Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire raises questions in Iran

November 16, 2020 - 23:31

TEHRAN – The ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia that was brokered by Russia was short of details and raised questions and speculations over the impact that it would have on the geopolitics of the region.

In what appeared to be a bid to relieve concerns among analysts about the impact of the ceasefire agreement on the geopolitics of the region, Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said on Monday that the country’s borders did not change and will not change in the future.

The spokesman was responding to speculations over a transit corridor that will be established as per a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia to connect the autonomous republic of Nakhchivan to mainland Azerbaijan.  

Last week, the leaders of Russia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan signed the 9-clause ceasefire agreement, putting an end to a 45-day long bloody war between Baku and Yerevan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

According to the agreement, “transport links” will be established inside Armenia to connect the western regions of Azerbaijan to the landlocked exclave of Nakhchivan.

The ninth clause of the carefully-worded 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 the Parties [i.e. Azerbaijan and Armenia], the construction of new transport communications linking the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the western regions of Azerbaijan shall be ensured.”

Following the establishment of the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, wild rumors and speculations swept social media in Iran that the country has lost its transit route to Armenia as a result of the newly-established ceasefire agreement. These speculations have prompted Iranian officials to provide clarifications on the agreement.

Speaking at his weekly press briefing on Monday morning, Khatibzadeh dispelled these speculations, refuting any changes in Iran’s borders.

“The geographical borders of the Islamic Republic in this region did not change at all and will not change in the future. Our perception of what has been announced is just a simple transit route, the security of which should be discussed and the Islamic Republic of Iran is following the issue closely,” the spokesman said. “Iran is located on the highway of many transit routes. Iran is both aware of its geopolitical position and uses it to help its friends.”

He also once again welcomed the ceasefire agreement, underlining that respecting international borders should be part of any solution to the crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has played and will continue to play a strategic role in all equations in the region. The only permanent solution to this crisis is to pay attention to the principle of fairness, the sovereignty of countries, and the upholding of borders, and we welcome anything that helps in this direction. A ceasefire and an end to the current conflict may not be the final answer to the crisis, but it is a very effective step,” Khatibzadeh remarked, adding that Iran welcomes any permanent solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis.

The spokesman stated, “No subject can be formed outside the normal routine; as no player outside the region can set foot in this region and we have said it explicitly and those who should get the message have taken it. Outside of this path, it is natural that no process will take place.”

Khatibzadeh reiterated that the peace initiative that Iran has recently presented to the four countries involved in the conflict – Azerbaijan, Russia, Armenia, and Turkey – is remarkably convergent with the Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement.

“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 Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 11.

The statement also underscored the necessity for respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries and a lack of change in internationally recognized official borders.

Iran has clearly voiced concern over the potential change in official borders in the region, especially the Iran-Armenia border, which gives Iran a strategic trade advantage in its economic relations with Azerbaijan, Armenia, and to some extent Turkey. This may be the reason why the ceasefire agreement sparked rumors and speculations over the impact that this agreement would have on the Iran-Armenia border.

As Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia announced the ceasefire agreement, maps circulating on social media platforms in Iran purportedly claiming that the Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan transport corridor, which Iranian sources estimated to be five kilometers wide, cut off Iran’s transit route to Armenia, a claim that prompted Seyed Abbas Araghchi, the deputy foreign minister of Iran for political affairs, to break his holiday on Friday to refute the “baseless rumors” about the ceasefire agreement’s impact on Iran-Armenia border in a statement to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

“Unfortunately, disinformation and misleading information along with fake maps are 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,” Araghchi told IRNA on Friday night.

The ceasefire agreement itself was so short that it did not give information on where and when the Nakhchivan-Azerbaijan “transport links” will be established. This ambiguity paved the way for 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 was widely circulated 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 called these rumors “baseless,” saying that “there will be no change in Iran’s transit routes to Armenia or the Republic of Azerbaijan.”

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. He also pointed out that 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 mainland 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 in Iran in this regard on Wednesday evening.

Iran has said that it will not tolerate any change in the official international borders in the region. At least two high-ranking Iranian military officials warned against changing the borders over the course of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

“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,” Major General Seyed Abdolrahim Mousavi, the commander of Iran’s Army, warned.

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 during the Nagorno-Karabakh war.

“We will not accept change in the geopolitics of borders. This issue is the red line of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Pakpour asserted.

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