A Minor Religious Actor in Central Asia and the Caucasus
Thanks to its various legacies in Central Asia and the Caucasus, Iran—just like Turkey—was eager to develop strong relations with the former Soviet states as soon as they became independent. However, paradoxically, Iran’s religious influence in Central Asia has been very limited, because of the difference between Central Asian Islam, mainly Sunni, and Iranian Shia Islam. Contrary to Central Asia, the Caucasus has been more permeable to Iranian Islamic influences and particularly so in Azerbaijan, because historically, Azerbaijan and Iran were part of the same Empire, where Shia was the official religion. Islamic cooperation between the two spheres remains very dynamic. Indeed, 70 per cent of Shia Muslims in Azerbaijan are turned toward Iran rather than toward Turkey, a country that seeks to develop its own vision of Islam. Iranian Islamic influence in the Caucasus is also significant in Georgia, among the Azeri minorities in Tbilisi and at the border with Azerbaijan.
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