Iran’s neutral stance on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Upper Karabakh region, involving an equal approach to both sides, ultimately benefits the military occupation by Yerevan, according to a political expert.
Fresh border clashes erupted between the two former Soviet republics on Sept. 27, when Armenia launched attacks on civil settlements and since then has continued attacks on civilians and Azerbaijani forces.
“The involvement of third parties in the conflict would lead to Iranian involvement. As Baku knows this, it does not respond to Armenia’s provocations and acts sensitive with Russia and Iran. Other than that, Iran’s active intervention is unlikely,” Hakki Uygur, deputy head of the Center for Iranian Studies (IRAM) in the capital Ankara, told Anadolu Agency.
Tehran should also take into account the sensitive “fault lines” in Iran, he said, adding that in his opinion, the country will not take steps that will “further provoke the Turkic nationalism.”
Azerbaijani Turks, concentrated mainly in the northwest of Iran along the border with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia, make up an estimated one-fourth of Iran’s population of nearly 84 million.
Support to Armenia
Uygur said although a number of footage posted on social media showed the transfer of alleged military vehicles and equipment by Russia — which cannot use the Georgian corridor — to Armenia’s forces through Iran, the latter has “firmly denied” the allegations.
“Although Iran later said that these were civilian trucks, we know that these trucks could be used for military purposes in case of a possible conflict,” he said.
Iran, therefore, tries to handle both domestic and foreign policies together, Uygur added.
“All this means that Iran preserved its 30-year-long position and evaluated its Muslim neighbor under occupation [Azerbaijan] and occupying Armenia in equal positions,” he said, adding Iran was “having a hard time” in this case.
Cooperation with Russia
“It is not surprising that Tehran does not take a clear stance on the Upper Karabakh issue, as the current situation of Tehran, which is careful not to confront Russia, is much more complex.”
The political expert went on to say that there were several reasons on why Iran was taking a “stand against Azerbaijan — both in the 90s and today — by sometimes being silent on the conflict and by sometimes providing logistical support to Yerevan.”
He stressed that Tehran, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has entered into “long-term cooperation [with Russia]” by reducing its “harsh official rhetoric” against Moscow.
“Therefore, the overlap of the interests of Iran and Russia in the South Caucasus made the occupation the most useful tool for Tehran and Moscow,” he said.
Uygur underlined that in this way, Baku has been “restricted from playing an active role” in developments in the Caucasus, while it turned out to be “impossible to threaten” Iran’s internal security.
“In short, Iran sees the rising Turkic nationalism inside its nation as a security threat and is aware that the liberation of Upper Karabakh will strengthen Azerbaijan,” he emphasized.
In addition, Uygur said, Iran was also “disturbed” by Azerbaijan’s relations with Turkey and Israel.
“Therefore, Iran, which thinks that Azerbaijan must constantly be balanced, does this via Russia and Armenia.”
“As seen in many fields since the revolution, when it comes to the interests of the system, Iran can easily set aside ideological or sectarian beliefs,” he said.
Uygur pointed out that there were “serious parallel lines” between the discourses of “strong Persian nationalists” in the country and the opponents of the regime abroad, “such that an Iranian diplomat could share the statements of an anti-regime media.”
“Thus, the issue is not sectarianism, but Tehran’s national policies,” he said.
However, with the “clear emergence” of Iran’s attitude in recent events, the public diplomacy that Tehran has been implementing towards Baku for 30 years has been “badly damaged,” the expert said, adding Iran’s image in the Shia conservative community is being “seriously questioned.”
Meanwhile, with a secular government, Azerbaijan’s population’s majority is mostly Shia Muslim.
Uygur stressed that the “change in the language” used by Iran since the beginning of the Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes on Sept. 27 has not gone unnoticed.
“Tehran, which emphasized ‘anti-violence diplomacy’ at the beginning of its discourse, has now started to emphasize international law and the occupation issue,” he said.
He highlighted that although there were various “contradictory” statements in Iran’s domestic policy, if Russia maintains its “neutrality” and the operations “successfully” end in a short time, relations between Tehran and Baku will enter a “new phase.”
“Besides that, nobody expects the Iranian administration to support Baku diplomatically and militarily, the same as Turkey always says it stands by Azerbaijan in any matter. But Iran has to act more balanced from now on.”
Uygur said it was very important how Iran would intervene in the situation in the face of new dynamics such as the increasing influence of Turkey and Azerbaijan in the region.
“If Iran continues to move along this line, it means it has got the situation very wrong. Because the old balances are breaking down and the new era will be much more difficult for Iran,” he said.
He stressed that it would be “useful” for Iranian officials to “clarify” their stance on the basis of discourse, adding there is no doubt that the end of the occupation and permanent stability in the region will “benefit everyone,” including Yerevan and Tehran.
The Iranian Turks, who, as Uygur said, did not “react seriously” to the occupation of the Azerbaijani lands in the 1990s, have now held many demonstrations, especially in the capital Tehran.
“They organized campaigns to close the Armenian border gate during the conflict. So this shows very new developments.”
He said while some demonstrations did not encounter police intervention in some areas of Iran, others saw “harsh interventions,” adding it proved that the Iranian administration “was not prepared” for these kind of situations.
Uygur underlined that in short, it can be said that Iran’s perspective that “Russia would not allow this balance in the Caucasus to deteriorate” was broken.
“In addition, the success of Azerbaijan in the region, the rising Turkic nationalism in the area, and the rise of agnation feelings of sub-ethnic groups — that make up the majority of the Iranian population — in their cognates living abroad are the main reasons for Iran’s changing discourse since the beginning of the case.”
He said that Iran should “accept” its history, and considering that “a very important part” of its population is of Turkic origin, it should consider it in its regional policies.
Clashes, Upper Karabakh conflict
On Saturday, at least 13 civilians were killed, including two children, and 48 others injured, when the Armenian army attacked Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, with missiles.
It was Armenia’s second deadly attack in less than a week on Ganja, an area far from the front line with a population of 500,000 people.
On Oct. 15, the Armenian Armed Forces targeted civilians visiting a cemetery in the western city of Terter, killing four and injuring four.
Meeting on Oct. 10 in Moscow, Baku and Yerevan officials agreed to a cease-fire to allow an exchange of prisoners and the recovery of bodies in Nagorno-Karabakh.
But within 24 hours of the announcement of the cease-fire, the Armenian army carried out a missile attack on Ganja, killing 10 people and injuring 35 others.
Armenian forces also targeted several regions in Azerbaijan, leading to civilian casualties.
A new humanitarian cease-fire entered into force at midnight on Saturday (2000GMT).
Four UN Security Council resolutions and two from the UN General Assembly, as well as international organizations demand the “immediate complete and unconditional withdrawal of the occupying forces” from the occupied areas of Azerbaijan.
In total, about 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory – including Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent regions – has remained under illegal Armenian occupation for nearly three decades.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group – co-chaired by France, Russia and the US – was formed in 1992 to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, but to no avail. A cease-fire, however, was agreed to in 1994.
World powers including Russia, France and the US have called for a new cease-fire. Turkey, meanwhile, has supported Baku’s right to self-defense and demanded the withdrawal of Armenia’s occupying forces.
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