Historical Azerbaijan was divided about a hundred years ago by two countries: the northern part was annexed to the Soviet Union and the southern part was annexed to Iran. Over the years, two conflicting trends developed within the population of the southern, Iranian part. Some of them aspired to merge with the Iranian state under Persian hegemony and the others aspired to separate from Iran and join the northern part, which since the collapse of the Soviet Union (1989) has gained independence and is the state of Azerbaijan.
In recent years, separatist activity has increased in the Azeri region of Iran, and one of the organizations leading this trend is "The South Azerbaijan National Freedom Front".
It was recently reported that Ahmad Obali, the chairman of the International Relations Committee at The South Azerbaijan National Freedom Front and the head of Gunaz TV, was targeted in a terror attack in the US, in Santa Clara, CA. As a result of the attack, which was carried out by an unknown number of assailants, he suffered serious injuries, including fractures of the cervical vertebrae, all fingers of his right hand, and his eyes were deliberately injured. He is known as a famous South Azerbaijani dissident journalist critical of the Iranian regime - who were most probably behind this attack. A journalist with damaged eyes and broken fingers cannot work effectively and the message to other dissidents is clear.
Iran has a long record of targeting Iranian dissidents in other countries. Between 1989 and 1996, the Iranian regime assassinated more than 160 Iranian dissidents across the globe. For example, on September 17, 1992, prominent representatives of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Dr. Sadegh Sharafkandi, Fattah Abdoli, Homayoun Ardalan and their translator Noori Dekhordi were murdered in the Mykonos restaurant by Iranian hired assassins. A plaque in the victims' memory in Germany states: “They died in the battle for freedom and human rights.”
More recently, in 2019, the Iranian intelligence abducted dissident journalist Ruthollah Zam who was then visiting Iraq and took him back to Iran, where he was executed in 2020. In 2022, an assailant sympathetic to the Iranian regime and with possible links to Hezbollah, stabbed the novelist Salman Rushdie multiple times, almost killing him. Following the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his assassination and set a bounty of $3 million for his death.
For Azerbaijanis, the terror attack against the dissident Ahmad Obali, who championed South Azerbaijani independence and was also a friend of the Jewish people, is another grave incident that follows a serious deterioration in Azerbaijani-Iranian relations.
Last International Holocaust Memorial Day, an armed gunman attacked the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran, killing a senior security official. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev labeled the incident to be a “terror attack,” as the Iranian regime stood behind the attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran.
Soon after the attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran, Azerbaijan detained seven people and arrested 39 others who were believed to be involved in an Iranian espionage network. However, the Iranian attacks on Azerbaijan did not end there. Last March, Iran attempted to assassinate Azerbaijani MP Fazil Mustafa, who is a lawmaker known to be critical of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This attack is believed to have been carried out by Iran’s Secret Services, as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards posted on Telegram 30 minutes after the attack, “Fazil Mustafa, an Azerbaijani MP known for his anti-Iranian and anti-Islamic statements, has been murdered.” Azerbaijan swiftly arrested four people who were involved in this attack.
Iran’s hatred of Azerbaijan has a long history. Forty percent of the population in the Islamic Republic of Iran consists of ethnic Azerbaijanis who dream of living in a free South Azerbaijan, where they will have the right to educate their children and speak in their own language. A country where Lake Uria will flourish instead of being drained by the Iranians and where their human rights will be respected. In fact, between 1945 and 1946, the South Azerbaijanis had their own independent state, which was brutally repressed by the Iranian regime at the time.
The attack on Ahmad Obali has only served to increase the desire of the Southern Azeris to be liberated from the Persian occupation and live in their own independent state.