Hawkish Iran helped stop larger Azerbaijani attacks says Armenia

Hawkish Iran helped stop larger Azerbaijani attacks says Armenia
Armenian soldiers were outgunned in the 2020 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. / screengrab.
By bne IntelIiNews February 1, 2023

Iranian hawkishness helped to stop larger attacks when Azerbaijan launched a military assault on Armenia last September, according to Vahan Kostanyan, Armenia’s deputy foreign minister.

In an interview with Al-Monitor published as part of a January 31 article, Kostanyan said: “We had intelligence that larger attacks were being prepared by Azerbaijan when it attacked Armenia last September. Iranian actions and statements helped to stop a further deterioration of that situation.” Others credit the US for deterring Baku, noted the publication, also describing Iran’s hawkishness as “music to Armenia’s ears”.

Azerbaijan was equipped with major military hardware obtained from “brother nation” Turkey and Israel—where it has lately, to Iran’s ire, opened its first embassy—when it achieved a victory in the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War in late 2020, causing Armenia to cede it substantial occupied territories.

Encouraged by its victory, Baku then set its sights on a new target—a land and rail corridor that would link Azerbaijan via Armenia’s southernmost province of Syunik to Azerbaijani exclave Nakhichevan and on to Turkey.

As Al-Monitor noted, this “Zangezour corridor” would “separate Iran from Armenia, its sole Christian neighbor and a vital stepping stone to Western markets. Armenia, in turn, would be effectively deprived of potential military support from its friendliest neighbor, Iran”.

The Zangezour corridor “would be a geopolitical catastrophe for Iran,” Hamidreza Azizi, an Iranian visiting fellow at the Berlin-based think tank SWP, was quoted as saying.

In further comments in the interview, Kostanyan said: “Azerbaijan has three objectives: the ethnic cleansing of Nagorno-Karabakh, to provoke large-scale military tension in the region and finally to push the Armenian side to give an extra-territorial corridor.” 

“Iran is an important partner. The border with Iran is of utmost importance to us. We have two closed borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, thus Iran and Georgia are our only gates to the outside world,” he added.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, with full backing from Turkey, has referred to the desired corridor as a “historical necessity”, and has said it will “definitely be opened whether Armenia wants it or not”.

But Iran has assessed that the operation of the corridor would interfere with its borders, something which it said is a "red line."

Warning Azerbaijan off rash actions, since 2021, Iran has conducted extensive military drills along its frontier with Azerbaijan. The latest, codenamed “Mighty Iran,” included setting up pontoon bridges for crossings of the Aras River, which makes up much of the border.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency last October that “Iran will not permit the blockage of its connection route with Armenia, and in order to secure that objective the Islamic Republic of Iran also launched a war game in that region."

Azerbaijan has responded with its own military exercises. In December, the “Fraternal Fist” drill, a joint manoeuvre with Turkey, took place.

As things stand, the focus is on what appears to be Azerbaijan’s latest aggressive ploy in its attempt to secure its objectives—an apparent blockade of Armenian inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh that has lasted more than 50 days.  The inhabitants’ only road to Armenia has been cut off by self-described Azerbaijani “eco-activists” who have taken control of the route in the face of passive Russian peacekeepers, deployed in the locality after the 2020 war.

Reports of food and medicine shortages among the blockaded inhabitants cut no ice with Baku, which says the claims amount to Armenian provocation and asserts it has no control over the activists.

The overall standoff between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains a dangerous powder keg. Any evidence of Armenia obtaining Iranian armaments would, note observers, potentially ignite further conflict, though Yerevan, fearing US sanctions, has publicly stated it is not requesting weapons from Tehran.