(strategicoutlook.org) The balance in Caucasus that shifted with the collapse of the Soviet Union caused a big change in the foreign policy vision of the states in the region. While examining the problems that emerged between republics, which gained their sovereignty, it is possible to see the changes in foreign policy of neighboring countries. The attempt by neighboring countries and international organizations to expand their influence into Nagorno-Karabakh, one of the region’s unsolved problems, indicate the results of the aforementioned changes in foreign policy expansion. The attitude of Iran, one of the dominant actors in the region, regarding the events occurring in Caucasus varies from time to time. For Iran, Russia’s loss of power after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the threat of communism paved the way for the emergence of new threats. All kinds of groundswells influencing Iran via Caucasus throughout history caused, in the new political sphere, the spread of the threat of ethnic nationalism. The reason why Iran can’t ignore this threat is that Iran’s borders with neighboring countries are surrounded by different ethnic groups.
Today, close to 25 million Azerbaijani Turks live in the Southern Azerbaijan region, which is on the Caucasus border of the country. Iran is worried about the activities of West-oriented units in the region that could carry out joint incursions with Russia about the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, the most important matter of conflict in South Caucasus, thereby Iran bears a varying attitude towards it because of Iran’s national security concerns. The attitude of Iran, which acts by using Islamic revolution discourse as a basis for its foreign policy just like in its other policies, regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh issue is to keep balanced relations with both sides. Iran must behave warmly to Armenia especially due to the ethnic structure of South Azerbaijan, and it is also believed that the country may be adopting such an attitude because of the instability of its alliances with big states. As for Armenia, which has closed its border checkpoints with Turkey and Azerbaijan and could have been faced with a dead end, but instead can meet its need to access other countries comfortably through Iran, and it can also establish important commercial and energy partnerships with the country. Iran mentioned that it respects the territorial integrity of countries right from the beginning of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Iran’s expressing this discourse as a principle and its engaging in conciliatory activities are policies that Iran pursues for the purpose of taking advantage of balances in the region in a way or for the purpose of minimizing prospective damages. With regards to this issue, in Baku in 1992, Iran’s foreign n affairs minister told Azerbaijani officials, for the first time that Iran can be mediator country between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mahmud Vaezi’s held talks in Baku and Yerevan in order to negotiate about the details of the ceasefire and the exchange of captives, however, Armenia’s invasion of Shusha’s and Lachin’s caused Iran’s conciliation attempts to fail.
Iran Under The Thumb Of Russia
Feeling the dominance of Russia in all of the developments in the region, Iran again pursued a solution under Russia’s terms for the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. This resulted in the emergence of closer relations with Armenia. Additionally, Azerbaijan’s sympathy towards the Turkey-Israel strategic alliance towards the end of 1990s was responded to with Iran’s sympathy towards the Yerevan-Athens-Moscow alliance. With this alliance becoming ineffective in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Iran headed towards strengthening its relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan and from time to time it disapproved of Armenia’s invasion in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The shifting attitude of Iran, which doesn’t mention any religious or ethnic terms while describing the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, may be explained in various terms. The threat that the Turkic society in South Azerbaijan may be sympathetic with Azerbaijan, in the case that the problem is solved, is one of Iran’s biggest concerns. According to Iran, Armenia is a country that should be counted among the ranks of Russia. And Turkey’s dominance in Caucasus may be decreased by through diplomatic tensions between Turkey and Armenia; and Iran can create some chances via the Armenia diaspora in the West and it can even gain support from the diaspora in terms of improving its image in the international community. As a matter of fact this latest issue is directly related to the Armenians in Syria that support the Assad regime. The attitudes of Iran, which considers Armenia as a means of changing the balance in the region and makes expansions based on their view of Armenia, about the Nagorno-Karabakh issue have been majorly influenced by anti-Iran discourses of the Abulfaz Elchibey period. Making an emphasis on sectarian integrity for South Azerbaijani people, Iran has made special efforts to strengthen cultural ties. It is unfavorable for Iran that the clashes taking place in the region affect its own land. Another issue is the necessity for the existence of a common policy that Iran can move together with Russia against Western impact on the region. It seems that Iran has joined the ranks of Russia with its pro-Armenia attitude, which has caused a separate power balance in the region, and enabled Iran to be less concerned about its national security. With its desire to avoid the West-leaning effect of Turkey in the region and to hinder the possible influence of Turkey on Turkic people with its pro-Armenia attitudes, Iran wants to be a more effective actor in the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Recently repeating its offer to become a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Iran, just like in the policy pursued by Russia, desires to make its presence felt via this problem.
Azerbaijan Expecting More Decisive Stance From Russia
In this matter, the message that Azerbaijan gave to Russia via its treatment of the Gabala Radar Station issue must also be handled. Keeping the Gabala issue as a trump card so far with regards to Moscow’s attitudes concerning the Karabakh issue, Azerbaijan wants to see a more decisive stance from Russia. According to the idea of some experts, Russia intends to mobilize this station and move it to Armenia or North Caucasus. With reference to recent radar station discussions, the role that Russia cast for Iran should be argued. Because of the showdown that started between Iran and Azerbaijan, inducing Russia and attempting to have good relations with Israel are important. Pursuing this way, Iran, which keeps on having problems with the West, desires to improve its image by means of strong lobbies from the Armenian diaspora, which carries out globally effective activities.
All these issues feature the fundamental issues that determine Iran’s attitude towards the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Iran, as the neighboring country, which pursues a pro-Armenia policy due to the effect of the Turkic population in South Azerbaijan, is important in terms of the collective development towards peace. With reference to its impact on the solution of the problem, Iran, which will be unable to sustain its anti-West and pro-Russia inclination in terms of the existing problems in the region, has an indisputable importance as a neighboring country. What Iran gained by means of the decisions that it issued as a requirement of the policies it pursued in the region is another matter that should be questioned. In addition to that, Russia’s continual lack of involvement in regards to the Iranian nuclear issue causes curiosity about what the new policies will be. Iran’s mediation discourse, which it has started to frequently repeat, gives the impression that in the short term Iran will pursue a more conciliatory way that is open to a showdown with Azerbaijan because of different expectations and inducements.
Mehmet Fatih ÖZTARSU – Analyst, Strategic Outlook