Until recently, radical Islamists' ideas were not very popular in Azerbajdzhan. This doesn't mean there are no religious extremists in the republic. They seem to be everywhere these days. But the government of Azerbajdzhan has managed to keep them under control. Until…
In a recent interview for the television, the chief of the State commission for cooperation with religious structures Rafik Aliev claimed that extremists between shiits, vakhabits and nerkalars (radical sect based in Turkey) are joining the forces with plans to switch the civil power in Azerbajdzhan to religious spiritual government. Radicals from the North of Azerbajdzhan keep close connections with the likeminded ones at the Russian North Caucasus. Aliev did not explain what exactly those connections are about, but it is clear anyway: usual help in such cases is about teaching the spiritual basics (in their, radicals, understanding) and basics of diversionist war.
However, the thing is not only about uniting of the radical groups. All these processes, if they do really take place, speak about another very bad tendency for Azerbajdzhan government. This republic is placed geographically in a strategically important area. It is also rich with oil. And of course interests of various powers cross here: from American administration to worldwide terrorist organizations.
In fact, what can there be in common between vakhabits (sponsored by Saudi Arabia) and shiits (supported by Iran)? In any case, they are not very friendly to each other, to say the least. Iranians and Saudians are long-term rivals for influence in Muslim world. But before the face of clear political gains, religious quarrels can easily fade to the background.
Relationships between Iran and Azerbajdzhan are not the best at the moment. There are a few reasons. First of all, disagreements on the Kaspiy sea division, which in turn lead to discussions on oil deposits belonging. Secondly, Tehran does not like information about possible appearance of American army troops in Azerbajdzhan. But for the current Baku government, good relationships with Washington are much more important than with Iran.
In regards to Saudi Arabia, they will accept cooperation with Iran to build such an important center of influence. Indeed, in this case it will be very convenient to support vakhabits of the Russian North Caucasus, who were weakened in last years. Forms of this support are varied, but the foremost is money and weapon for Chechen rebels. Certainly, channels are already fine-tuned, but it is much more convenient to have a loyal regime which governs the whole state for such purposes.
There are still no signs that situation in Azerbajdzhan becomes worse and religious extremists pose any threat. But who can be sure that in future government would still be able to control this? Geidar Aliev has managed to not let radical ideas spread widely, but he did not deny the problem exists. Can his son Ilham, who has just become a president, save Azerbajdzhan from radicalism? If not, it is not only Azerbajdzhan but Russia also who will have big problems.