0124 GMT December 01, 2022
Strategic affairs analyst
The issue of security in the South Caucasus region in northwest of Iran is getting more complicated every day and has not been stable after the deadly conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020 and 2022.
Hopes for restoration of peace in the region grew after the Sochi summit which was held between presidents of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia as well as a meeting between Armenian and Iranian presidents in Tehran. But recent remarks by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev regarding Iran’s military drills and his comments during a summit of Turkic-speaking countries, as well as new clashes at the border with Armenia are once again indicating that the tension in the region is still high despite the midnight agreement on November 9, 2020.
Major events in the South Caucasus and the recent developments in the past two years in relations between Iran and Azerbaijan show that both sides have different behaviors and strategic interests despite efforts made to reduce tensions and manage the challenges. These issues have raised many questions among the analysts on the Caucasus affairs.
The most important questions are as follows:
- Why are Tehran and Baku in the path of tension after the second conflict of the region?
- Why does Azerbaijan seek to reduce Iran's geopolitical role in the region?
- Why is Azerbaijan trying to change the balance in the South Caucasus region?
They have many answers that some are related to the structural changes in the international system and some others are linked to the changes in the region’s strategies and its main actors.
Beyond the major international developments, the South Caucasus region has also faced changes in the way of power distribution due to structural changes in the international system.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and since the 1990s, the South Caucasus has seen the presence of various actors, including Russia, the European Union, the United States, France, Iran, and Turkey, but in recent years, these actors have reduced to Russia, Turkey and Iran.
These developments have caused a change in Baku's regional approach and bilateral relations with Iran. Although the relations between Tehran and Baku are relatively stable in the economic field, both countries are facing various challenges in the geopolitical field.
Since the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis in the 1990s, the Islamic Republic of Iran has tried to play a mediating role and pursued the same approach in the second Nagorno-Karabakh war.
But there are signs that due to the nature of geopolitical relations between Iran and Azerbaijan, Baku cannot accept Iran’s role and is trying to play the role of the balancer in a tripartite regional structure, namely Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey, in a bid to practically reduce Iran’s role.
Also, the policymaking structure in Baku now, considering the structural changes in the region and internal developments caused by the victory in the second Karabakh war, has expanded its geopolitical view to Iran's borders and is trying to take advantage of the situation for its own benefit.
Iran and Azerbaijan have had historical, identity and cultural commonalities for decades. Such factors have helped both sides expand their relations but in some cases they have also become a geopolitical challenge for them.
Therefore, many officials making Azerbaijan’s foreign policy in practice see the Islamic Republic not as a responsible neighbor but as a geopolitical rival.
Adopting such an approach by Azerbaijan and Tehran's opposition to any geopolitical changes in its borders with Armenia have led to Baku's confrontational approach toward Tehran.
Baku has tried to introduce itself as the new hegemon of the South Caucasus region following the relative superiority it achieved during the second Karabakh war and through forming an alliance with Turkey.
The approach can be practically seen in the remarks and behavioral patterns of the decision-makers of the country toward Armenia and Iran.
Baku is basically looking for a change in the regional balance, especially through undermining roles of Iran and Russia in the South Caucasus region and increasing the strategic-geopolitical role of Azerbaijan and Turkey. However, what places the Caucasus region in general and the relations between Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia within the framework of a win-win deal despite a conflict of interests, is the restoration of the regional balance. The regional balance will be effective in nature and form when Azerbaijan abandons the revisionist approach and gives a strategic shift to the policy of maintaining the status quo.