Iran has warned Turkey and Azerbaijan not to take advantage of Armenia's current weakness to try to secure a land bridge between the two countries across Armenia’s Syunik region next to the Iranian border.
An editorial in the Iranian regimes's Islamic Republic newspaper warned both Azerbaijan and Turkey on September 26 that Tehran will not stand for it.
On September 25, during a visit to Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhchivan, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hinted that the two countries would push hard to create a link from the exclave, which borders Turkey, across Armenia’s Syunik province to Azerbaijan. Syunik province also connects the landlocked Orthodox Christian country to Shi’ite Muslim Iran, its biggest neighbouring ally in the region.
The report in the Islamic Republic said that Azerbaijan is on the edge of breaching an Iranian red line. “If Aliyev intends to cross the declared red line, he must certainly expect a decisive reaction of another kind that could lead to significant changes in Baku, ” the state-run organ said.
At a joint news conference following the Turkish and Azeri meeting on September 25, Aliyev lamented how Soviet-era authorities had decided that part of what he said should have been territory belonging to the Azerbaijani Soviet Republic was deemed by the Soviets to be land belonging to the Armenian Soviet republic.
"The land link between the main part of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan was thus cut off," complained Aliyev, as reported by Reuters.
“Aliyev's remarks imply a military attack on Armenia's Syunik province. This province borders Iran, and Iran's connection to Armenia passes through it. Therefore, an attack on this province and the creation of the Zangezur corridor, which Aliyev seeks, would harm Iran's interests,” the Islamic Republic wrote.
“This is the red line that Iranian officials have repeatedly spoken about and warned against. Creating the Zangezur corridor means cutting off Iran's connection to Armenia, an action contrary to Iran's national interests and essentially a change in the region's geographical situation and border relocation.
“This is what Iran is sensitive about, and the officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran have repeatedly said they will not allow it to happen,” it added.
Iranian officials have held multiple political consultations with officials from Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and have issued the necessary warnings.
“It is also clear to Iranian officials that the Zionist regime [Israel] plays a role in inciting and supporting Aliyev. For this reason, the Islamic Republic of Iran has a stronger will to confront those who intend to change the borders,” the paper added.
Iran has also warned Turkish officials must realise that supporting Baku in crossing the red line is not in their best interest and will not secure their desired benefits.
Following the publication of the article, Iran’s new Ambassador to Armenia, Mehdi Sobhani, met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan; while only pleasantries were reported from the meeting in Iranian media, the overall response to the ongoing moves by Azerbaijan suggest a message of unity between Yerevan and Tehran.
Pashynian’s comments included that Armenia sees large-scale trade opportunities with Iran.
Inferring "reliable dialogue" with Iranian President Ebrahim Raeisi, Pashinyan said it paves the way for the consistent deepening of cooperation between the two countries, his office said in a press release.
Sobhani expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which surrendered to Azerbaijan last week, saying that the security and rights of Armenians living there must be guaranteed.
Iran and Nato member Turkey are rival powers in the region, and Iran also has longstanding differences with Azerbaijan.
Iran and Azerbaijan, despite having roots in the same sect of Islam, have diverged significantly since the time of Imperial Russia and the subsequent taking control by the Soviet Union of Persia’s former regions to the north. Meanwhile, the hostility by hardliners in the Iranian media is such that it often derides Azerbaijan as “the Republic of Baku”, effectively declaring the country a breakaway province.
Brigadier General Reza Talaei-Nik, the spokesperson for the Iranian Defence Ministry, stated, as relayed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-linked Fars news agency, "We've made it clear that we won't tolerate any border alterations in the vicinity. Attempts to alter certain sections of our borders were contemplated, but they neither had the audacity nor will they in the future."
He further highlighted that Iran's insistence on maintaining the status quo of the borders is underpinned by its robust military prowess.
In a related development, General Kioumars Heydari, head of the Iranian army's ground forces, revealed the stationing of 10 brigades in key border zones, encompassing areas adjacent to both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
While exact numbers were not shared, a brigade usually comprises between 3,000 to 4,000 troops. These units have been tactically placed in the northwest, west, southwest and northeast regions to deter potential adversarial actions.