Det var i begynnelsen av forrige måned artikkelen sto på trykk i en ubetydelig avis. Men innholdet vakte oppsikt: Forfatterne påsto at islam bidrar til manglende utvikling. Det ble stemplet som blasfemi, og det kom til demonstrasjoner over hele Aserbajdsjan. For mange ble det et bevis på Irans innflytelse.

En tredel av Irans 66 millioner innbyggere er azerere, og de føler seg holdt nede. Det er sterke bånd mellom azererne på begge sider av grensen. Mange tror Iran ønsker å påvirke Aserbajdsjan i sin retning. Hvis Aserbajdsjan skulle lykkes med moderniseringen, vil det være Iran som kan bli påvirket, og det frykter Teheran.

The authors, Rafiq Tagi and Samir Sadagatoglu, who are Muslim, are to face criminal charges of inciting religious enmity; a court ruled on Nov. 15 that the pair could be held in pretrial detention for two months. The journalists were given legal representation for the first time on Dec. 20. They could not be interviewed.

In the six weeks since the article was published, Iran’s interventions in Azerbaijan have become the focus of public debate among civic and religious leaders in Baku, with many Azeris openly suspecting Iran of undermining its secularity and stability by fomenting Islamic extremism.

A group of 40 leading public intellectuals has released an open letter calling for Iran to stop encouraging religious extremists in Azerbaijan and for the Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani, to rescind his fatwa, or religious decree, against the authors.

Iran har kjøpt seg innflytelse gjennom bygging av moskeer og sosiale programmer. Det er en merkbar konservativ bølge som bekymrer moderate og sekulære.

lchin Shikhlinsky, the editor of Zerkalo, or The Mirror, one of the largest Baku dailies, said that the furor over the recent article was «crazy, and if such an article had been published a couple of years ago there would have been no reaction to it.»

«But,» he said, «step by step, day by day, people are becoming more religious. Iran is spending a lot of money along the border to produce these kinds of fanatics.»

Iran already has some sway in Azerbaijan. As it does in Lebanon and elsewhere, Iran has lavished social assistance programs on Azerbaijan, especially in the bleak countryside. A new Iranian friendship center in Baku bestows money, books and even furniture to young couples moving into their first homes.

«Azeri success is not in Iran’s national interest,» said Ilgar Mammadov, a political analyst at the Baku Political Research and Advocacy Institute. «Iranians want mullahs to be the reference point for any intellectual thought in this country.»

Many Azeris see Iranian hand behind wave of unrest