Staunton, November 17 – As the fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan intensified, Iran beefed up its military forces along its northern border out of concern that Islamist radicals from the Middle East might come over the border and stir up trouble. Now while fighting has been suspended, Tehran has not yet reduced its military presence there to pre-war levels.
Three days ago, the Corps of Guardians of the Islamic Revolution announced that Iranian shelling had inflected serious damages on what it called “the terrorist, anti-revolutionary groups on the other side of the north-western border of our country,” although the report did not say whether these forces were in Armenia or Azerbaijan (ekhokavkaza.com/a/30955311.html).
Abbas Arkakchi, the special representative of the Iranian president for Karabakh resolution, said that the fighting around Karabakh was an occasion for concern in Tehran because on occasion Iran’s borders were violated and because of the presence among those fighting of people opposed to the Islamic state.
Thus, he continued, a ceasefire was critically important and continued vigilance necessary lest fighters to the north of the border try to move south. Arakchi further said that many of the ideas Russia included in the joint declaration came from Iran and his own visit to various capitals last month.
Aleksandr Iskandaryan, director of Yerevan’s Caucasus Institute, says Iran has another set of concerns as well because it now finds itself “between two Turkeys,” both of whom are becoming more active geopolitically and is worried that Ankara will expand its presence in Azerbaijan.
And underlying both of these concerns are fears in Tehran that the fighting between Armenians and Azerbaijanis north of the border may echo with the roughly 100,000 Armenians and more than 20 million Azerbaijanis who live in Iran. The Armenians have remained quiet during the latest episode, but Iranian Azerbaijanis have shown their support for Baku.
The Iranians are also worried because Baku has such close cooperation with Israel, perhaps Iran’s greatest enemy. And now Iran finds itself between the two countries, complicating its security situation, increasing paranoia among Iran’s leaders, and prompting actions designed to contain the consequences of the war to the north, even when as now it appears to be on hold.