Recent Political Dynamics between Iran and Azerbaijan (OPINION)
By Shahmar Hajiyev and Narmin Musayeva
Since the end of the 44-day Karabakh War, Iranian-Azerbaijani relations had entered a new level as Azerbaijan ultimately restored a full control of the state border with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The recent tensions between Baku and Tehran can be characterized as the Iranian unwillingness to adapt to new geopolitical realities emerging on a regional and global level. On the background of such developments, Tehran held a military exercise called "Mighty Iran" between October 17-20, 2022 across the Aras river that is also part of the border between Azerbaijan and Armenia. During the military drills, Iran's military forces used heavy armored and artillery units, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and electronic warfare tools. Iranian military officials stated that kamikaze UAVs were actively tested, and UAVs successfully destroyed all enemy targets. More importantly, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Force practiced how to bridge the Aras River on the border with Azerbaijan. However, the Commander Mohammad Pakpour also noted that “the military exercise is not a threat to neighboring countries, and added that this exercise sends positive messages to those countries that Iran will protect peace, friendship, stability, and borders, so that they will never change”.
It is worth noting that since the beginning of the Second Karabakh War, when Azerbaijan liberated its historical lands from Armenian occupation, Tehran frequently targeted Baku with special messages. The Iranian administration, which cannot accept the removal of Armenians from Karabakh, emphasizes at every opportunity that it is against a possible change on the map. While looking behind the reasons why Iran raised its verbal tensions with Azerbaijan, it is possible to notice certain factors. The first reason is referring to the increase in political, military, economic and cultural relations between Azerbaijan and Turkiye including joint military exercises. Moreover, the development of relations between Azerbaijan and Israel also led to reconvergence of Armenia and Iran. Last but not least, it is about the fear that strong Azerbaijan may have a powerful influence on Azerbaijani Turks living under the Iranian regime.
Tehran’s further argue is about the opening of Zangezur Corridor. They argue actively that the opening of Zenzegur corridor is an essential border change in the region. According to Iran’s speculations, the opening of this corridor will eliminate Iran's common border with Armenia. It is obvious that the corridor will not lead to such an outcome, but Iran's view of the issue is far different from reality. Thus, considering the last exercises Iran aimed to intimidate not only Azerbaijan, but also Turkiye and Israel. Even the Iranian Chief of General Staff Mohammad Bagheri mentioned: "If the Armenian borders change, we will intervene". What he means by “intervention” basically equals to attacking Azerbaijan. It is interesting that the same Iran maintained its silence for 30 years when border change happened due to the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani lands.
Also, considering recent protests in Iran threatening the regime, undermined seriously the Iranian administration. While trying to suppress the protests violently, the Iranian regime is bombing Northern Iraq, and it also aims to prove the power of the regime to the outside world by conducting military exercises on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
It is clear that Iran uses Armenia as a balance in the region against Azerbaijan, which is getting stronger economically and politically. Despite the fact that Iran has very poor relations with the US, Tehran also thinks of overcoming regional problems using the Armenian diaspora in the US that has pursued a strong propaganda power for years. For instance, during the Second Karabakh War, Iran continued to transport various cargo to the separatist regime in Karabakh. As a response, Baku arrested some of the drivers who entered Azerbaijani territory without permission. It is very important to underline that Tehran increased energy supplies to Armenia during the Karabakh war as well.
Although allegations and images were shared that Iran was carrying weapons and energy supplies to the separatist regime in Karabakh, Tehran did not accept all these confirmed materials. In the previous days, Iran opened a Consulate in the Armenian city of Kapan, located near the planned route of the Zangezur Corridor that will connect Azerbaijan to its Nakhchivan Autonomous region. Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amir Abdullahyan told his Armenian counterpart, Ararat Mirzoyan, that “they acknowledge the security of Armenia as the security of Iran”.
The fact is that, Iran supports Armenia on many issues using the Azerbaijan-Israel rapprochement as an excuse. Eventually, Iran is unable to achieve the desired success in diplomacy since Tehran tries to display its hard power to the regional countries. This type of politics cannot be successful and effective regarding Azerbaijan. Unlike Iran, Turkiye and Azerbaijan are making efforts in the normalization process with Armenia, and if Armenia agrees to establish peace and economic cooperation with Azerbaijan and Turkiye, Tehran will be completely alone in the region. For the future stability and prosperity of the region, Iran must change its aggressive position towards regional states. As Turkiye and Azerbaijan, Iran can target long awaited peace in the South Caucasus by supporting opening of transport corridors and full economic integration.
In the end, Azerbaijan’s position is based on peaceful solutions of all disagreements, and unlike Tehran, Baku respects the territorial integrity of all neighboring countries. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan notes - “Azerbaijan considers its borders with Iran as an opportunity to develop future perspectives regarding trade and further interactions”. It highlights that Armenia’s negative approach in border discourse does not only block railway communication with Azerbaijan’s Nakchivan region, but also with Iran.
Shahmar Hajiyev, a senior advisor at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center), and Narmin Musayeva, an intern at the AIR Center, especially for News.Az