Published on 6 Feb 2016
A comet flew over the empire for forty days, heralding bad news to come. Raiders struck from the west, coming within mere miles of Constantinople. But the biggest threat lay in the south, where a border dispute threatened to reignite the war between the Romans and the Persians. Since Belisarius was still in Italy, Justinian had to send other generals to attempt to resolve the matter peacefully. Both failed spectacularly. The Persian king Chosroes (Khosrow) seized on this as a pretext for invasion. But instead of laying expensive sieges to the cities, he simply extorted them for tribute in exchange for being left alone by his army. As he advanced north, he took advantage of every opportunity to mock Justinian and remind him how little power he had to push the Persians back. Finally, the city of Antioch refused to surrender to Chosroes and he made quick work of it, convincing Justinian at last of the need to pay his own tribute to the Persians to make them go away. This bought him enough time for Belisarius to return, but even his great general was unable to make much progress. At last, he found himself pinned down in an un-winnable fight… which the Persians mysteriously decided not to engage against him. They did not want to risk contact with the Romans, whom they feared were rife with disease.
February 18, 2016
October 4, 2015
David Warren gives us a handy run-down of the aspects of the “new” new world order (not that icky Bush NWO, but the shiny new Obama NWO):
The “neocons” are exaggerating when they say that Barack Obama has handed over all United States interests in the Middle East to Vladimir Putin. Only half of the region has been surrendered, so far. The rest he has merely abandoned.
What has suddenly emerged, or rather been confirmed, is a Russian/Iranian “axis” that extends from the domain of the Ayatollahs, across Iraq and Syria, to the Hezbollah domain in what was once Christian Lebanon. The murderous Assad regime now enjoys not passive but active and aggressive Russian support, and the Western powers are now outmanoeuvred in advance of any attempt to retrieve their interests in Iraq.
Those who believe Putin’s armed intervention will stop the Camp-of-Saints flow of “migrants” to Europe are extremely naive. This can only increase. From the outset, the targets for the Russian air strikes in Syria are the very territories that were free of the ministrations of both Assad, and the Daesh. By reconquering this essentially neutral territory for the Assad regime (Iranian troops are pouring in for this purpose), huge numbers with reason to fear retribution must certainly flee for their lives. Their route is through Turkey, which will happily assist their passage via dinghies to Greece, thus into the European Welfare Union.
Putin and company have no immediate interest in stifling the Daesh. Neither has Erdogan of Turkey, who uses the same ludicrously false claim to be bombing the Daesh, while directing Turkish strikes against Kurdish forces. The Daesh itself is useful to both. They serve as poison snakes within the Sunni Arab tent — masters in the spread of Islamist terrorism not only within the Sunni areas of Iraq and Syria, but of its export from Afghanistan right across North Africa. As the Sunni terrorist force of Hamas — supplied today mostly from Iran — they will prove an invaluable resource for destabilizing Iran’s Arab enemies. The case is complicated only by Putin’s interest in maintaining Iranian dependency on Russia.
September 29, 2015
Published on 28 Sep 2015
It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again and Indy answers your questions about World War 1. In our new episode we talk about Persian and Albanian neutrality and how it was ignored by the Entente and the Central Powers. David, our producer, also explains how he creates the soundtrack for our show.
September 10, 2015
Published on 9 Sep 2015
Today’s big event in Washington, D.C. was a rally sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots against the Iran nuclear deal. The event drew several hundred people who showed equal amounts of contempt for the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Barack Obama — and the congressional leadership of the Republican Party.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear libertarian position on the Iran deal — some think it will open Iran up to moderating Western influence while others think it doesn’t do enough to keep the mullah’s nuclear ambitions at bay.
Reason TV caught up with Glenn Beck of The Blaze (2:18), radio host and best-seller Mark Levin (1:00), and former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (5:10), all of whom ragged on establishment Republicans as much or more than they did on Harry Reid, Barack Obama, and Islamic clerics.
And we managed also to find out what Donald Trump — the big draw at today’s event — thinks about libertarians. (:51)
August 2, 2015
A few weeks back, Strategy Page looked at “practical sorcery” in the Middle East:
ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) recently got some media attention because they had beheaded two Moslem women accused of sorcery. For a Moslem the only thing unusual about this was how the women are killed. Public beheading is usually reserved for men. Sorcery, on the other hand, is quite common in the Islamic world, even though it is strongly condemned in the Koran. Many Islamic majority countries consider sorcery a capital (the guilty are executed) crime. But there’s a lot more to sorcery than that.
For example, back in 2013 Mehdi Taeb, a senior cleric in the Iranian government explained that the major reason so many nations went along with the increased economic sanctions against Iran was because Israel had been using magic to persuade the leaders of these nations to back more sanctions. Without the Israeli witchcraft, the sanctions would not exist. Taeb explained that the Israelis have used this magic before, as in 2009, against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he was running for president. Many Iranians openly opposed Ahmadinejad, who won anyway. This, to Taeb, was proof that devout Moslems could defeat the Jewish magic.
What’s interesting with this observation is that, in 2011 Taeb and his fellow clerics tried to get rid of Ahmadinejad and his zealous (against corrupt clerics) associates. One method used was to send the police (which the clergy control) to arrest key Ahmadinejad aides and accuse them of witchcraft and sorcery. This led to street brawls between fans of Ahmadinejad and Islamic hardliners. Clubs, knives, and other sharp instruments were used. There was blood in the streets. All because of a witch hunt.
Ahmadinejad was quite popular because he has gone after corrupt officials, especially the clerics and their families, who feel they are immune from prosecution and can take what they want. In theory, the clerics can get rid of Ahmadinejad by simply declaring that he is not religiously suitable to run for election. That’s the kind of power the clerics have. But Ahmadinejad was too popular for that sort of censorship and Ahmadinejad was not corrupt. His rants against Israel and the Jews, while a bit much for some clerics, is also not grounds for being declared “un-Islamic” and ineligible to run for election. Ahmadinejad is quite respectful of Islam and most Moslem clerics but willing to go after clerics who are dirty. This is also quite popular with most Iranians, and that scares the dirty clerics at the top.
So why had the clerics decided to accuse Ahmadinejad cronies of sorcery? That’s because in most countries where there is a dominant religion, especially a state approved one, there is usually still a fear that the previous religion (or religions) will try to make a comeback. The former faiths often involved some really old-school stuff, including what many would consider magic and sometimes animal, or even human, sacrifice. It is not uncommon for there to be laws covering those accused to be practicing such sorcery and severe punishments for those convicted. At the very least, the accused will be driven from any senior government jobs they might hold, and that’s what’s being done to dozens of Ahmadinejad associates. In Iran Ahmadinejad was eventually removed from power by going after his more vulnerable associates and sorcery was one of the false accusations used.
February 6, 2015
Western politicians on terrorism – “I am appalled by the evidence that they actually believe what they are saying”
David Warren on the fecklessness of western politicians and the utter seriousness of the terror organizations and their backers:
The response to it in the West, and particularly from the United States government, is incompetent on a scale so breathtaking that I sometimes miss my slot as a daily news pundit. (And by inviting Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress, Boehner proved himself as dumb as Obama.) What distresses me is not that characters like Obama and Kerry say “terrorism” has nothing to do with Islam. They are politicians: of course they spout drivel. Rather, I am appalled by the evidence that they actually believe what they are saying.
This goes beyond noticing that the terrorists cry Allahu Akbar! after every strike. To understand current events one must notice the war being fought within Islam. And this is not as hard as it might seem. It is a war between not one, but two radical factions: Shia fanatics, and Sunni fanatics.
“Al-Qaeda,” “the Caliphate,” “Hamas,” and some other groupings, though rivals for the leadership, are united in their aspirations for the Sunni side. Revolutionary Iran and its proxy Hezbollah provide the united leadership for the Shia side. Every formerly Western-allied government in the region, including that of the Wahabi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia, fears both sides; but they fear Iran more. And after Iran, they probably fear Turkey, which has the potential of becoming patron to the fanatic Sunnis on the analogy of Iran.
We could get into blaming Islam itself for the mess, but that won’t be necessary for today’s purpose. It is only necessary insofar as we must understand that the words Allahu Akbar are not uttered lightly, and are not insincere.
While both sides look forward to murdering us next, their attention is first focused on murdering each other. Attacks on Western targets must be understood in this context: for neither party is so naive as to think they can out-gun us, or even out-gun Israel. Moreover, many of their stunts (including video beheadings) are designed to manipulate Western public opinion — against themselves, in order to win allies within the region. The “Je suis Charlie” demonstrations in France, for instance, were a godsend to the Sunni fanatics: they triggered massive anti-Western demonstrations among less fanatic Muslims across the Middle East, and thereby magnified their claim to represent Islam.
January 26, 2015
Austin Bay looks at the risky but rewarding path of aggression and propaganda undertaken by Vladimir Putin:
Russian president Vladimir Putin made dangerous history in 2014. His invasion of Crimea and subsequent annexation of the peninsula shredded the diplomatic agreements stabilizing post-Cold War Eastern Europe.
Then Putin ignited a low-level war in Eastern Ukraine. Despite a September 2014 ceasefire agreement, Putin’s overt covert war-making continues in Eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin has concluded that Western leaders, European and American, are weak and indecisive.
Putin, unfortunately, knows how to use specific tactics in operations designed to achieve his strategic goals.
Military analysts typically recognize three levels of conflict: the tactical, the operational and the strategic. The categories are general, and distinctions often arguable. Firing an infantry weapon, however, is a basic tactical action. Assassinating Austrian royalty with a revolver is a tactical action, but one that in 1914 had strategic effect (global war). U. S. Grant’s Vicksburg campaign (1862-63) consisted of several Union military operations around Vicksburg (many unsuccessful). The campaign’s concluding operation, besieging Vicksburg, was an operational victory that gave the Union a strategic military and economic advantage: control of the Mississippi.
Putin’s Kremlin uses propaganda operations to blur its responsibility for tactical attacks in Ukraine. International propaganda frustrates Western media scrutiny of Russia’s calculated tactical combat action. Local propaganda targets Eastern Ukraine. Earlier this month, Ukrainian journalist Roman Cheremsky told Radio Free Europe that despite suffering criminal bullying by pro-Russian fighters, Kremlin “disinformation” is convincing Eastern Ukraine’s Russian speakers that Ukrainian forces are “bloodthirsty thugs.”
Oil’s price plunge, however, has also slammed Putin, threatening the genius with political and economic problems that, if prices remain low, could erode his personal political power. Energy revenue declines do far more damage to Putin than the economic sanctions Western governments have imposed.
So what’s a brilliant, innovative, thoroughly unscrupulous and utterly amoral strategist to do?
According to the AP, this week (Jan. 20), Iran and Russia signed “an agreement to expand military cooperation.” Iran and Russia are old antagonists, but given current circumstances vis a vis the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, Tehran and Moscow may be following an old Machiavellian adage: “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The deal includes counter-terror cooperation, military training and “enabling each country’s navy to use the other’s ports more frequently.”
For years Iran has sought Russian air defense weapons, presumably to thwart a U.S. strike on its nuclear facilities. However, the agreement’s naval port clause attracts my interest. About a third of the globe’s exported oil moves on tankers through the Persian Gulf’s Indian Ocean outlet, the Strait of Hormuz. To spike oil prices, Iran often threatens to close Hormuz. If Iran actually tried to shut the Strait, Western nations have assured Gulf Arab oil producers that they will respond militarily.
November 30, 2014
In Britain’s Weekly Worker — subtitled “A paper of Marxist polemic and Marxist unity” — Yassamine Mather argues that the demand for “safe spaces” is insulting to women and denies their legal and moral equality with men:
In her speech to LU conference the Communist Platform’s Tina Becker, arguing against the proposed ‘safe spaces’ document, said it was patronising and bureaucratic. What did she mean by these two adjectives?
The idea that women in leftwing organisations need ‘protection’, as opposed to ‘empowerment’, is what is patronising. No doubt Felicity Dowling’s extensive work in dealing with child abuse cases and fighting for children’s rights is commendable. However, time and time again when she speaks about safe spaces she starts with abused children, before moving swiftly to the need for safe places for women, gays, blacks in society and, by extension, in the organisations of the left. I disagree with such a classification of women, gays and blacks as weak creatures — actual and potential victims who constantly need ‘protection’ from the rest of society.
On the contrary, as adults they need a progressive culture that encourages them and everyone else to challenge sexism, homophobia and racism. Comrades in Left Unity are not weak creatures: they are conscious individuals who recognise capitalism as their enemy — that is why they are in politics. They do not need protective legislation of the type social workers use when dealing with vulnerable children.
Here the example that comes to my mind is the struggles of Iranian women over the last 35 years. They had to fight misogyny not only at home, but in every aspect of social, political and economic life. The state claimed that their ‘safety’ was best maintained by segregation — in the home, or beneath the hijab in the street. But women rejected this from the first days of the Islamic Republic. They took to the streets and fought against misogynist legislation and, although there are still many battles to win, they have made great strides against all odds — to such an extent that the women’s movement in Iran is by far the most significant social movement of the region. Would they have been able to achieve this if in their battles against misogyny they had retreated to ‘safe spaces’? Of course not. On the contrary, it is precisely the ‘safe spaces’ provided by the clerical regime that they are rebelling against.
On the left the most effective way to fight sexism and racism is to make sure we battle against privileged positions and the abuse of power, against secrecy and cronyism. It was not lack of safe spaces that led to the disastrous situation in the Socialist Workers Party. It was secrecy, the power of those in authority, their ability to use ‘confidentiality’ to suppress reporting. A ‘safe spaces’ policy cannot protect women from a ‘comrade Delta’.
H/T to Natalie Solent for the link.
November 7, 2014
On Feb. 14, 1989, I happened to be on a panel on press freedom for the Columbia Journalism Review when someone in the audience told us of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s religious edict for blasphemy against the British novelist Salman Rushdie. What did we think? We didn’t, as I best recall, disgrace ourselves. We said most of the right things about defending freedom of thought and the imagination.
But the death sentence from Iran’s supreme leader seemed unreal — the sending of a thunderbolt from medieval Qom against modern Bloomsbury — and we didn’t treat it with the seriousness that it deserved. I recall, alas, making a very poor joke about literary deconstructionism. My colleagues, though more sensible, were baffled and hesitant. Was it even true — or perhaps just a mistranslation?
We knew soon enough that it was true. The literary, media and political worlds rallied in defense of Mr. Rushdie. He became a hero of free speech and a symbol — even if a slightly ambivalent postcolonial one — of Western liberal traditions. But he also went, very sensibly, behind a curtain of security that was to last many years.
And by degrees — when it seemed that not only Mr. Rushdie’s life but the lives of his publishers, editors and translators might be threatened — his base of support in the literary world thinned out. Sensitive intellectuals discovered that, in a multicultural world, respect for the Other meant understanding his traditions too, and these often were, well, sterner than ours. Freedom of speech was only one value to be set against…ahem, several other values. Fear, cowardice and rationalization spread outward.
John O’Sullivan, “No Offense: The New Threats to Free Speech”, Wall Street Journal, 2014-10-31.
September 17, 2014
Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition …
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, meeting in Qom “Broadcast by radio Iran from Qom on 20 August 1979.” quoted in Taheri, The Spirit of Allah (1985) p.259
September 7, 2014
Strategy Page looks at the various forces and factions opposed to the rise of the Caliphate of ISIS:
In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offshoot Islamic terrorism, comes in many different flavors. Most groups are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL.
Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.
Islamic terrorism has long been trapped in a self-destructive cycle of its own making. It works like this. Islamic radicals obtain their popularity and power by proclaiming that they are defending Islam from non-believers and sinners (within Islam, often local Moslem dictators). In order to maintain this moral superiority, the Islamic radicals must be better Moslems, and insist that others do as they do. Since Islam is a religion that dictates how one lives, in considerable detail, as well as how one plays, this business of being a “good Moslem” can get tricky. And it is. There’s a race underway by Islamic radicals, and the clergy that provide theological support, to issue, and enforce, more and more rules on how a good Moslem should live.
May 22, 2014
Tiffany Jenkins says that the rising demand for trigger warnings are like a loaded gun pointed at the head of literature:
In Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, the Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi recalls how, when living in the Islamic Republic of Iran, she secretly brought together seven female students in her living room every Thursday morning so they could read and discuss forbidden classic works of Western literature. These books were considered ‘anti-revolutionary’ and ‘morally harmful’ by the Iranian authorities. Nafisi and the girls put themselves at risk so they could enter the worlds created by writers that included Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, Jane Austen and F Scott Fitzgerald.
Nafisi’s passion for literature and her defiance of the authorities is inspiring, as is the determination of the girls who attended her class, but Reading Lolita in Tehran is an upsetting read. Books – ideas – are powerful, of course, and deal with difficult and sometimes questionable ideas, but they are not so powerful that we should be prevented from studying them, and it makes me angry to think that those wonderful, if tragic and complicated, worlds of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze, are not available to everyone in many parts of the world. All because those books are considered immoral, and because women, especially, are deemed too susceptible to negative influences.
One thing a novel never is is simple. That’s why we read them, because they are challenging and thoughtful. You don’t read The Great Gatsby or any other book to learn about whether it is good or bad to betray your husband, or long after a lost love, or make loads or money, or to hit your mistress, or commit suicide, you read to explore how complicated, and human, these desires, wishes and acts are. And there is no such thing as the ‘last word’ when it comes to a novel. The ongoing conversation between readers and writers shouldn’t be curtailed, or deemed too difficult a task for us. What we know or think is never complete or final.
As someone who has taught many students, I can say that most lecturers have faith in their students and know how to help students with issues navigate difficult material. What the students calling for trigger warnings fail to realise is that these are issues that will never be addressed by a warning sticker.
This is a generation of students, it would seem, that does not want university to be a place of free thought, of experimentation, and of reading the best that has been known and thought. This is a generation that sees knowledge as dangerous and themselves as incapable of dealing with it, who seem to want to erase from the world any written words that address complexity, difficulty, nastiness, or the depth of human feeling. These students don’t want to be disturbed, stretched or challenged, and nor do they want others to be. It is a generation that just wants to be sheltered from the world, from one another and even themselves. These are students who, if they are not careful, will find that members of their classes are forced to organise private reading groups in their own homes in order to experience a world of literature that is being denied to them.
October 13, 2013
When the time came for us to leave Persia and make the long trek back to Iraq, we stopped again for a few days with Robertson in Kermanshah. Then I said good-bye to my host, my Persian friends, and to his house with keen regret — with, as a matter of fact, a secret personal regret.
As a junior officer in the first World War, I had been presumptuous enough sometimes to hope that if I survived and were not found out, I might with tremendous luck, by the time the next great war arrived, be a general. Then, I fondly imagined my headquarters would move from château to château, from which I would occasionally emerge, fortified by good wine and French cooking, to wish the troops the best of luck in their next attack. Alas, when the time did come and, by good fortune in the game of military snakes and ladders, I found myself a general, I was so inept in my choice of theatres that no châteaux were available. More often than not, I had to make do with a plot of desert sand, a tree in the African bush, or a patch of jungle, while my cuisine was based on bully beef and the vintages of my imagination were replaced by over-chlorinated water. Once or twice, however, I did get, if not my château with its chef and its cellar, at least an excellent substitute — an oil company bungalow. Once having sampled its comfort I would not have swapped Robertson’s house for all the châteaux of the Loire. Dug in there, a delectable future had spread before me in which I achieved my youthful ambition and conducted the war from linen-sheeted bed and luxurious long bath. But, like other youthful hopes, the vision faded. I was once more, had I known it, destined to châteaux-less wilderness.
Field Marshal William Slim, “Persian Pattern”, Unofficial History, 1959.
May 5, 2013
Strategy Page looks at some of the widely held beliefs in some Islamic countries:
… in most countries where there is a dominant religion, especially a state approved one, there is usually still a fear that the previous religion (or religions) will try to make a comeback. The former faiths often involved some really old-school stuff, including magic and sometimes animal, or even human, sacrifice. It is not uncommon for there to be civil laws covering those accused to be practicing such sorcery, and severe punishments for those convicted. At the very least, the accused will be driven from any senior government jobs they might hold, and that’s what’s being done to dozens of Ahmadinejad associates.
All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts.
For example, back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when women and children, and Moslems, are among the victims, other Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).
[. . .]
American troops arriving in Iraq after 2003 went through a real culture shock as they encountered these cultural differences. They also discovered that the cause of this, and many other Arab problems, is the concept of “inshallah” (“If God wills it.”) This is a basic tenet of Islam, although some scholars believe the attitude was a cultural trait that preceded Islam. In any event, “inshallah” is deadly when combined with modern technology. For this reason, Arab countries either have poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment (including military stuff), or import a lot of foreigners, possessing the right attitudes, to maintain everything. That minority of Arabs who do have a realistic attitude towards maintenance and personal responsibility are considered odd, but useful.
The “inshallah” thing is made worse by a stronger belief in the supernatural, and magic in general. This often extends to technology. Thus many Iraqis believed that American troops wore sunglasses that enabled them to see through clothing, and armor vests that were actually air conditioned. When they first encounter these beliefs, U.S. troops thought the Arabs are putting them on. Then it sinks in that Arabs really believe this stuff. It’s a scary moment.
April 27, 2013
Strategy Page provides some background on the possibility of conflict on the Caspian in the post-Soviet era:
The Caspian Sea, long a Russian lake, is now witnessing a naval arms race. Before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the only nations bordering the Caspian were Russia (with most of the coastline) and Iran. But now those two nations have been joined by parts of the Soviet Union that have become independent states (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan). It goes downhill from there.
Iran shares a land border with Azerbaijan and has a historical claim on Azerbaijan. In the 19th century Azerbaijan (as in the area occupied the Azeris, a Turkic people) was divided by Russia and Iran. Currently about a quarter of the Iranian population is Azeri, but the Azeris of Azerbaijan believe all Azeris should be part of an independent Azerbaijan. This was how it was for centuries before Turkey, Russia and Iran began seeking to conquer Azerbaijan. Some Iranian Azeris like this idea and Iran is always looking for ways to make Azerbaijan back off. So Iran is building up its Caspian naval forces, which is annoying Russia more than Azerbaijan.
The Iranian buildup includes a new corvette, an Iranian built 1,400 ton ship. Azerbaijan responded by buying $1.6 billion worth of weapons from Israel (which angered Iran a great deal.) Among the items ordered were Gabriel anti-ship missiles. These are 522 kg (1,150 pound) weapons with a range of 36 kilometers. Azerbaijan will use these to protect its Caspian Sea coast from the growing number of Iranian warships being introduced in the area. Most of the Iranian Caspian “fleet” consists of small patrol boats. Some are armed with anti-ship missiles but they are basically coast guard type craft.
What really controls the Caspian is aircraft and Russia has the most of those. Russia also has the only water link to the ocean and thus the ability to bring in more warships on short notice. These, plus Russia’s larger air force gives Russia the edge.