Iran has denied allowing the passage of weapons bound for Armenia after unverified video footage was on September 29 posted on social media showing what appeared to be tanks and military personnel carriers apparently heading for, or being transferred over, the Norduz border crossing.
With Armenia and Azerbaijan locked in a fierce and bloody three-day-old conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, Iran’s official neutrality in the conflict is under question, with the Azerbaijanis already upset at what they claim were recent Russian military flights made via Iran to deliver arms to the Armenians. Moscow and Tehran have denied that that was the case. Azerbaijan, like Iran, is a Shia Muslim country—though more on a nominal basis in the case of the former—but its military build-up of recent years has relied on substantial weapons purchases from Israel and there are relatively good relations between Baku and the Saudis, two matters that the Iranians do not look kindly on. Baku has also regularly complained at Iran's support for religious groups inside Azerbaijan. Thus, analysts generally see Iran, like Russia, which has military bases in Armenia, as unofficially favouring Armenia in its showdown with Azerbaijan.
On the other hand, there are 12mn ethnic Azerbaijani people living in the Islamic Republic of 84mn—compared to 300,000 Armenian-Iranians—and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s representative in Ardabil Province bordering Azerbaijan, Hassan Ameli, may have had this in mind when on September 29 he remarked that the recapture of land by Azerbaijan in the contested Nagorno-Karabakh territory—which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan though it has been controlled for the past three decades by ethnic Armenians as a self-proclaimed republic—was “entirely legal and in line with Sharia”.
Responding to the video footage, Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, said Iran had "close supervision and control over the movement of goods to other countries" and "would in no way allow" Iranian territory to be used to transport weapons and ammunition.
Videos posted on dozens of social media accounts and uploaded to services like Instagram and Telegram would appear to show several shots of trucks carrying claimed military supplies towards the border with Armenia, but again these are unverified.
In sending consignments to Armenia, Russia cannot go directly through Georgia given disputes with the Georgians that have remained unresolved since Russia and Georgia fought the five-day Russo-Georgian War over breakaway territories in August 2008. Armenia’s neighbour Turkey, meanwhile, is bellicose in backing Azerbaijan to the point that Yerevan has accused Ankara of sending Turkish military advisers, thousands of Syrian militiamen mercenaries, armed drones and F-16 fighter jets to assist Baku in the battle for Nagorno-Karabakh. Ankara has refuted Yerevan’s claims.
Turkish state-run news service Anadolu Agency on September 29 also carried denials from the Iranian foreign ministry that Iran was allowing the transport of weapons and military equipment into Armenia.
The claimed consignments shown in video footage on September 29 follow posted pictures of Russian trucks seen in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province in the past 48 hours. The Iranian foreign ministry insisted they can only have been transporting civilian goods.
Another alleged video of the military shipment to Armenia from Iran. pic.twitter.com/DR2KMB3Ltw— Daniel Rád (@DanielKRad)
Another alleged video of the military shipment to Armenia from Iran. pic.twitter.com/DR2KMB3Ltw— Daniel Rád (@DanielKRad) September 29, 2020
As the controversy over the released videos and imagery simmered, Alyar Rastgoo, deputy to the governor of Iran's East Azerbaijan Province, said in a statement: "In order to prevent any misunderstandings or abuses, the movement of Russian trucks from the Norduz customs to Armenia has been suspended. Trucks have been placed in the parking lot of customs for inspections."