About us   Editorial Board   Advisory Board   Subscribe   Contact us  
 


CAUCASUS UPDATE

In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010

Iran’s role in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has always been more complicated than suggested by its image in the outside world. The millenarian Islamic Republic favouring an avowedly Christian state in a dispute with its predominantly Shiite Muslim neighbour seems like an unlikely situation. But since the war in the early 1990s, Iran has been pre-disposed towards supporting Armenia over Azerbaijan on the Karabakh issue. Iranian attempts to broker a ceasefire in 1992 failed and, shortly after, Armenian forces captured Shusha and Lachin, leading to doubts in Azerbaijan about Iran’s commitment.

Subsequently, Tehran has publicly expressed a neutral and balanced approach to the conflict. However, it has built a strong economic alliance with Yerevan. Iran supplies Armenia with significant volumes of its natural gas, and is its sole supplier aside from Russia. It has also helped to construct hydro-electric dams on the Araz river between the two states.

Iranian support of Armenia is largely due to strategic balancing. The huge population of ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran’s north-western provinces have always been seen as a potential secessionist threat by Tehran. This is notwithstanding the high positions which many Azerbaijanis have reached in Iran (even the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is ethnically Azerbaijani).

Tehran seems to believe that if Azerbaijan regained Karabakh and the surrounding regions, it could potentially provoke an upsurge of nationalist feeling in the north-western provinces of Iran. The status quo is preferable. Tehran has also been angered by competition with Baku over disputed Caspian oil and gas resources, and by Azerbaijan’s growing ties with the West and with Israel.

As the facts on the ground change, Iran is forced to adapt its policy accordingly. When the negotiations on the Madrid Principles (a framework for resolving the Karabakh conflict, envisaging Armenia’s initial withdrawal from some of the occupied lands surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh itself in exchange for security guarantees) intensified, Tehran reiterated its willingness to mediate.

Iranian diplomats have repeatedly criticised the OSCE’s Minsk Group of Russia, France and the US for failing to resolve the conflict after 18 years. This is hardly a rare (or unjustified) criticism. However, Iran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan Muhammad Bagir Bahrami also suggested that these non-regional countries “are only pursuing their own agendas and view the Nagorno-Karabakh issue as a means of furthering their own interests." (RIA Novosti, February 1).

Exactly what those interests are is not made clear, but the insistence on a regional solution indicates Iran’s deep concern over peacekeeping forces in Karabakh, one of the conditions of the Madrid Principles.

Given Iran’s deeply antagonistic relationship with the West, the deployment of international military forces – probably from the OSCE - just a few miles from its northern border would provoke serious concern and add to Tehran’s fear of encirclement (US troops are already to the west in Iraq; the east in Afghanistan; the south-west in the Gulf; and the north-east in Central Asia).

The reactions of Yerevan and Baku to Iran’s mediation offer have been mixed. As analyst Mina Muradova observes, the ongoing tensions between Azerbaijan and Turkey over the Armenia-Turkey thaw has raised serious concerns in Baku about Turkey’s reliance as a positive influence in Nagorno-Karabakh (Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, March 18). This may have led it to reappraise Iran’s suitability as a mediator, although for now it remains publicly cautious.

Iran has significant leverage over Armenia, in this case due to its strategic economic alliance. Armenia has been more willing than Azerbaijan, historically, to consider Iranian mediation. In January Robert Kocharian, the former Armenian president, made a trip to Iran in which he met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (RFE/RL, January 25). Although described as a ‘private visit’, there was significant speculation that the former Armenian leader was seeking to quietly encourage Iran to make more active efforts in Karabakh.

Nonetheless, the possibility of Iranian mediation in Nagorno-Karabakh remains remote. None of the other players involved in the conflict would be willing to accept Tehran having anything more than an informal role. This reluctance extends beyond Europe and the US. Russia’s growing irritation with its southern neighbour would lead to serious disapproval on any actions which looked as if they intruded in Russia’s sphere of influence. 

And even Turkey – for all Prime Minister Erdogan’s regular comments about his country’s friendship with Iran – would be alarmed by Iranian encroachment into Turkey’s difficult eastern neighbourhood, especially when the thaw with Armenia is under a number of complex pressures.

Iran’s enthusiasm for mediating in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is also an attempt to restore some geopolitical prestige at a time when it is under serious external pressure. As the diplomatic screws tighten over its nuclear programme, expect to see it becoming more and more active in its attempts to broker a peace.



"Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010" | 0 comments
The comments are owned by the poster. We aren't responsible for their content.
PREVIOUS ISSUES

  Caspian Compromise Backfires for Russia and Iran, CU Issue 83, November 24, 2010
  Turkey in a Tight Spot on Missile Defense, CU Issue 82, November 11, 2010
  The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan’s Election, CU Issue 81, October 30, 2010
  Unblocking the US-Azerbaijan Relationship, CU Issue 80, October 07, 2010
  Nabucco Pipeline: Quo Vadis?, CU Issue 79, September 30, 2010
  Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010
  Armenian Politics: Rigidity Versus Flexibility, CU Issue 77, August 10, 2010
  Russia and Georgia: Ready To Talk?, CU Issue 76, July 21, 2010
  Can the US walk and chew gum at the same time?, CU Issue 75, July 9, 2010
  The Kyrgyzstan Crisis – A Qualified Success for Turkish Diplomacy?, CU Issue 74, June 24, 2010
  Brussels downgrades the Caucasus, CU Issue 73, June 07, 2010
  NATO’s New Strategic Concept and the Caspian Region, CU Issue 72, June 01, 2010
  Joe Biden and European Security, CU Issue 71, May 13, 2010
  Behind the US-Azerbaijan row, CU Issue 70, May 6, 2010
  Turkey and Iran: The risks of failure, CU Issue 69, April 30, 2010
  Kazakhstan, the OSCE, and the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, CU Issue 68, April 19, 2010
  The Implications of the Moscow Bombings, CU Issue 67, April 12, 2010
  Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010
  The EU and Abkhazia: Between a rock and a hard place, CU Issue 65, March 16, 2010
  Fallout from the US ‘Genocide’ vote, CU Issue 64, March 9, 2010
  Ukraine's elections and future of GUAM, CU Issue 63, February 10, 2010
  Less Democracy, More Security: Kazakhstan and the OSCE, CU Issue 62, January 18, 2010
  Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 60, January 4, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 59, December 31, 2009
  The Turkmenistan-China Pipeline Changes the Energy Balance, CU Issue 58, December 21, 2009
  Russia’s European Security Treaty, CU Issue 57, December 7, 2009
  The ‘Kidnapping War’ in Georgia and its Implications, CU Issue 56, December 3, 2009
  Azerbaijan Shifts its Energy Priorities, CU Issue 55, November 23, 2009
  The South Caucasian States and Afghanistan, CU Issue 54, November 11, 2009
  Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009
  What is Russia’s Gameplan for Iran?, CU Issue 52, October 26, 2009
  Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Where Next?, CU Issue 51, October 19, 2009
  The Armenians of Georgia: A New Flashpoint in the Caucasus?, CU Issue 50, October 12, 2009
  Turkey’s EU Membership: Will The ‘Armenian Opening’ Help?, CU Issue 49, October 5, 2009
  The Missile Defence Shift: Implications for the Caucasus, CU Issue 48, September 22, 2009
  Rising Tensions in the Black Sea , CU Issue 47, September 14, 2009
  Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan: The Clock Is Ticking, CU Issue 46, September 7, 2009
  The Battle of the Bases in Central Asia, CU Issue 45, August 31, 2009
  Russia, Israel, and the S-300s, CU Issue 44, August 24, 2009
  The motivations behind Turkey's 'Kurdish Initiative', CU Issue 43, August 17, 2009
  The Implications of the Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan Dispute, CU Issue 42, August 10, 2009
  What has changed since the August war?, CU Issue 41, August 3, 2009
  The Internal Dynamics of Armenia’s Karabakh Policy, CU Issue 40, July 20, 2009
  Gazprom’s Baku Triumph, CU Issue 39, July 06, 2009
  Ingushetia: The New Chechnya?, CU Issue 38, June 29, 2009
  Georgias Economy - A Matter for Diplomats, CU Issue 37, June 22, 2009
  ‘Progress’ In The Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process, CU Issue 36, June 08, 2009
  Iran's Azerbaijanis and the presidential election, CU Issue 35, June 01, 2009
  Nabucco and South Stream - The Race Heats Up, CU Issue 34, May 25, 2009
  China and Central Asia, CU Issue 33, May 19, 2009
  Russia, Georgia, and NATO - A Bad Week, CU Issue 32, May 11, 2009
  The Obama Administration’s Emerging Caucasus Policy, CU Issue 31, April 27, 2009
  Integration and Division in the Caspian Sea, CU Issue 30, April 20, 2009
  The Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement - Implications for the South Caucasus, CU Issue 29, April 13, 2009
  Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009
  Is There Life Left In The Nabucco Project?, CU Issue 27, March 30, 2009
  Problems and Prospects for Russian Military Reform, CU Issue 26, March 23, 2009
  Russia and Georgia: Not back to war, CU Issue 25, March 16, 2009
  Armenia: Heading towards crisis?, CU Issue 24, March 9, 2009
  Drug trafficking in the Caucasus, CU Issue 23, February 23, 2009
  Russian-led military block: A real counterweight to NATO?, CU Issue 22, February 16, 2009
  Are the International Missions in Georgia still relevant?, CU Issue 21, February 9, 2009
  Israel and Azerbaijan: Baku’s Balancing Act, CU Issue 20, February 2, 2009
  The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009
  The Military Balance in Nagorno-Karabakh, CU Issue 18, January 19, 2009
  Russia, Iran, and Barack Obama in 2009, Part II, CU Issue 17, January 12, 2009
  Looking forward to 2009 in the Caucasus and beyond, Part I, CU Issue 16, January 5, 2009
  The opportunities and the risks of NATO’s new supply routes, CU Issue 15, December 22, 2008
  The Black Sea Ambitions of Armenia, CU Issue 14, December 15, 2008
  Another Small Step for Nabucco, CU Issue 13, December 8, 2008
  Will Saakashvili survive politically?, CU Issue 12, December 1, 2008
  The latest fashion: conflict mediation, CU Issue 11, November 24, 2008
  The Baku Energy Summit, CU Issue 10, November 17, 2008
  Obama and the Caucasus, CU Issue 9, November 10, 2008
  Kazakhstan's oil options, CU Issue 8, November 3, 2008
  Is the Minsk Group being sidelined?, CU Issue 7, October 27, 2008
  Gas and oil developments in the Caspian region, CU Issue 6, October 20, 2008
  Where next for the Georgian peace process?, CU Issue 5, October 8, 2008
  Unrest in the North Caucasus, CU Issue 4, September 29, 2008
  Saakashvili's future, CU Issue 3, September 22, 2008
  Iran after the Georgian War, CU Issue 2, September 15, 2008
  Football diplomacy, CU Issue 1, September 8, 2008
       
 
  © 2006-2010 CRIA
  All rights reserved

Editorial Board
Advisory Board
Our Authors

Back Issues
Caucasus Update
Current Issue

Contact Us
Subscribe
Join us on Facebook