Iran recalls ambassador from Azerbaijan in Eurovision row

May 22, 2012, Tuesday/ 13:34:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Iran has recalled its ambassador to Azerbaijan, Mohammad Bagher Bahrami, after Baku accused Iran of carrying out an anti-Azerbaijani campaign ahead of the Eurovision song contest, Azerbaijani news agencies reported on Tuesday.

Senior Azerbaijani presidential administration official Ali Hasanov accused neighbor Iran of spreading false rumors that a gay pride march would be held the Azerbaijani capital during Eurovision week.

"They are making statements about something that does not exist. We are holding Eurovision, not a gay parade," Hasanov told a news conference. "Actually, there is no word in the Azerbaijani language for a gay parade, unlike in their language," he added.

He accused Iran of being "jealous" of Azerbaijan's economic success and worried about its secular government.

Unfounded rumors circulated on Iranian websites this month suggesting that a gay pride march would take place in mainly Muslim but officially secular Azerbaijan during Eurovision.

The recall and Hasanov's statement come after hundreds of Azerbaijanis from various civil society organizations and youth movements staged a demonstration near the Iranian Embassy in Baku to protest what they said was “unacceptable support” by Iran for Armenia, a neighboring country that has occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijani territory since the early 1990s, calling on Tehran to immediately halt its threatening statements against Azerbaijan. During the demonstration, the protesters described Azerbaijan's southern neighbor as a "threat."

Bahrami is expected to leave the country “for consultations” on Tuesday and the date of his return is unknown.

Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran have been tense in recent months after Tehran accused Azerbaijan of assisting Israeli intelligence in the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist.

In February and March, the Azerbaijani Ministry of National Security carried out several clandestine operations to reveal that Iranian spies and intelligence agents in Baku were preparing terrorist acts.

Iran has accused Azerbaijan, which borders Iran and has friendly relations with the United States and Israel, of colluding with Israeli intelligence in the killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in January.

Tehran has also blasted Baku over media reports speculating that Azerbaijan may have been in talks on leasing its airfields to Israel for a possible airstrike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The last time the Iranian authorities recalled their ambassador from Baku was during the visit of Israeli President Shimon Peres to Azerbaijan in 2009.

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