For almost 30 years, the Republic of Azerbaijan had to walk in fuzzy international corridors seeking a peaceful solution to Armenia’s illegal occupation of around 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, including the Nagorno-Karabakh region and 7 nearby districts.
The impeding forces to accomplish the peace Azerbaijan was seeking for so long were Armenia and its main allies, Iran and Russia.
Iran in Karabakh
In April 2020 I penned the op-ed “Iran’s Tentacles Scattered Around Armenian-Occupied Nagorno-Karabakh” in which I asked why Iran – a self-proclaimed “guardian of all the world’s Muslims” – supports the ongoing Armenian occupation of territories of majority Shiite-Muslim Azerbaijan.
During 30 years of occupation of Karabakh, one other problem Iran was causing Azerbaijan was using the Armenian-illegally controlled Iran-Azerbaijan 132 kilometer border, to export drugs from Afghanistan to the West.
— Raoul Lowery Contreras (@sdrlc) August 20, 2021
Furthermore, for years, Iranian plunderers eagerly helped Armenia to loot the occupied Azerbaijani villages, towns and cities.
2020 Armenia-Azerbaijan War in Karabakh
In September 2020 a new war erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
As a result of this 44-day war, Azerbaijan liberated around 10,000 square kilometers of its rightful territory from the 30-year-long Armenian illegal occupation.
On November 10, 2020, a ceasefire agreement, brokered by Russia, was reached. Armenia agreed to capitulate and voluntarily withdraw from three remaining districts of Azerbaijan.
In line with the ceasefire agreement Russian peacekeepers were deployed for 5 years in the remaining 2.5 thousand square kilometer territory of Azerbaijan, where ethnic Armenians continue to live. Additionally, Azerbaijan agreed to a 5 kilometer-wide corridor, called the Lachin corridor, to be used only by Karabakh’s ethnic Armenian civilians traveling to Armenia, as well as by the Russian peacekeepers.
The War Ended but the Recklessness Continues
On August 11, 2021 Azerbaijan handed a diplomatic note to Iran over ‘illegal crossings’ to Karabakh. The note expresses dissatisfaction with “recent continuous entry-exit of various vehicles (trucks) belonging to Iran.”
For several months, Iranian trucks carrying various materials to ethnic Armenians residing in Karabakh, but primarily fuel, have been illegally traveling to the areas of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region that are now under Russian peacekeepers’ control.
Since this entire area is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan’s sovereign territory, and logically any unauthorized entry into this territory is illegal, Azerbaijan demands that the Russian peacekeepers ask for an official travel permission from Azerbaijan.
What we see here is that the Russian peacekeepers are not holding their peacekeeping duty side of the ceasefire bargain.
Verifying the Iranian trucks’ illicit travel are various videos and photos from Karabakh and the Lachin Corridor showing the trucks’ Iranian license number plates.
Azerbaijan demands from Iran to end this illegal conduct.
Iran-Armenia Alliance Emerges
It is no secret that Iran backs Armenia. When, in 1991, Azerbaijan gained its independence from the USSR, Iran hoped that Azerbaijan would be its Shiite-Muslim “brother-in-arms” and join Iran in its ongoing hostility toward the United States and Israel. Azerbaijan, however, took a different route; it declared a separation of state and religion, refused to be part of any Iranian geopolitical agenda against the West and had been building strong alliances with the United States, Israel and Europe.
When it comes to Azerbaijan, Iran also has a population predicament. Iran’s north-western areas are heavily populated with some 30 million-strong indigenous ethnic Azerbaijanis, considered to be Iran’s largest ethnic minority. This major minority has been deprived of their basic cultural rights, hence, they are increasingly frustrated about their status in Iran. This keeps the leaders in Tehran up at night, constantly concerned of possible nationalistic insurgency among the country’s ethnic Azerbaijanis.
It was therefore quite natural for Iran to join forces with Armenia against Azerbaijan in line with the ancient axiom “enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Apart from having strong economic cooperation, in 2010, Wikileaks exposed to the entire world that in 2003 Armenia secretly transferred weapons to Iran, which were later used by terrorists in Iraq to kill and maim American soldiers.
Moreover, at the same time, Armenia allowed Iran to sidestep U.S and the international banking sanctions.
With Azerbaijan completely restoring its border with Iran and recovering its territorial loss, the country’s strength and influence in the region is growing. That makes Iran’s concerns even more manifest. A growing stronger, secular and independent Republic of Azerbaijan will therefore continue to be a regional thorn in the eyes of Iran. Consequently, it is in Iran’s best interest not to allow the defeated Armenia become even weaker while it wants to keep Azerbaijan in check.
Here, Iran’s and Russia’s goals match. With the Russian peacekeepers ignoring their duties and allowing Armenian armed forces to enter the area as well as Iranian trucks heading for Karabakh, both countries are helping Armenia regain its strength, creating obstacles for Azerbaijan’s growing role in the region.
No matter the uphill battle, Azerbaijan is keeping a watchful eye on the situation. It has allocated a substantial budget to build all the needed infrastructure in the liberated areas: three international airports (one is almost ready and will start operations in September 2021), 11 highways and multiple tunnels (under 10,000 feet high mountains) power stations, water pipelines. All of these will bring the regained territory back to its old glory and even better.
Companies from Israel, the U.S. Italy and Turkey are already actively participating in Azerbaijan’s reconstruction of the liberated areas. The reconstruction supports the over 1 million forcibly displaced Azerbaijanis to soon begin returning to their villages, towns and cities from where they were expelled 30 years ago.
Iran and Russia should stop creating impediments for the long-term regional peace, justice and prosperity in the South Caucasus.