Iran-Azerbaijan relations: Friendly but influenced by foreign actors

Iran-Azerbaijan relations: Friendly but influenced by foreign actors

Tehran hosted a high-ranking Azerbaijani delegation on Sunday. The delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister and head of the Joint State Commission on Economy, Trade, and Humanitarian Affairs of Iran and Azerbaijan Shahin Mustafayev. According to Azertac news agency, meetings were held between the two sides at the Iranian ministries of oil and also road and urban development, discussing outlooks for bilateral cooperation.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Tehran hosted a high-ranking Azerbaijani delegation on Sunday. The delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister and head of the Joint State Commission on Economy, Trade, and Humanitarian Affairs of Iran and Azerbaijan Shahin Mustafayev. According to Azertac news agency, meetings were held between the two sides at the Iranian ministries of oil and also road and urban development, discussing outlooks for bilateral cooperation. 

"we are interested in developing relations with Iran and there are a lot of cooperation opportunities ahead between the two countries," Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov said earlier in an interview, adding: "I can say that there are many plans for bilateral cooperation, given the great commonalities between the two countries. I am sure that we can develop the good relations of the past on the basis of good neighborliness. Referring to the need to develop relations between the two countries. The priority of the foreign policy of the Republic of Azerbaijan is to maintain and develop relations with neighboring countries, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran. Given the massive grounds and capacities for bilateral cooperation and an always-positive history of ties, in the future we would see wider relations with Iran." 

Benefits of cooperation for two sides 

Azerbaijan sent its delegation to Iran while just a few weeks ago Tehran-Baku ties went frayed following some hostile comments by Azerbaijani leaders against Iran. Now Azerbaijan seems to be going a different way, choosing cooperation over tension. 

The Iranian side reminded the Azerbaijani delegation of the need for cooperation instead of tension, and Iranian Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian expressed satisfaction with the growing trade relations and deep bonds between the two neighbors and called the liberation of the territories of the territories of Azerbaijan the launching pad for a new chapter in the economic relations between the two countries. He also stressed the need to use the capacities of the two sides in trade, transport, energy, and tourism sectors. 

Pointing to the Iranian technical capabilities, Amir-Abdollahian voiced readiness of the Iranian companies to help reconstruct the newly-liberated areas. He also referred to successes in vaccination against coronavirus, saying that the two countries should facilitate travels for citizens and resume flights.

In another stance, the Iranian FM reiterated "fixed" position of the Islamic Republic on Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and "unchangablity" of the international borders. 

During the meeting, Mustafayev hailed the "constructive meetings" with the Iranian ministers of oil and road, saying that the two neighbors were close to "historic oil, gas, and transportation agreements. He also stressed the constructive role of the two countries' foreign ministers in overcoming the recent tensions, and announced that a meeting of the bilateral commission for economic cooperation would be held early next year. Referring to the soaring trade volume of the two countries since early this year, Mustafayev pointed to a 22-percent growth in their trade at the time of coronavirus outbreak and called it a sign of "friendly relationship and economic capacities." 

As two sides said, they can engage in cooperation when it comes to the liberated areas in Karabakh region, as well as in energy sector. Their huge capacities considered, they have valuable opportunity to work together in common areas of interest. 

Meddling actors 

Despite the existence of grounds for partnership, Iran-Azerbaijan's relationship suffers from some interfering factors that occasionally strain it. Here are they: 

Israeli regime: Though being a foreign actor and sharing no borders with Azerbaijan, the Israeli regime has had an undeniable role in fueling the regional tensions. Karabakh dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia is decades-long, and over the past years the Israelis found the border clashes in Caucasus a proper opportunity to sell arms to Azerbaijan as a relatively lucrative weapons market. While last year Azerbaijan and Armenia were at deadly clashes in Karabakh areas, reports published by various media outlets suggested that Israeli flights carrying Israeli-made arms to Azerbaijan saw proliferation. 

"Ben­­-Gurion Airport is quiet with civilian flights almost at a standstill. However, cargo flights on the Azerbaijan route have been very busy over the last two weeks. The high number of flights is a direct result of the renewal of fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh," reported Haaretz newspaper on October 7, 2020, adding: "No fewer than four Ilyushin­­-76 planes, operated by the Azeri cargo airline Silk Way, which serves the Azeri defense ministry, have touched down and taken off from the Uvda air base in southern Israel – two, before the outbreak of fighting, and two, afterwards. According to flight regulations, that is the only airport from which planes loaded with explosive material are allowed to take off." 

A majority of these arms-carrying flights were made to encourage Azerbaijan to continue the war. This Israeli approach has a translation: calm in Karabakh is not in line with Tel Aviv interests. Actually, the Israelis, driven by economic interests, are striving to keep the tensions up in the region. 

Israel has kept the amounts and details of transactions from arms sales to Azerbaijan secret since the start of arms sales to Baku, which has been going on since at least 2006. But the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recorded $825 million worth of weapons purchased by Azerbaijan from Israel in 2006-2019. On the other hand, the Israelis are trying to influence the relations between Azerbaijan and Iran for the good of anti-Iranian goals by deepening the influence in Baku. Also, the abuses against Shiites of Azerbaijan, who are a majority, are mainly spurred by Israeli lobbying. Arye Gut, an Israeli advisor of Azerbaijan government, called for serious security crackdown on the Shiites whom he described "Iranian agents" in Azerbaijan. 

On the other hand, in the past three decades, Shiites in Azerbaijan were subject to the most official and governmental restrictions and deprivation, though they constitute the majority of the people of this country. Shiite clerics and activists such as Haj Ali Ikram Nardarani, Haj Aqa Nouri, Haj Waqif Abdullhyev, who was killed in prison and is dubbed the "Martyr of Hijab" for his struggles against government laws banning the right of the woman to have Hijab, Haj Aqa Abgel Suleimanev, Haj Tale Bagherzadeh, Haj Ilqar Ibrahimoglu,Haj Alshan Mustagaoglu, Haj Faramiz Abbasov, leader of the Islamic Party Haj Mohsen Samadov, and hundreds of other clerics have been imprisoned and tortured. 

Turkey: Turkey is the leading interfering actor in Caucasus, with major supports to Azerbaijan in the last year war coming from it. For Ankara, a direct land corridor from Azerbaijan to Turkey is of paramount importance. The Turkish leaders are pursuing this corridor plan driven by ambitious pan-Turkist plans for the region. Currently, Azerbaijan has no direct land access to Turkey and Nakhchivan as Armenian province of Syunik cuts such an access. Ankara is encouraging Baku to create a land route crossing Armenian territory using force. Armenia is strongly rejecting the idea as it would break apart its province. 

Having in mind that creation of the land corridor under Turkey's pressures would change the international borders, Iran has categorically opposed the plan and warned of its consequences. Strong Iranian warning made Azerbaijan put the plan on the back burner. Despite close ties with Tehran, Turkish leaders still wait for a proper opportunity to realize their pan-Turkist land connection project. This is the main cause of recent Iranian-Azerbaijani tensions.


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