Atlantic Monthly

Pump Up the Unrest

News of this enfilade of Turkic vibes arrived just as Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill.) was holding a Washington hearing on the status of Iran’s Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Arabs, and Baluchis. All these minorities have some grievances against the ayatollahs, but only the Azerbaijanis have yet to resist Tehran in any meaningful way. Not coincidentally, they’re also the largest and most powerful minority in Iran: they make up a third of the country’s population, and they are the only ethnic minority that could bring down the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately for the U.S., the Azeris really like Iran’s current government. Azerbaijanis are more religious than average (Tabriz is a city of mosques), disproportionately approve of theocratic rule, and wield enough clout that other more secular groups — such as the Kurds — have complained that Iran is ruled by a “Turkish government.”

Are these broadcasts a waste of time? Probably not, although an unenthusiastic endorsement is the most that the broadcasts deserve. America’s military options, as nearly everyone recognizes by now, are few and inadvisable, and hat-in-hand negotiations have produced little, and at some cost to the dignity of Iran’s negotiating partners. The best the U.S. can hope for is to barrage Iran with dozens of minuscule taunts like this one, and pray that together the annoyances add up to enough to change Tehran’s disposition toward bargaining.


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