision."
Police said they had found CDs containing anti-Eurovision and pro-Islamic material, which had been distributed to some homes in Baku and Sumgayit in recent days.
Azerbaijan has been seeking to use Eurovision, which is watched by an estimated 125 million people worldwide, to boost the image of the oil-rich state.
However, the days leading up to the contest have been marred by the row with Iran and allegations of human rights abuses.
Tensions between the Islamic Republic and the ex-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan – a majority Muslim, but officially secular country – have increased in recent months after Baku arrested a series of suspected terrorists it alleges have links to Iran.
Baku's close friendship with Israel, whose destruction Iranian officials openly call for on a regular basis, has also served to heighten tensions amid intense international pressure on Iran to give up its controversial nuclear program.
Azeri officials have denied reports Israel – or any other nation – would be allowed to launch a strike on Iranian nuclear facilities from its territory.
However, some analysts say Baku's statements could still allow for Israel to stage covert search and rescue operations into Iranian territory should pilots of personnel need to be extracted following an attack.