Azerbaijan Geopolitics Information Warfare Security/maritime security

Iran deploys guard units to the Azerbaijani border

By | Rachel Brooks

October 25, 2020

Above, the Aras River as it flows through Jolfa, Iran near the Azerbaijani border. 

Iran has deployed guard troops to the shared border as the battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia continues. This was reported by Iran International (English) on October 24 at 22:53 local time. The deployment of military hardware to the border was confirmed by a senior of the Revolutionary Guards. The official announced that the motion was to “protect Rome’s interest.” 

The report was filed by Mohammad Pakpour, commander of the IRGC land forces. Pakpour visited the Khoda Afrin region near the Azerbaijani border to deploy forces that would be “for the protection of national interests”

Iran International then also states that Azerbaijani forces have been fighting to drive Armenian forces back from the old Soviet-Iran border. This border is located on the northern side of the Aras River. 

This defense strategy against the northern Aras River came in the wake of Nikol Pashinyan’s statement that Armenia would welcome direct engagement from Iran. 

“We welcome any constructive measure initiated by #Iran to establish peace and stability in the region,” stated Pashinyan, tweeted via his official site and likewise reported in IRNA

The article, translated into English, states that Iran should become a key player in the region. This is citing an interview with the Islamic news agency conducted with Nikol Pashinyan. 

“On Wednesday, October 20, Vaznameh Iran interviewed with the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan,” stated the IRNA. 

“Iran should become one of the most important countries in the region. We welcome any constructive step by Iran to bring peace and tranquility to the region.” The IRNA quoted Pashinyan. 

The IRNA likewise reported, in the Persian language version of the site, that Iran was seeking specifically to keep third parties out of the region. 

Following Tweet text translation:

“A short video of Iran’s drilling and piping operations on the Norduz border to transfer fuel to Armenia. This movie was made today. “Umm al-Qura ‘al-Islam” in the service of the invaders to the land of Islam.”

“Foreign interference in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” was the common concern of the President of Iran and the Prime Minister of Armenia in a telephone conversation on 9 October; Hassan Rouhani also raised this concern in talks with the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia,” read the IRNA article. 

 “Iran’s position on the military conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region is the cessation of hostilities, the start of negotiations between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan in accordance with international law, and the prevention of interference by third countries; In addition, Iran has stated its readiness to play a constructive role in resolving the disputes between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan.”

AzerNews likewise reported on the Iranian position, stating that Iran had claimed to “fully support Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.” AzerNews stated that the Iranian Ambassador Seyyed Abbas Mousavi had made statements regarding this position in a meeting with Azerbaijani Economy Minister Mikayil Jabbarov on October 23. During this meaning, the Iranian Ambassador and the Ministry of the Economy spoke about the business sector and stated that the number of Iranian businesses that are benefiting from the developing business sector of Azerbaijan is growing. The story that appeared on AzerNews was published by the KVIDF.az.gov via funding of the State Assistance to the Development of the President of the Azerbaijan Republic. 

However, Mousavi’s reassurances to Azerbaijan mirror the same rhetoric that was spoken to the Armenians and reveals that Iran’s interests are its own. Iran, concerned with the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh, must take a stance to secure the position of the Islamic Republic within the region. Iran is interested in placating the governments of both the warring nations because it receives trade from Azerbaijan and aid from Armenia. 

Iran continues to strengthen its military defenses along the border, as is evidenced by video footage. Iran walks a difficult line, between desiring to maintain peaceful relations with Azerbaijan due to business relations and the large population of Azerbaijani living within the Iranian territory. Iran and Azerbaijan have established business relations on a need basis. They are regional neighbor states. The ties are lukewarm in the sense that, neither can afford a conflict with each other but fundamentally the values of both nations are marginally different. TRT World stated in 2019 that Azerbaijan and Iran’s relationship began to “strengthen” for the first time in 40 years at the beginning of last year, to increase trade relations. 

Yet, Iran also has the problem of the Azerbaijani friendly relations with Israel and the United States to contend with. Iran is reluctant to directly support Azerbaijan, but Iran must also not overtly support Armenia. There are many advantages, however, that Iran could find in an empowered Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory. For this reason, Iran is not swift to condemn the Armenian regime’s actions in Azerbaijan and actively launches suppression campaigns of ethnic Azerbaijani conflict protesters in Iran. 

The loud voice of Armenian propaganda works doubly to prevent exposure in the western press of Armenian-Iranian cooperations. The Armenian Weekly ran a post that vehemently denies and counter-claims every piece of Azerbaijani reportage that has passed through the western press since the inception of the Nagorno-Karabakh 2020 conflict.

 The Armenian Weekly credits all reportage that contradicts its narrative to “Azerbaijani lobbyists” and claimed that the “proper disclaimers” were not being sent to western news outlets to prove that the articles were commissioned by agents of Baku. Armenian propaganda arms then proceed to a witch hunt for proof of the previous lobbying of the journalists who published in western outlets, including those who published op-ed articles that contained disclaimers. After efforts to discredit the reporters and academic commentators who ran the articles in the western press, The Armenian Weekly then turned their attention toward refuting the facts of what was stated in these articles. The post directly sought to draw into question the relations between Armenia and Iran and deny “an email sent to CNSNews” that directly links Iran, prevented by sanctions, to Armenian economic lifeline support. The article was published in a blog column of The Times of Israel. 

Armenian propaganda attempts to discredit Armenia-Iran-Russia collaborations 

A key figure that The Armenian Weekly sought to discredit was Brenda Schaffer, a researcher, and professor at Georgetown University security and frequent foreign commentator for Reuters and various outlets. The publication accuses Schaffer of being an Azerbaijani lobbyist due to her presence on a variety of Azerbaijani policy discussion panels and her “role as an adviser to the State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan.” The Armenian Weekly sought to discredit Schaffer’s quote in an article published by the Jewish News Syndicate and written by Sean Savage. Schaffer is quoted explaining the complex relationship between Armenia and Russia in the region. Russia uses Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan to signal Azerbaijan not to threaten Russian gas markets in Europe, states Schaffer. Schaffer was also quoted explaining how Russia pipes weapons to the conflict for this backdoor intimidation strategy through weapons transit in Iran. 

Schaffer, in the JNS article, likewise explained how Armenia has offered to serve as Iran’s gas transit corridor into Europe despite sanctions. Schaffer explained that Armenia has a military unit within Syria that operates under the Russian forces there. Armenian propaganda has sought to discredit the proof of officials stating that the country has direct ties to Iran and Russia and a direct transit of Syrian mercenaries. Armenian propaganda outlets have worked toward deflection by claiming that Azerbaijan receives Syrian mercenary assistance via the units under Turkish control. 

The JNS reported that the Islamic Republic’s domestic control over its internal Azerbaijani population is lessened by the friendship between Israel and Azerbaijan. Israel’s cooperation with Azerbaijan has changed the domestic appeal of Israel in the eyes of Iranian Azerbaijani. This undermines the Islamic Republic’s control over the rhetoric of Israel as the sworn enemy of its state and detracts from the capacity for Iran to radicalize the Muslim Iranian Azerbaijani population. 

Armenian propaganda reveals internal media outlet communications 

The Armenian Weekly claimed to have known the email communications of several publications that did not publish works of the Azerbaijani lobbyists. The post referred to publications such as The Washington Free Beacon or CNSNews that received editorial emails but refused to publish pieces. Then, the posts refer to where those email-pitched articles eventually did publish. The Armenian Weekly piece, while seeking to discredit the western press and refute the supposed propaganda arm of Azerbaijan, committed an error that exposed a cinch in the armor of the solid propaganda machine. The error was simple, to be able to state publicly the email communications of various editorials, The Armenian Weekly would need to have accessed these emails, or have been in direct communication with those who had access to them. This article then infers a collaboration chain throughout outlets of the western press that work together to refute and sabotage any positive press that emerges on behalf of Azerbaijan. 

The Armenian Weekly sought to draw attention to the Azerbaijani and Iranian economic relationship, by directly referencing the sums of exports and imports between Azerbaijan and Iran. Deflection of interest is a common tactic of Armenian propaganda. 

Iran’s motives and the growing tension

Amid the conflict with Armenia, Azerbaijan is retaking many of its previous territories along the Iran border, including the ancient Khudafrin bridge. This contributes to Iran’s anxiety regarding Azerbaijan’s security influence in these previously captured locations. 

Irina Tsukerman, a human rights lawyer based in New York, made note of Iranian agendas moving forward. 

 Although Iran has tried to play both sides, its ultimate goal is destructive to all of the Caucasus. Tehran has tried to balance doing business with Azerbaijan, which is also a popular tourist destination for Iranians, as a means of sustaining its shambling economy, with putting pressure on Baku, increasingly an economic rival and competitor. Countries concerned about the sanctions against Iranian products, particularly fossil fuels, see Azerbaijan as a more welcome destination. Likewise, it is perceived as a more stable and less risky environment for business in general,” said Tsukerman.  

“Although it has a much smaller population, Azerbaijan is a far more likely destination as a potential tech hub in the region, and an attractive spot for other types of investments. Sending IRGC into the conflict is all about escalating the conflict, creating a perception of a major crisis, and scaring away businesses and investors, under the cover of securing borders and national interests.

 If Armenia believes it will benefit from this situation, it is wrong. The war with Azerbaijan, and even Iran supporters, will not suddenly turn it into a welcome destination for major companies. On the contrary, Armenia would benefit the most from the stabilization of the region and peaceful engagement with its neighbor. Instead of trying to engage an unwelcome aggressive state, viewed with disapproval by the US administration, it should accept international norms, withdraw from occupied territories, and negotiate an acceptable political, economic, and social arrangement for its people with Baku.”