The changing geopolitics of the South Caucasus is rapidly emerging as a new global flashpoint. It is not clear if last week’s attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran is linked to rising tensions between Iran and Baku. Developments in Isfahan and Tehran on Sunday raise further concerns. Still, there are major reasons to believe that this vicious cycle in relations cannot be stopped unless both countries do more to get them back on a constructive track.
Indeed, there is much that Iran and Azerbaijan can do together. That is, in the field of economic cooperation. This could include the completion of the much touted International North-South Corridor (INSC) that will cross the two countries to provide a new trade shipping route from the Indian Ocean to Europe. Meanwhile, the respective leaders of Iran and Azerbaijan are making certain geopolitical calculations that are increasingly likely to make friendly relations a difficult goal to achieve.
First, let’s set the scene. Iran and Azerbaijan are close on many levels. Both countries are predominantly Shia Muslim. About 10 million people live in Azerbaijan, while an estimated 15 million to he 20 million Azerbaijanis live in Iran. This separation occurred in the 19th century when the Persian Empire lost its white territories to the Russians. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Iran welcomed the birth of the Republic of Azerbaijan and never seriously invested in exporting its Islamist ideology to its Shia compatriots in the north.
There were two simple reasons. First, after centuries of Russian and Soviet rule, independent Azerbaijanis generally did not accept Tehran’s reactionary Islamist ideology. , making it clear that Moscow does not look sympathetic to an Iranian (or other Middle Eastern) invasion of the former Soviet Union’s southern territories. Already marginalized by the West, Iran has chosen not to upset Moscow’s sensitivities. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tehran has respected Russia’s control over the South Caucasus.
This situation collapsed in 2020. This is the year Baku fought a new war with Armenia over disputed territory. Tehran was caught off guard by both Azerbaijan’s military victory, as well as the broader geopolitical ramifications of the war. Baku’s military victory over Armenia was heavily aided by two of Iran’s regional rivals, Turkey and Israel.
Tehran not only woke up to the deeper footprints of Israel and Turkey on its northern border, but Russia’s failure to keep Turkey and Israel out of the South Caucasus was perhaps a bigger shock to Tehran. Realizing that Moscow’s influence in the region has waned and that Moscow is increasingly focused on military missions in Ukraine and is unlikely to return any time soon, the Iranian government seeks ways to regain its influence in the region. I was forced to
In a nutshell, Tehran chose to pursue a carrot-and-stick strategy to shape Baku’s next move. If Azerbaijan alone refuses to become a partner of Israel and Turkey in their separate rivalries with Iran, the two countries could focus on expanding economic and even military cooperation. Tehran will look for ways to fight back, including by raising questions about Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
And Iran is desperate to oppose Baku’s major effort to create Zangezur, a corridor of land from mainland Azerbaijan to the Nakhchiban enclave that borders Turkey. Baku’s planned corridor passes through Armenian territory. Tehran sees this as an attempt by Turkey-backed Azerbaijan to cut itself off from Armenia. Armenia is a Christian state that Tehran has consistently supported in its conflict with Azerbaijan.
Iranian officials claim the Israelis also want to use Azerbaijan’s territory to launch sabotage operations against Iran. Tehran’s ambassador to Baku recently warned that while Iran does not want Azerbaijan to become a battleground in an Iran-Israel confrontation, what happens next depends on Baku. To Tehran’s deep discontent, Baku instead appointed his first ambassador to Israel on January 11. Iranians read this to mean that Baku has finally chosen to side with Israel in a regional rivalry with Iran.
Comment from The National
Tehran can be argued most guilty of creating this uncomfortable geopolitical situation for itself. rice field. Nor did Iranian officials monitor Moscow’s decline in influence in this part of the world. Finally, Tehran’s insistence on intervening in the Arab world over the past decade, from Lebanon to Syria, Iraq and Yemen, meant de-prioritizing the South Caucasus in foreign policy.
After 2020, it was too late when Tehran woke up to the new reality of the South Caucasus. Tehran needs to do more to motivate Baku to shape its next regional move.
If this is not addressed, in dangerous retaliation, Iranian officials may hint that Azerbaijan has historically been part of Iran. The Baku leadership could retaliate by claiming to represent the millions of ethnic Azerbaijanis living within Iran’s borders. Exactly Tinderbox. Still, Tehran and Baku have solid reasons to stay off the brink.
Published: January 29, 2023, 2:00 PM