Iran has criticised its neighboring country of Azerbaijan, appearing to believe rumors that a gay pride will be part of the Eurovision Song Contest there this month.
The kitsch European pop tournament will be held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan in the Caucasus on 22 May.
In January, nighttours.com, a website for listing and news about the international gay scene suggested that gay pride could take place in Baku during the lead-up to Eurovision content, but removed the article a few days later.
The Republic of Azerbaijan in the Caucasus region is a nominally secular democracy inhabited by mostly ethnic Azeri Shi’ite Muslims, who make up over 30% of the population of the neighbouring Islamic Republic of Iran.
The alleged ‘gay pride parade’ has been met with a barrage of critique from Iranian officials in the Persian media.
Already in February the Iranian media alleged that an Azerbaijani diplomat, Ebrahim Ghafarov, insulted the Iranian nation by ‘defending’ the plans for a ‘gay parade’ in Baku, as well as alleging that he was gay, consequently calling for his deportation.
And just over a week ago radical Ansar-Hizbullah group in Tabriz sent and open letter to the Presidents of Iran and Azerbaijan, blaming the gay parade on Israel and threatening to capture the Azerbaijan’s mission in Tabriz if the parade ever takes place.
Last Friday during the prayer service in Tabriz, the centre of culture of Iran’s Azeri population, Ayatollah Mohsen Mojtahed Shabestari, a prominent Shiite clergyman and a personal representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader, claimed ‘the situation in Azerbijan is so bad that the rulers are wasting public funds to throw a party that is requested by anti-Islamic forces…
‘More outrageous is the gay parade that they are planning to organize… this dance party and the parade attract all sorts of anti-Islamic groups and perverts. While many countries do not allow perverts and fags to hold a rally, the rulers of dominantly Shiite Azerbaijan have allowed for this unethical event to take place.
‘I want to ask them "what has happened to your Islamic honour and why have you turned into play toys in the hands of Zionists?"’
The imam denounced the leadership of the Republic of Azerbaijan, and said he was ‘warning the Baku government to cancel the gay parade or else expect widespread demonstration and public anger in the next few days.’
Another Iranian clergyman Ruhollah Bejani has threatened in a letter addressed to Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan: ‘If Baku hosts Eurovision contest and gay parade, I swear to close the consulate without taking into account my position in the government, and I will not even listen to President Ahmadinejad. This is my last warning and I’m even ready to shed blood,’ he was quoted as writing by the Iranian press.
A few days later Mahmudreza Bahonar, deputy speaker of the Iranian Parliament said in a televised interview that the ‘gay parade’ initiative is violation of social norms, cryptically adding that authorisation of such events, will ‘incur significant losses’.
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.
Last year, in an interview with Gay Star News contributor Paul Canning in LGBT Asylum News, Rusian Balkukhin stated that whilist homosexuality is legal in Azerbaijan, it is not yet tolerated and that the community needs basic psychological help, rather than full blown gay rights campaigns, at this stage.
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 Azaris 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.