Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sahar TV in Azeri

I was unaware that Iran beamed Azeri-language programming into southern Azerbaijan:
"The source of the programs is Iran's state-run Sahar TV, whose efforts to broadcast to Azerbaijan in Azerbaijani often overpower domestic signals. They have even been said to reach as far as Baku, about 240 kilometers from the border.

"Much of Sahar's programming deals with religion, leading critics to suggest that the broadcasts are part of a wider effort to export the ideals of the Iranian Revolution. Some of those same detractors accuse Tehran of employing a 'soft power' assault to unduly influence the Azerbaijani public -- or even undermine indigenous culture or tradition.

"The situation has prompted a hostile reaction from Azerbaijan, which last year suspended the licenses of all foreign television broadcasters. Baku claims Iran's broadcasts are illegal and takes issue with the frequent criticism of its government for its political and economic ties to the West."

The roots of this initiative probably lie in Iran's revolutionary ideology, though they also serve to put some pressure on Azerbaijan's government. Azerbaijan is mostly Shi'ite, and so some in Iran probably see the country as a natural place to try spreading Khomeinist ideology. However, fundamentalist Islam has simply never caught on much in Azerbaijan, and when I was there, it seemed clear Azeris were fond of their government, undemocratic though it may be, and hostile to Iran.

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