Tensions in Iran-Azerbaijan relations persist in numerous areas after the terrorist assault on the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran on January 27, 2023, which resulted in one security guard’s death and another’s injury.
Azerbaijan evacuated its diplomats from the Tehran embassy back to Baku because it was troubled by the fact that the Tehran police shielded the terrorist who attacked its embassy, and the motivation for it was not made public. Moreover, the counter-operation carried out by the Azerbaijan Intelligence Organisation against Iran’s espionage network in Azerbaijan over the previous seven months resulted in the detention of hundreds of individuals as suspects. Finally, the Azerbaijani foreign ministry handed four diplomats in the Iranian embassy in Baku 48 hours to leave the country with their families before declaring them persona non grata. Such circumstances often occur when diplomats operate in a manner inconsistent with their obligations and meddle in nations’ domestic affairs. The judgments made by the parliaments also showed the animosity between the two nations. The Iranian parliament passed a resolution that was directed toward Azerbaijan. In a statement, the Azerbaijani parliament responded to this action by calling it unfit for good neighborliness.
The commander of Iran’s troops threatened Azerbaijan as his country conducted three military drills along its border with that country in the previous year. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are using films to intimidate Azerbaijan. The most recent video they made showed Iranian kamikaze UAVs bombing Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan retaliated by conducting its military drills, and its defense ministry charged Iran with sponsoring terrorism in the area.
Although tension has been shifting between Iran and Azerbaijan over the last 30 years, this level has never been achieved. There are two explanations for the current stress in relationships. The first is Iran’s 2021 election of hardline candidate Ibrahim Reisi as president. Second, the Reisi administration sought to alter the new geopolitical landscape developed in the area after Azerbaijan’s victory in Karabakh.
Revolutionary Guard appointments rose when Ibrahim Reisi was elected president, and the hardline faction’s influence on Iran’s Azerbaijan policy grew. Ibrahim Reisi and President Ilham Aliyev met twice, but the meetings did not calm tensions; instead, they heightened them.
Iran believes that the outcomes of the Karabakh conflict have inspired the 30 million Azerbaijanis who live there and reinforced their sense of national identity. Iran is troubled by the Karabakh Victory has altered the geopolitical realities in the area in favor of Azerbaijan. Tehran is using Azerbaijan to exert psychological pressure to eliminate this outcome.
By reopening the Azerbaijani embassy in Israel. According to the Reisi regime, it is improper for a Muslim nation to establish an embassy in Israel. However, there are other Muslim nations with embassies in Israel besides Azerbaijan. Several Muslim nations have held embassies in Israel in the past. On the other hand, Azerbaijan has long noted Iran’s sensitivity to this subject, but a shift in attitude was brought on by the Second Karabakh War and Iran’s subsequent aggressive actions.
Tehran acknowledges the danger posed, in particular, by reopening the Azerbaijani embassy in Israel. According to the Reisi regime, it is improper for a Muslim nation to establish an embassy in Israel. However, there are other Muslim nations with embassies in Israel besides Azerbaijan. Several Muslim nations have held embassies in Israel in the past. On the other hand, Azerbaijan has long noted Iran’s sensitivity to this subject, but a shift in attitude was brought on by the Second Karabakh War and Iran’s subsequent aggressive actions. Baku reacted in like to Iran’s aid to Armenia, which had annexed Azerbaijani territory. A few miles from the Azerbaijani border, in Kafan, Armenia, Iran erected a consulate after the war. Iranian Foreign Minister Hüseyin Abdullahian attended the ceremony and referred to Armenia’s security—which had occupied Azerbaijani territory for 30 years—as Iran’s security. Iran maintained its silence throughout the 30 years that Azerbaijani territory was occupied, but in the years after the war, it declared the defense of Armenia’s boundaries to be its red line.
It is also known that Iran dispatched troops to Armenia simultaneously to serve as military advisors and equip and train Armenian forces. It is feared that Iran, which employs asymmetric warfare strategies in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, would deploy the same strategies against Azerbaijan through Armenia and gain an advantage.
It is conceivable to link the recent Iranian earthquakes Azerbaijan links recent geopolitical changes in the area with Iran’s escalating hostility. These include Turkey’s upcoming elections, Iran’s expanding ties with Russia and China, and its normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia. Turkey is a crucial ally of Azerbaijan. The closer ties with these nations have boosted the Iranian hawks’ self-assurance. He intends to use them to his advantage to change the geopolitical landscape of the area in his favor after the Karabakh War.
Following the conflict, Azerbaijan made crucial moves to placate Iran. The inaugural meeting of Azerbaijan’s six-party platform for regional cooperation, which exclusively included governments from the area, including Iran, was held in Moscow. The second was scheduled to occur in Ankara, but Iran demanded that it occur in Tehran. Of course, the parties rejected this regional imposition since it was unreasonable. In addition, President Ilham Aliyev went to the Araz River between Iran and Azerbaijan after the war and declared it to be the boundary of two friendly nations. In order to allay Iran’s worries over the Zangezur corridor, Azerbaijan also struck an agreement with Iran to construct a new bridge over the Araz River, which was eventually finished. These actions, however, did not placate Iran.
Contrarily, Iran is deterred by Azerbaijan’s network of allies in the face of these efforts from Tehran. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Turkish President Recep Tayyib Erdogan signed the Shusha Declaration on allied relations between their two countries in Shusha, freed from occupation on June 15, 2021. This move elevated the two nations’ military defense sector cooperation to a new level. This proclamation eventually received the support of both nations’ parliaments and was recognized internationally. Azerbaijan’s ties with Pakistan, another Muslim nation, are crucial. Following the Second Karabakh War, joint trilateral exercises were held in Azerbaijan by the special forces of Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan. In addition, Iran could not convince Moscow to join forces with Russia against Azerbaijan.
Although there have always been tense relations between Iran and Azerbaijan, Ibrahim Reisi’s election as president of Iran in 2021 and the Revolutionary Guards’ control over the country’s security and foreign policy led to the hardline groups taking control of Azerbaijani policy. Iran exerts pressure on Azerbaijan to concede to its demands in diplomatic negotiations by pursuing an aggressive strategy towards that country. Azerbaijan, however, is demonstrating that it will not concede Iran the geopolitical advantage won in the Second Karabakh War at the diplomatic level.
Asma Khan Durrani is an Islamabad-based expert in Strategic Affairs. She is a student of Defence and Strategic Studies. She has done M.Phil. from SPIR Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. She has also been published internationally. She tweets @AsmaKhan_47 Mailed @ firstname.lastname@example.org