By Mohammad Mazhari

Iranian position in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been fair: Azeri expert

February 12, 2021 - 22:32

TEHRAN – Head of the Azerbaijan Institute for Democracy and Human Rights says that Iran took a correct position in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict from the first day.

Pointing to Iran’s help to Azerbaijan, Ahmad Shahidov tells the Tehran Times that “without the support of Iran at certain points, Azerbaijan could have lost more territory and people.”
“The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been fair from the first day and it includes the territorial integrity of the countries,” Shahidov adds.
The following is the text of the interview:

 Q: How do you evaluate the relations of Iran and Azerbaijan, especially after the Nagorno-Karabakh war?

A: Iranian-Azerbaijani relations have a long history. There are historical, cultural, political, and economic ties between the two countries. Millions of people share the same history, culture, language, and religion on both sides of the Araz River. From this point of view, Iranian-Azerbaijani relations have always been at a high level, and when the war broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh in September last year, these relations showed themselves once again.

The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has been fair from the first day and includes the territorial integrity of the countries. This position is what Azerbaijan wants. We were waiting for this position from Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan at various levels and demanded the immediate evacuation of the occupied territories. Iran's Supreme Religious Leader, his advisers, and other officials made statements in this regard. We remember this and appreciate it. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev also called Iran's position fair during the war. This is the official position of the Azerbaijani state.

Q: How do you see Iran’s historic position in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

A: The position of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has always been based on international law, and Tehran has always taken the same official position on international platforms. Iran's position has not changed since the 1990s: Azerbaijan's territorial integrity must be restored.

Over the years, the Iranian side has repeatedly offered to mediate and expressed its support for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Of course, Azerbaijan was not in favor of bloodshed in the region, and we tried to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the OSCE Minsk Group. Although a decisive rapprochement was reached in the peace talks, tensions between the parties continued as a result of Armenia's unconstructive position.

Each time a ceasefire was violated in the region, Tehran called on the parties to be patient and agree on a ceasefire and proposed a mediation mission.

Unfortunately, in the autumn of last year, the war in the region became inevitable and Azerbaijan had to liberate its lands by war. Because Armenia's provocative statements and provocations on the front continued. The patience of the Azerbaijani state and people was exhausted. And finally, the Azerbaijani Army took action.

Q: How do you evaluate U.S. and Western countries’ role in mediating between Armenia and Azerbaijan, especially as this time it was Russia that managed the situation?

A:  Despite the presence of countries such as the United States and France among the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, which mediates in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the position of the two countries during the 44-day war was unfortunate. The intermediary countries openly justified the occupation. Specifically, France openly sided with Armenia and justified the occupation of Azerbaijani lands. This policy is completely contrary to the mediation mission. Official Washington's position was not based on international law. We regret the statement of the U.S. secretary of state condemning Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan acted within the framework of international law, wanted to restore its state borders, the whole world supports the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, but two members of the OSCE Minsk Group opposed Azerbaijan.

This means that for the last 30 years, the United States and France have been engaged in hypocrisy and simply tried to buy time. They tried to justify the maintenance of the status quo in Nagorno-Karabakh and the occupation of Azerbaijani lands. The 44-day war revealed the true nature of those countries.

Russia, another intermediary country, took a more professional approach. On one hand, Moscow supported the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and on the other, it launched its mediation mission and took real steps to ensure long-term peace and reconciliation between the parties.

Q: Which neighboring countries helped Azerbaijan during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War?

A: The First Karabakh War has left bitter traces in the history of Azerbaijan. It was in the early 1990s that Azerbaijan lost 20 percent of its land. At that time, the Azerbaijani army was just being formed and usually consisted of volunteers. It is a historical fact that in those years, without the support of Iran at certain points, Azerbaijan could have lost more territory and people.

I would like to remind you that during the First Karabakh War, especially during the skirmishes along the Araz River, hundreds of thousands of our citizens became refugees. At that time, Iran's official support, in particular, the opening of a humanitarian corridor in the region by Tehran, helped to safely evacuate thousands of Azerbaijanis from the war zone. Otherwise, our losses could have been many times greater. We must not forget this. We have not forgotten this support from neighboring Iran, and I want to talk about it today.

The Supreme Religious Leader of Iran has repeatedly stated that Nagorno-Karabakh is a Muslim land, the land of Muslim Azerbaijanis. In those lands, our Muslim religious monuments, Islamic architectural values and mosques have been destroyed and looted.

We have always felt the support of friendly and brotherly Iran, and even in the most difficult days of Azerbaijan, the 44-day war, we relied on friendly countries like Iran and saw Iran with us. A large number of countries supported us. These supports strengthened us and we won the 44-day war.

Q: How can Iran and Azerbaijan take advantage of their common ties like religion, language and history?
A: I want to emphasize once again that Iran and Azerbaijan are countries with a common history, culture and, I would say, a common future. The two countries have common religious beliefs and a common language and culture. And Azerbaijan and Iran have always supported each other on various issues. And it is important to continue this mutual support.

The war in Karabakh is over. Now we need to look to the future. Azerbaijan needs support to restore the liberated territories, and Iran can be closely involved in this issue. Given that the Islamic Republic of Iran has sufficient experience and potential in the development of water basins, construction of hydropower plants, restoration of historical and religious monuments and construction of mosques, as well as the construction of communication hubs, then Azerbaijan and Iran can agree in this area.

I remember that some time ago when the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev visited the liberated Khudafarin Bridge, he called our border with Iran the "Border of Friendship." Later, the statements made by Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif during his visit to Baku once again show that there are steps to be taken jointly by the two countries. First of all, we are interested in cooperating with Iran in the reconstruction and restoration of Nagorno-Karabakh. Further, I see the Iranian government's mediation mission in maintaining the ceasefire and ensuring coexistence in the region as successful. The fact that Iran and Azerbaijan share the same position and support each other in a number of regional and global energy projects can lead to fruitful results.