Azerbaijan is located to the east of Armenia and under its sovereignty there is an independent province called Nakhchivan which is to the west of Armenia without territorial contiguity with Azerbaijan. This province borders Armenia, Iran and Turkey. In the agreements between Armenia and Azerbaijan signed after the war between the two countries in 2020, it was agreed in Article 9:
“All economic and transport connections in the region shall be unblocked. The Republic of Armenia shall guarantee the security of transport connections between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in order to arrange unobstructed movement of persons, vehicles and cargo in both directions. The Border Guard Service of the Russian Federal Security Service shall be responsible for overseeing the transport connections.
“Subject to agreement between the Parties, the construction of new transport communications to link the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the western regions of Azerbaijan will be ensured.”
On the basis of this article, Azerbaijan demands to receive a strip in southern Armenia, along Armenia’s border with Iran, in order to establish in this strip a modern transportation corridor (highway and railway) that will connect Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, which borders Turkey. The Azerbaijanis demand that this corridor – the Zangezur Corridor – be under Azerbaijani control, if not also under Azerbaijani sovereignty.
If the corridor is indeed under Azeri sovereignty, it will separate Iran to the south of the corridor from Armenia to the north and give Azerbaijan an important land route that will enable it to connect China from the east to Turkey in the west through Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, all Turkic nations.
Iran strongly rejects the Zangezur Corridor being restored to Azerbaijan’s sovereignty due to the fact that it would divide Iran from Armenia and Russia, would dramatically decrease Iranian influence in the South Caucuses and would significantly increase Turkish influence in the region. The Zangezur Corridor, which is slated to be returned to Azerbaijan in the framework of any future peace deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia, connects the land-locked Nachshivan province of Azerbaijan with the rest of the country and hypothetically can one day connect Azerbaijan with Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea.
For this reason, restoring Azerbaijani sovereignty over this corridor is of utmost importance to Azerbaijan, and Turkey supports Azerbaijan in this important endeavor. However, while restoring Azerbaijani sovereignty over the Zangezur Corridor is of critical importance to Azerbaijan’s long-term security, the Iranians greatly object to it because it would cut them off from Armenia, which is Iran’s life-support to the outside world in the face of crippling sanctions imposed on Iran for its military nuclear program and terrorist activities.
Presently, the Armenians supply Iran with electricity in exchange for Iran supplying Armenia with oil, while Russia is willing to finance infrastructure projects in Iran and grant other loans to the mullahs merely so that Russia will have a land route to the Indian Ocean via Armenia and Iran.
Returning the Zangezur Corridor to Azerbaijan together with the present state of Azerbaijani-Iranian relations frustrate any plans Moscow may have to connect their country to the Indian Ocean via Iran through railways. If the present state of affairs continues, then the whole plan by Russia to bankroll infrastructure projects in Iran could crumble, as could the ability of Armenia to keep propping up Iran.
According to the Azerbaijani media, Iranian expert Mohammed Ismail Alikhani noted that “if the corridor is opened, Armenia will lose its connection with the South and Armenians will have to get permission from Baku to travel to and from Iran. If Armenia grants territory to Azerbaijan in the South on the border with Iran, it will cease to be Iran’s neighbor.”
During the recent visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Azerbaijan after his re-election, Turkey’s support for Azerbaijan reclaiming the Zangezur Corridor was once again emphasized, a fact which greatly irritated the Iranians, who are constantly in competition with Turkey for control over the oil-rich region. At the same time, Turkey announced that they would open up a consulate in Shusha, Azerbaijan’s cultural capital city, which is another slap in the face to the Iranians, as it helps to reinforce Azerbaijan’s control over the war-torn Karabakh region in defiance of the Iranian regime, which propped up Armenia in its war against Azerbaijan for over thirty years.
Tensions between Iran and Turkey have a long history. Since the Syrian Civil War broke out in March 2011, Turkey, Qatar and some other GCC countries supported the downfall of the Assad regime, while Iran did everything it could to support it. After Assad essentially reclaimed control over large parts of his country, Turkey is now moving away from fighting proxy conflicts and is preferring to build up its relationship with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which together with their reconciliation agreement with Israel is another step which is pushing Turkey away from the grasp of the mullah’s in Tehran.
Erdogan’s recent visit to Azerbaijan very much undermined Iranian hegemony in the Caucuses region. During his visit to Azerbaijan, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated: “Turkey and Azerbaijan are two brother nations. We have walked together up to this point as two states and one nation. From here on out, we will continue on our way resolutely.”
Simultaneously, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev noted that decades of talks had “failed to bring about any results, but our force did. Azerbaijan and Turkey will increase their force in the world and in the region.” This is exactly what disturbs the Iranians, who want to preserve their sphere of influence in the Caucuses region, which in the wake of the new Azerbaijani Embassy in Tel Aviv combined with Turkey’s growing power after the recent elections very much threatens Iranian hegemony and the future of the mullah’s regime in Tehran.
It is for precisely this reason that the Zangezur Corridor should be restored to Azerbaijani sovereignty as soon as possible to send the message that the trio of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Israel remain resolutely opposed to the mullahs and their regional ambitions, even as the West inches closer to capitulation in the wake of a new nuclear deal.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is an expert in Israeli Arab culture and the Arab world. He served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence, where he specialized in Islamic groups.