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Eurasianet

Eurasianet

Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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Azerbaijan And Iran Relations Warm As Tensions Ease

  • Iran may soon see the return of the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran after its evacuation due to a deadly gun attack.
  • Iran's apprehensions about the "Zangezur Corridor" linking Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan remain, but an alternative through Iran is proposed.
  • While the Zangezur Corridor's future is uncertain, both Turkish and Azerbaijani officials continue to promote its potential benefits, especially for Armenia.
Azerbaijan

There are signs that tensions are abating in relations between Azerbaijan and Iran. 

They come in the wake of Baku's lightning offensive to take back Nagorno-Karabakh and the subsequent exodus of the region's ethnic Armenian population. Iran officially welcomed the region's return to Azerbaijan's fold. 

On October 7, Iran's road and urban planning minister, Mehrdad Bazrpash, while on a visit to Azerbaijan, said that Azerbaijan's embassy in Tehran could resume its work soon. "The Iranian side has asked for the quick restoration of the activity of the Azerbaijani embassy, and Azerbaijan has promised to take steps in this direction in the near future," Azerbaijan's APA news agency reported, quoting Bazrpash. 

Azerbaijan evacuated its embassy in Tehran following a gun attack in January that left one embassy staffer dead and two wounded. Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev directly blamed "some branches of [the] Iranian establishment" for the attack and said that any normalization of relations could happen only after "those who sent the terrorist, those representatives of the Iranian establishment who did this brutal act against Azerbaijan" are brought to justice. 

On October 1, Azerbaijani state television AzTV reported that the alleged embassy gunman had been sentenced to death by an Iranian court and welcomed the development as a "restoration of justice." A short time later, the Azerbaijani Prosecutor-General's Office said the report was mistaken, and that in fact the criminal investigation had been completed and submitted to the court and Iranian prosecutors were pushing for the death penalty.

"We are carefully monitoring the progress of the criminal case investigated in the Islamic Republic of Iran and are in regular contact with the other party," the statement read. "We hope that the court will soon pronounce a fair verdict, ensuring the deserved punishment for the guilty person."

(Indeed, Iranian media have not reported that the suspect has been convicted and sentenced.)

The January embassy attack and the shooting in March of an Azerbaijani MP known for loudly criticizing Iran are the proximate reasons for the recent straining of relations, but Iran-Azerbaijan tensions have deeper roots. 

Azerbaijan has long accused Iran of favoring Armenia in the decades-long conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, especially after the 2020 war, when Azerbaijan established control over its entire frontier with Iran. Azerbaijan accused Iran of sending oil and other goods, and even weapons, to "separatist authorities" in Karabakh.

For its part, Tehran has been anxious that a proposed "Zangezur Corridor" connecting Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave could cut off its access to Armenia and destinations further north. It is also worried about Azerbaijan's strong and growing friendship with Tehran's archrival, Israel, which helped arm Baku ahead of its Karabakh offensive last month.

In the new reality that took shape after the offensive, Azerbaijan has no need to worry about Iranian supplies to Karabakh, but Iranian apprehensions about the "Zangezur Corridor" remain. Tehran has long called on Azerbaijan to scrap the idea and instead further develop existing routes through Iranian territory to connect with Nakhchivan.

Ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent visit to Nakhchivan last month, there was an expectation that Erdogan, alongside Aliyev, would revive the "Zangezur Corridor" demand. There was no mention of the corridor during the joint briefing of the two, and later Erdogan told Turkish media that if Armenia didn't agree to host a corridor, an alternative corridor would be set up through Iran. 

Indeed, Bazrpash, the Iranian roads minister, made his remark while attending the groundbreaking of construction of a bridge on the Iran-Azerbaijan border that would form part of a mainland Azerbaijan-Nakhchivan corridor project that was agreed in a memorandum last year.

Bazrpash was later received by Aliyev. Although the president didn't mention recent tensions, according to the readout, he did say that the new projects "would contribute to the further strengthening of friendly relations between the two countries."

The establishment of an alternate corridor through Iran would seem to put the "Zangezur Corridor" idea to rest, but officials in Azerbaijan and Turkey, Baku's main strategic ally, continue to make references to it, though now in the form of overtures to Armenia. (Armenia has always strongly resisted the proposal.) 

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on October 9 said that if Armenia agrees to open the corridor, Ankara will be "ready to develop relations step by step" with Yerevan. 

And in an article published in the state newspaper on October 10, Azerbaijani National Security Council Secretary Ramil Usubov wrote that the opening of a Zangezur Corridor would ring in a new era of peace and security in the Caucasus and "bring great economic benefit to Armenia."

By Heydar Isayev via Eurasianet.org

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