Iran and Azerbaijan.. Are we witnessing a new cold war in the Caucasus?

Translation introduction:

As Baku and Tehran forge their diplomatic paths, the mutual view between the two countries becomes more antagonistic and hostile. In this article, author Eldar Mammadov discusses the roots of the Iran-Azerbaijan rivalry, and how the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh has fueled cold conflicts in the Caucasus.

Translation text:

As tensions subsided after weeks of bickering and rhetorical escalation between the two countries, on November 5 the foreign ministers of Iran and Azerbaijan held a phone call in which they blamed “those who wanted evil” for trying to exploit the “recent misunderstanding between the two neighbors,” as stated in a text Statement issued by Iran. However, short-term rapprochement and blaming others will only serve to obfuscate major shifts already underway in the relationship between the two countries. Although war drills military and insults As the mutual relations have ended, the divergence of geopolitical options for Baku and Tehran is pushing each of them on opposite paths, and exacerbating the risks of friction between them in the future.

Azerbaijan’s military victory over Armenia in 2020, with Turkish and Israeli support and Russian silence, has only increased Baku’s conviction that its military and diplomatic strategy is working, and that there is no reason to change it. On the contrary, the war marginalized Iran. Baku showed little interest in the peace plans proposed by Tehran, while the latter did not like the developments since the end of the war, especially with regard to the expanding presence of Israel – Tehran’s archenemy – on its northern borders.

Baku, in turn, sensed that Iran’s fears could be ignored, given its new, solid alliances, and its emerging military confidence, which explains why it took Arrest Two Iranian truck drivers last September after passing through Azerbaijan-controlled territory on their way to Armenia-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh. Although the dispute could be resolved with quiet diplomacy behind closed doors in the two capitals, Baku chose to direct express message To Tehran that it will not accept what it believes is an infringement on its sovereignty. And then Iran launched Unprecedented military exercises The proximity of the border is a reaction to the Azerbaijani position.

Azerbaijan and the balance of Turkish-Iranian relations

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev tried to be boldly, but he couldn’t hide Amazed and worried From the escalation of Iran, and despite the response of the websites supporting the Azerbaijani government to the crisis by praising the resilience of the country’s armed forces, it is clear that the military confrontation with Iran – a country with a population eight times larger than its northern neighbor – is not in Azerbaijan’s interest, especially since Baku’s main ally (Turkey) will probably not go to fight in a war against Iran on behalf of Azerbaijan.

Over the past years, Turkish-Iranian relations have witnessed a noticeable deterioration on more than one level, and the South Caucasus file was one of them. Iran does not like the apparent expansion of Ankara’s role in that region, especially its growing influence in Baku. However, the two sides were keen not to sour their relations too much, and took steps to defuse the crises between them. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian expressed,his joyTo host his “brother” and his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Tehran on November 15, a visit that paves the way for the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is supposed to take place soon and that you are discussing It contains a roadmap for the future of relations between the two countries.

But even if an agreement is actually signed at that time, it will not fundamentally change the current course of Turkish-Iranian relations. While political Islam recedes in Turkey and conservative nationalism rises, Ankara will continue to consolidate its alliance with Baku in conjunction with expanding its influence among the Central Asian republics with Turkish cultural ties. This explains Turkey’s support for the planned transport route with Azerbaijan (which the latter calls the “Zangezur Corridor”) passing through Armenia, which will effectively isolate Iran.

However, maintaining channels for dialogue between Ankara and Tehran will facilitate the management of differences, especially since Iran has relations with the PKK and may exploit them against Turkey, and then decision-makers in Baku will have to realize the limits of Turkish support in the event of a future conflict with Tehran.

Baku on the line of the Iran-Israel conflict

As for the close relations between Azerbaijan and Israel, several different dimensions are presented to us. Baku made great use of Israeli military technology during its war with Armenia, especially drones. Moreover, pro-Israel organizations have consistently played a key role in supporting Azerbaijani lobbying efforts in Washington, a role largely directed at neutralizing rival Armenian lobbies and vitriolic human rights criticism of Baku. In return, Azerbaijan is expected to give Tel Aviv the opportunity to carry out its intelligence activities against Iran.

At the same time, as the latest Iranian-Azerbaijani tug-of-war cooled off, the state-owned Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy announced hosted by One of the Washington experts who openly advocate dividing Iran according to the ethnic groups present in it, because it is beneficial to Israel. Looking at the statements hostility Issued by Israeli officials in the same context regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the ambiguity surrounding the revival of the Vienna Agreement between Iran and the major powers that placed restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities in the past, Tehran views Azerbaijan today as potential location to initiate an Israeli military offensive.

This Iranian view of Azerbaijan as a growing danger pushes Iran to reinforce its military deterrence mechanisms against Baku. The influential website “Iranian Diplomat” (Iranian diplomacy), which is linked to “Sadeq Kharazi”, a former distinguished Iranian diplomat, published: article In it, he criticized what he described as “Iran’s appeasement policies towards Ankara and Baku”, and called for a stronger defense of “Iran’s national interests in the north.”

In practice, relying on Armenia will be the first and direct way for Iran to take a tougher stance, as the aforementioned article demands. Although many in Baku believe that the truck drivers’ incident ended in Azerbaijan’s favour, as Iran eventually committed to banning its trucks from entering Nagorno-Karabakh, the reality is a little more complicated than that vision, as Iran’s concession in this matter The owner of her decision It is clear that from now on it would choose Armenia as a trade route between North and South in general instead of Azerbaijan, and thus deprived the latter of valuable trade opportunities. There are other Iranian steps that may have perilous consequences for Azerbaijan.

The push and pull between two national narratives

Ilham Aliyev and Ebrahim Raisi meeting​​​​​​​- - ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN - NOVEMBER 28: (----EDITORIAL USE ONLY – MANDATORY CREDIT - "PRESIDENCY OF IRAN / HANDOUT" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS----) President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev meets Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi within the 15th Summit of Economic Cooperation Organization in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on November 28, 2021.Ilham Aliyev and Ibrahim Raisi

Iran has long made efforts to cultivate its own supporters, primarily through its Shiite religious organizations. However, none of this has paid off in Azerbaijan, where few are attracted to the Iranian regime, and religious Shiites in Azerbaijan are not necessarily pro-Iranian. However, decades of international boycotts have allowed Iran to develop highly effective skills in the field of irregular wars, and the absence of any faction that fights by proxy in Azerbaijan, like Lebanon and Iraq, does not mean that Tehran will stop trying. The proxy war, its success, will reconcile its methods with the different strategic theater of the South Caucasus.

Simultaneously with all this, internal developments are taking place in Azerbaijan and Iran that are deepening the gap between the two peoples. The authorities in Baku used the recent crisis with Iran to crack down on those it claimed were “Iran sympathizers.” close A number of Shiite religious websites, andArrest Some prominent Shiite clerics, although evidence of pro-Iranian activity among them is faint, if any. at the same time, keep going The state-owned media criticized Iran for its meddling in Azerbaijan’s affairs.

Liberal nationalist ideas are common in Azerbaijan these days, inspired by the idea of ​​“reunification” of the Republic of Azerbaijan with the Iranian province of “Azerbaijan” (which the nationalists of Azerbaijan call “South Azerbaijan”), which is located in northern Iran, where ethnic Azeris predominate (about a quarter of the population in Iran). (It should be noted that belonging to Iran is more likely in Iranian Azerbaijan, which has been part of Iran for 800 years, and the Republic of Azerbaijan did not go through its long journey under the banner of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and despite that, there are some demands for autonomy that appeared throughout the modern history of Iranian Azerbaijan Especially since it occupies a central place in the history of Iran).*

From Iran’s side, a counter-movement is growing to refute these Azerbaijani claims. And it becomes imperative under Iranian counterclaims that Azerbaijan unite with the “Iranian motherland” after it was carved out by the Russian Empire from Persian rule in the nineteenth century, and these are views that have gained popularity recently in Iran, especially at the level of popular discourse. The reformist daily “Sharq” newspaper played a pivotal role in Spread These claims, but these views are not limited to the reformist circles in Iran, as Iranian nationalism in general has become a solid rope that helps connect the various population groups in the country (of which the non-Persian ethnic minorities make up about half, most notably the Azerbaijanis, the Kurds, the Turkmen and the Arabs)*.

As Baku and Tehran forge their diplomatic paths, public opinion in both countries is increasingly hostile and competitive, and it seems that Iran and Azerbaijan are on this collision course for the foreseeable future.


*Translator’s Notes


Translation: Nour Khairy.

This article is translated from Eurasianet It does not necessarily represent the site of Medan.

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