Relations between Iran and Azerbaijan have been tense since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991 despite the two countries’ many historical, cultural, and religious ties.
Iran has ironically been closer to Christian Armenia – Azerbaijan’s rival – than to a fellow Shi’ite majority state. The regional status quo and balance of power shifted in the South Caucasus as a result of the second Karabakh War in 2020, dramatically heightening diplomatic tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran. Indeed, Azerbaijan’s victory in the war and regaining of control over Armenian ethnic enclaves signaled Iran’s diminishing influence and leverage. For many years, Azerbaijan has maintained a close strategic partnership with Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, particularly in the defense field, as it sought to deter radical Shi’ite influence stemming from Iran. Azerbaijan has also drawn closer to Turkey. Continue reading
Last September, long-brewing strains between Iran and Azerbaijan reached an unprecedented level, resulting in the deployment of troops and large-scale military drills by both sides. The most immediate trigger was the Azerbaijani authorities’ arrest of two Iranian truck drivers on Armenia’s Goris–Kapan highway (which partially straddles the undelimited portion of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border) for illegally entering the territory of Azerbaijan (Turan, September 15; see EDM, October 6, 27). In addition to Baku’s and Tehran’s rival demonstrative military exercises near the two countries’ shared border, their mutual diplomatic rhetoric became even more aggressive. Inadvertently or not, Baku’s blockade of the road for Iranian trucks also notably spotlighted Iran’s energy exports to Karabakh. Continue reading
Azeri Artillery shelling Armenian positions (Photo: BBC)
Following the deadliest large-scale violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh region for nearly three decades, the active phase of the conflict ended in November with a signed ceasefire agreement. But while the conflict asserted Turkey’s influence in the South Caucasus region, it also contributed to increased tensions between Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran.
The Turkish-Russian confrontation in the South Caucasus can be seen as a logical continuation of the rivalry in Syria and Libya, which resulted in shifting the regional balance of power along the southern borders of Russia. The active political involvement of Ankara in the conflict caused deep outrage not only in Moscow but also in Tehran, another important regional actor.
When fighting began, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Turkey would continue to support Azerbaijan “with all its resources and heart.” During the war, Ankara provided Baku with active political and military support by exporting at least six armed Bayraktar TB2 type attack drones and supplying smart munitions (MAM-L), including precision-guided missiles. Continue reading