Iran has recalled its ambassador from Azerbaijan over rumors of a gay pride event during the Eurovision Song Contest.
The envoy for consultations in Tehran was withdrawn from Azerbaijan's capital Baku after the two neighboring countries accused each other of meddling in each other's affairs.
The two countries have been at loggerheads ever since gay scene website nighttours.com suggested that a pride parade could take place in the city during the lead-up to Eurovision. The grand final of which is held on Saturday (26 May).
Despite the website removing the article a few days later, the news sparked fury in the Islamic Republic of Iran, with officials, religious leaders and members of the public slamming Azerbaijan for allowing an 'outrageous' party and parade for 'perverts'.
A counter protest was held outside the Iranian embassy in Baku, with people demanding Iran stop interfering in Azerbaijan's affairs, saying 'Iranian Islam is not Islam' and 'Iran sends terrorists to our country'.
Azerbaijan has mostly ethnic Azeri Shi’ite Muslims, who make up over 30% of the population of the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran.
Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly denied the rumors of any gay pride parade.
Gay activist Rusian Balukhin, who runs Azerbaijani gay.az site, stated that ‘among Baku’s gays and lesbians there is no one even dreaming of demonstrations or parades’.
He added that staging an event like that would be irresponsible and counterproductive given the current, rather intolerant social climate for Azerbaijan's LGBT community.
Hossein Alizedah of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Comission (IGLHRC) speculated that the critique from Iran ‘over the possible gay-parade in Baku is used as 'a hook' by Tehran to leverage more public pressure on the Azeri government’ to loosen its ties with Israel.
Other experts have pointed out the roots of the conflict go back at least to 2011, when the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev in his New Year’s speech stated that he would like to be a leader for Azeris around the world, to which Iran responded by stating the Azerbaijan was a former part of Iran.
Experts also note the tension between a secular Republic of Azerbaijan versus an Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as disputes over the marine boundaries in the Caspian Sea which is rich in oil and gas resources.