https://www.tehrantimes.com-TEHRAN – The Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement that has recently been reached between Azerbaijan and Armenia was so much ambiguous that promoted wild rumors and speculations in Iran, a move that prompted Iranian officials to provide clarifications on the agreement.
Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs, dispelled rumors and speculations that Iran’s borders with Azerbaijan and Armenia have been affected by the recent Russian-brokered ceasefire deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Araghchi called these rumors “baseless,” saying that “there will be no change in Iran’s transit routes to Armenia or the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
“Unfortunately, disinformation and misleading information along with fake maps is being spread in cyberspace. Claims such as cutting Iran’s border with Armenia, creating a corridor inside Armenia or even inside Iran, changing the geopolitics of the region, etc. have been raised but they are fundamentally untrue and being spread for specific political and propaganda purposes,” the deputy foreign minister said in an interview with the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) on Friday night.
On November 10, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia issued a late-night joint statement declaring a Russian brokered agreement to put an end to the long-running conflict in the volatile region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
The agreement, which ended the several-week-long deadly war between Baku and Yerevan, established a “complete ceasefire and a cessation of all hostilities in the zone of the Nagorno-Karabakh.”
The Azerbaijan-Armenia war broke out on September 27, when the troops of the two sides began exchanging fires along the contact line in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but was controlled by ethnic Armenians. After nearly 44 days of fighting, Azerbaijan succeeded in taking back several areas in the region that were previously under Armenian control but it refused to advance further after taking the strategic city of Shusha. Armenia agreed to return the remaining cities to Azerbaijan in a few weeks.
According to the Russian-brokered peace agreement, “the Republic of Armenia shall return Kalbajar district to the Republic of Azerbaijan by 15 November 2020 and Lachin district by 1 December 2020, while retaining the Lachin corridor (5km wide), which shall provide a connection of Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia and shall not affect the city of Shusha.”
But the 9-clause agreement included another provision that sent shockwaves throughout the region. Clause 9 of the agreement stipulates that “all economic and transport links in the region shall be restored. The Republic of Armenia guarantees the safety of transport links between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in order to organize unhindered movement of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions. Control over transport shall be exercised by the bodies of the Border Guard Service of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia.”
It further stipulates that by agreement of Armenia and Azerbaijan, “the construction of new transport communications linking the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the western regions of Azerbaijan shall be ensured.”
The agreement did not give further detail about the Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan corridor, a move that paved the way for some social media users to spread rumors and maps alleging that the corridor will cut Iran’s transit route to Armenia and therefore change the geopolitics of the region. One map that has been widely circulating on social media purportedly showed that the corridor cuts the transit route between Iran and Armenia but Araghchi said these maps are baseless and that there were no plans to create a corridor along Iran-Armenia borders. Araghchi himself posted a map on his Telegram channel showing Iran-Armenia borders were intact.
“As can be seen in this map, the much-discussed issue of creating a geographical corridor along the border between Iran and Armenia is completely unfounded,” asserted Araghchi, referring to the map he has published.
According to the Iranian diplomat, the corridor is yet to be completely known.
“What is stated in the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement is the creation of a road corridor, or rather a transit route, inside Armenia from Nakhchivan to the mainland of Azerbaijan, the security of which will be guaranteed by Russia, and the exact route is still unknown,” noted Araghchi, adding, “This is not a new idea and it has a long history, and if it is implemented, which is dependent on a thousand of ifs and buts, it will not make any change in Iran’s transit routes to Armenia or Azerbaijan.”
Araghchi also said that he held “long” talks with the Russian ambassador to Iran in this regard on Wednesday evening.
“However, our consultations with all parties continue. On Wednesday evening, I had a long conversation with the Russian ambassador in Tehran about this,” Araghchi said.
Diplomacy in action
The deputy foreign minister recently undertook a shuttle diplomacy to help end the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. He embarked on a regional tour that included four countries involved one way or another in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to present an Iranian peace initiative. These countries were Azerbaijan, Russia, Armenia, and Turkey.
Visiting the four countries as the special representative of the Iranian president, Araghchi said, “The main purpose of the visit is to present the proposed initiative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to resolve this conflict and achieve a lasting peace between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan and, consequently, the region.”
He made these remarks shortly after arriving in neighboring Azerbaijan, adding that the Iranian peace initiative was “capable of bringing the situation to lasting peace and put an end to the existing disagreements and, of course, the occupation of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
In Baku, Araghchi held detailed talks with the Azerbaijani leadership to help bring peace to the war-torn region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Introduced Iran’s Regional Initiative to Help in Ending the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict to H. E. Ilham Aliyev, President of Azerbaijan, in a positive and constructive long meeting,” the deputy foreign minister said in a tweet following a meeting with President Aliyev.
Hikmet Hajiyev, an assistant to the Azerbaijani president who met with Araghchi, said the Iranian diplomat held a “very fruitful” talks with the Azerbaijani officials.
“Araghchi, indeed [held] very fruitful meeting. Azerbaijan and Iran have strong ties of friendship and good neighborly relations. Thanks for your condolences to Azerbaijani martyrs who liberate our lands from occupation and civilians who become target of Armenia’s War Crimes,” Hajiyev said in a tweet after Araghchi left Baku for Moscow.
Azerbaijani highly valued Iran’s efforts to establish peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.
“We highly value the efforts of the friendly Iranian state to resolve the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict, including the visit of the Special Envoy of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi to the region and the initiative on the settlement of the conflict as soon as possible,” the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry said in a statement in early November.
After Baku, Araghchi visited Moscow to make a pitch for peace in Nagorno-Karabakh. Then he left Moscow for Yerevan, where he met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pahinyan. On the final leg of his tour, the deputy foreign minister visited Ankara and met with his Turkish counterpart Sedat Onal.
Geopolitical red line
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in early November that Araghchi held ‘very good’ talks during his regional tour.
The chief Iranian diplomat said his aide “went on this trip with an initiative that was discussed in our country and approved by the relevant authorities, and after visiting the border area, he held very good talks with various officials” in Baku, Moscow, Yerevan, and Ankara.
Ensuring the people’s rights, establishing communication channels, creating a mechanism for countries of the region to monitor the implementation of the initiative were parts of the peace plan of the Islamic Republic of Iran to establish peace in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, according to Zarif.
The Iranian peace initiative was a result of many serious concerns in Tehran. The first concern has something to do with the presence of terrorist forces in the conflict zone which is located just a stone’s throw from Iran’s borders. Zarif has said that Iran is “almost certain” that the terrorists were present in the conflict and that it has warned the countries involved in the conflict that it will not tolerate their presence on its doorstep.
“As for the terrorist forces, we are almost certain that they were present in the midst of the conflict, and we emphasized that this is not in anyone’s interest. In recent and even earlier negotiations, we have informed the authorities of Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as Russia and Turkey, that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not tolerate such a thing,” Zarif cautioned.
Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei has also warned about the presence of terrorists in the conflict zone, saying reliable reports indicate some terrorists are involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
“If these terrorists operate near Iranian borders and if we feel they pose a danger to our country, they will definitely be dealt with seriously,” he warned. “They mustn’t come near Iran’s border.”
The second concern that Iran has clearly voiced over the course of the Nagorno-Karabakh war is directly related to the geopolitics of the region. In other words, Iran expressed concerns over the change of internationally recognized borders in the south Caucasus region.
Iran has deployed additional troops and military equipment along its borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan in an effort to prevent any change in the geopolitics of the region and international borders.
Senior Iranian military officials made it clear that Iran considers international borders of the regions as inviolable. Therefore, it will not accept any changes in the official international borders.
“Respecting the territorial integrity of countries and preserving the official international borders are among our well-known principles and we will not tolerate any changes in these borders. We have opposed these changes and will continue to do so,” said Major General Seyed Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of Iran’s Army, as Araghchi began his regional tour.
Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Ground Forces, also echoed the same red line while visiting Iran’s northwestern borders.
“We will not accept change in the geopolitics of borders. This issue is the red line of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pakpour asserted.
Despite these clear warnings, Iran has welcomed the Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement, which will lead to the creation of the Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan corridor. This corridor has concerned many analysts in Iran who say the corridor should not cut off Iran’s transit route to Armenia.
On the other hand, the countries involved in the corridor – Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan- did not provide any details as to where the corridor will be created and how it might affect Iran-Armenia and Iran-Azerbaijan trade.
Of course, Iran did not oppose the corridor. In fact, Iran welcomed the ceasefire agreement. The Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday welcoming the trilateral peace agreement. The statement said that the agreement is similar to the peace initiative that Iran has recently presented to Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Armenia.
“Iran hopes the agreement whose principles had also been mentioned in an initiative put forward by the Islamic Republic of Iran will lead to final arrangements to establish lasting peace in the Caucasus region in such a way that it will bring tranquility and welfare for people in all regional countries and ease existing concerns,” the statement said.
The Foreign Ministry of Iran also used the opportunity to once again underline” the necessity for respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries” and “a lack of change in internationally recognized official borders.”
The Nagorno-Karabakh peace agreement is vague and lacks transparency. It’s not clear yet where the Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan corridor will be created and does it have something to do with the corridor linking Armenia to the Armenian enclave in Nagorno-Karabakh? Why did the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia decide to keep Iran in the dark about the ceasefire agreement while Iran shares long borders with both sides of the war and was directly affected by the conflict?
It remains to be seen whether the ceasefire agreement would continue this time or will soon collapse just like previous ceasefires, which failed because they were not reached through collective diplomacy among all players in the region.