De-escalation of Tensions in Iran-Azerbaijan Relations and the


De-escalation of Tensions in Iran-Azerbaijan Relations and the "Zangezur Corridor" issue

Following the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Iran at the end of January 2023, the previously unprecedented tension between the two countries is gradually easing. While relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have been tense since the 2020 Artsakh war, the situation escalated further after the attack on the embassy. The primary cause of the tension lies in Iran's unchanged stance on the so-called "Zangezur Corridor" issue. 

Text: Zhanna Vardanyan 


Meltdown in Relations with Baku

As a consequence of the attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran, anti-Iranian propaganda intensified in the Azeri press and bilateral contacts at various levels stopped. However, diplomatic communication resumed in April, with five telephone conversations between the foreign ministers taking place at the initiative of the Iranian side between April and the end of June, aimed at easing the tension.

A significant turning point in reducing tension occurred with Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian's visit in Baku in early July. Although the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran has not yet reopened as of the beginning of August, Abdollahian's visit initiated progress in bilateral relations. A notable development was the meeting of the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation between the two countries, which took place in Astara, Iran. During this meeting, discussions were held on the implementation of joint projects, resulting in new arrangements being made.

The meeting's most notable outcome was an agreement to put the newly constructed bridge over the Astara River into operation within four months. While the bridge is already built, additional checkpoints are required for full operation. The purpose of this bridge is to facilitate cargo transportation from Iran to Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation. The existing bridge has become insufficient to handle the increasing cargo transportation year by year, leading to long queues at the border.

Additionally, a session of the Iranian-Azerbaijani joint technical commission on the construction and operation of the Khodafarin and Qiz Qalasi dams and hydroelectric power stations on the Araks river was also held, further contributing to positive developments.

In an effort to positively influence relations between the two countries Iran participated in a media forum held in occupied Shushi. During this forum, the Iranian delegation, led by the executive director of the governmental IRNA news agency, met with the leadership of the state-owned Azertac news agency in Baku. As part of their proposal, the Iranian side suggested reopening the representations of the two media outlets in both Azerbaijan and Iran. Additionally, IRNA announced the launch of its Azerbaijani-language department, IRNA Azeri, “to limit foreign interference”, “to promote accurate information exchange and combat fake news”. However, this move was met with less enthusiasm in Azerbaijan, with concerns about further Iranian influence.

Despite the positive advancements in bilateral relations, negative propaganda against Iran continues in the Azeri press especially regarding Iranian-Armenian relations and "Zangezur Corridor" issue. However,  Iran remains committed to normalizing relations and is actively supporting these efforts.


Iran's Position on the "Zangezur Corridor" issue

Against the backdrop of tense relations with Azerbaijan in 2023, Iran has rarely made statements regarding the creation of the "Zangezur Corridor" and its objection to any border changes in the region. This emphasis was renewed after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan mentioned Iran as a key factor hindering the corridor's establishment.

During Iranian Foreign Minister Abdollahian's meeting with President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, the issue of the "corridor" was discussed. Following the meeting, Abdollahian announced that he had raised concerns about preserving historical routes and received assurances from Azerbaijan that they do not intend to disrupt the Armenian-Iranian connection through the corridor. Azerbaijan had given similar assurances during the previous tension with Iran in 2021, but the situation showed that neither Azerbaijan abandoned the idea of the corridor, nor Iran changed its position on the matter. Moreover, in the last month Iran maintained its position at various levels, including the president, advisor to the supreme leader, and foreign minister.

Iran clarifies that it does not oppose the creation of a route between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan through Armenia's territory but insists on respecting Armenia's territorial integrity. Iran perceives the corridor as a threat to Armenia's territorial integrity, as it would abolish the Armenian-Iranian border and potentially invite foreign, especially NATO, presence.

“Many observers were surprised as to why the two governments of Azerbaijan and Turkey are insisting so much on the possibility of rising tensions among related parties. Gradually, the realities became known and the understanding of experts is that the intention behind these extensive links that connect Nakhchivan to the Republic of Azerbaijan is that, first, they would divide Armenia into two parts and, second, they disconnect Iran and Armenia, severing a link that dates back to the era of the Achaemenid and Parthian Empires. Third, it would limit Iran’s connection to outside and from then on, we will be neighbor to 14 countries, instead of 15, and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s free connection with North Caucasus, Russia and the European continent will be disrupted. Any change in regional borders will cause long-term tensions. And the most worrying thing would be the presence of alien countries on the border”- highlighted  Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor on international affairs of the Supreme leader in his recently published article. 

Iran emphasized these concerns during Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan’s visit in Iran in the end of July. President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi stressed the complications created by foreign involvement and warned about "American and Israeli conspiracies". During Mirzoyan's visit, Minister Abdollahian also highlighted Iran's readiness to host the 3+3 platform, as part of Iran's policy to solve regional problems through regional countries. Abdollahian's  statement also stimulated the activation of publications in the Iranian press, emphasizing the need to launch the 3+3 platform. Additionally, apart from this platform, there is a promotion in the press for the idea of creating a tripartite Iran-Russia-Turkey format, similar to the Astana format on Syria.

While Iran welcomes negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it expresses significant distrust towards European and American negotiation platforms. At the same time, Tehran fears that Russia might strike a deal with Turkey on the “corridor”. Iran considers the creation of a regional  mechanism as an opportunity to avoid exclusion from the negotiation process and safeguard its interests, which are strongly opposed to the "corridor."

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