Text resize: A A
Change contrast

Disgruntled Iran poses security threats to Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan’s victory in the Second Karabakh War two and a half years ago created a new security situation in the South Caucasus that raised concerns in certain states. This is particularly true in the case of Iran, which continues to pressure Baku through various means.

May 17, 2023 - Vasif Huseynov - Articles and Commentary

The border between Azerbaijan and Iran in Astara on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Photo: Mieszko9 / Shutterstock

The Second Karabakh War (September 27th – November 10th, 2020), known also as the 44-day War, changed the geopolitical landscape of the South Caucasus. In this war with Armenia, Azerbaijan succeeded in liberating its territories that had been occupied for up to three decades. The international community, including Iran, recognised Azerbaijan’s right to retake these territories, as a number of international documents and four resolutions from the United Nations Security Council clearly recognised the area as part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

This war brought new dynamics to Iran’s policies with respect to the South Caucasus, the region that borders the Islamic Republic to the north.

The 44-day War and its outcomes were the first major signal of the erosion of Russian hegemony in the post-Soviet South Caucasus. Russia was previously seen by many as the major guarantor of the pre-war status-quo between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and as the force that averted the eruption of a large war between the two sides.

Azerbaijan’s resurgence in 2020 in the face of Russia’s failure to protect the status quo was at odds with Iran’s traditional vision of its northern neighbourhood.

Tehran had been used to treating the countries of the South Caucasus without any independent agency, as part of Russia’s sphere of influence in accordance with the outcomes of the wars between the Russian Empire and Persia in the early 19th century.

Russia was also seen in Tehran as a bulwark against the incursion of other external actors in the South Caucasus. This situation has also changed with the deployment of Turkey’s monitoring mission in Karabakh and Azerbaijan’s growing defence ties with Israel in the aftermath of the 2020 war.

The change in the regional balance of power caused a number of new concerns and exacerbated older ones in the Iranian capital.

The 2020 war, which turned out to be a big step towards the settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, alarmed Iranian leaders. They feared that Azerbaijan was on the path to overcoming the geopolitical redlines of Russia. An assertive Azerbaijan that is in an alliance with Turkey and Israel is unacceptable to Iran.

The Iranian media and many high-ranking officials openly describe Azerbaijan as a vassal state of Israel. One such article appeared in a media outlet close to the government of Iran, calling Azerbaijan “Yahudistan” (a Jewish state) and voicing a list of threats and warnings against Baku.

Along with geopolitical risks, Tehran is also concerned about the implications of Azerbaijan’s more assertive position on Iran’s domestic politics. There are up to over 20 million ethnic Azerbaijanis living in its territories, with most concentrated in the northern part of Iran. This was the area that came under Iranian control after the aforementioned wars with Russia in the early 1800s. It is still viewed as “South Azerbaijan” by Azerbaijanis. The occasional calls from some western countries and Israel for greater support for the independence aspirations of the Azerbaijani provinces of Iran further agitates the country.

In order to counter these developments, the Islamic Republic has taken a list of measures.

These measures include practicing for a military confrontation with Azerbaijan, building an alliance with Armenia, and countering Azerbaijan’s efforts to optimise the country’s connectivity projects.

In this context, Iranian leaders question Azerbaijan’s independence and its ethnic identity, claiming that Azerbaijan was a historical part of Iran and should return to Iranian control. One of the latest claims was made by Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ali Fadavi, who reiterated these historical claims against Azerbaijan. He said that this country was separated from Iran due to the incompetence of the Qajar kings.

Attempting to take advantage of the many Shiite believers in Azerbaijan, he openly called for a change of government in Baku. He stated that “The people of Azerbaijan are Shiite believers who did not lose their original Shiite beliefs under the 70 years of communist pressure. As a rule, there should be a government that pays special attention to this Shiite majority of Azerbaijan.”

These verbal attacks against Azerbaijan are disseminated by Iranian experts in both national and international media. For instance, Fardin Eftekhari, an Iranian researcher, mirroring the vision of the Iranian government, claims that Azerbaijan is no longer focused on only restoring its territorial integrity but rather envisions changes in regional interstate borders. He ultimately claims that Baku is preparing for the invasion of Armenia.

Thus, Iran views Armenia as an ally and seeks to combine forces with this country against Azerbaijan and its allies Turkey and Israel.

In late 2022, Azerbaijani media reported that 14 people from Iran entered the Karabakh region of Azerbaijan through the Lachin road “to conduct sabotage and terrorist exercises for armed Armenian gangs who are still present in the Azerbaijani territories temporarily monitored by the Russian peacekeepers”. There are also reports about Iran’s free of charge military supplies to Armenia, as well as its transfer of combat drones to Yerevan.

It is reported that Iran has been amassing its troops near the border with Azerbaijan, and high-ranking officials, including the commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces and Border Troops visited the area. It is worth noting that Iran has conducted at least two military exercises along its interstate border with Azerbaijan since the 2020 Karabakh War, while it had never held similar exercises in this region before this conflict.

Tehran masks its concerns with false-flag allegations.

One major issue that Tehran refers to in this context is related to a possible change in interstate borders due to connectivity projects like the Zangezur corridor. This corridor, proposed in the Armenia-Azerbaijan-Russia deal following the 44-day War, is supposed to serve as a land passage for connecting mainland Azerbaijan with its Nakhchivan exclave via southern Armenia. Iran has warned against this project, claiming that it may cut off its geographical connection with Armenia.

Iran continues these accusations despite assurances from the Russian and Azerbaijani governments. For example, the Russian side has declared repeatedly that no extraterritoriality will be applied to the transportation routes that are planned to be opened between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Thus, both countries are expected to retain their sovereignty over the routes that pass through their respective territory. In another assurance, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated on October 14th that his country “had no intention of occupying the territory of Armenia, as some may assume.”

Nevertheless, Iran is exacerbating tensions in the region by asserting false-flag allegations against Azerbaijan. These tensions were reflected over the past few months in the lethal attack against the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran (January 2023), a non-stop flight by an Iranian military aircraft along the Azerbaijan-Iran state border (March 2023), an assassination attempt against an Azerbaijani parliamentarian critical of Iran (March 2023), and the crackdown in Azerbaijan on Iran’s spy network.

These developments raise concerns in the region that there may be a military confrontation between the two sides, which would cause catastrophic outcomes for regional peace and stability.

Dr. Vasif Huseynov is the head of the Western Studies Department at the Center of Analysis of International Relations (AIR Center) and Adjunct Lecturer at both ADA and Khazar Universities in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Please support New Eastern Europe's crowdfunding campaign. Donate by clicking on the button below.

, ,


Terms of Use | Cookie policy | Copyryight 2024 Kolegium Europy Wschodniej im. Jana Nowaka-Jeziorańskiego 31-153 Kraków
Agencja digital: hauerpower studio krakow.
We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active
Poniższa Polityka Prywatności – klauzule informacyjne dotyczące przetwarzania danych osobowych w związku z korzystaniem z serwisu internetowego https://neweasterneurope.eu/ lub usług dostępnych za jego pośrednictwem Polityka Prywatności zawiera informacje wymagane przez przepisy Rozporządzenia Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady 2016/679 w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (RODO). Całość do przeczytania pod tym linkiem
Save settings
Cookies settings