Azerbaijan perceives Iran as posturing dangerously towards its southern regions, while Tehran is threatened by Baku drawing closer to the Islamic Republic’s regional rivals—particularly Israel. Absent a change in these dynamics, relations could further deteriorate, with tensions boiling over.
The dispute started spiraling in Sept. 2021—only weeks after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took office—when tensions escalated following reciprocal military exercises on the border. Iran conducted drills in its northwestern provinces, predominantly populated by ethnic Azeris, while Azerbaijan held joint maneuvers with Pakistan and Turkey. Since then, ties have been tested by both countries holding further exercises and practice operations close to the border. As Amwaj.media previously highlighted, competing discourses and irredentist claims in both Azerbaijan and Iran to territory within each other’s borders have only served to further inflame tensions.
Baku and Tehran enjoyed relatively stable relations until the 2020 war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. Baku’s military victory saw it regain control over border areas with Iran, shifting the balance of power in the South Caucasus. Tehran’s leverage over Baku was diminished as Azerbaijan restored its writ and force in the region. While Iran has attempted to deal with new configurations on its northwestern border as well as diminished access to Armenia, some Azerbaijanis were stung by what they perceived as alleged Iranian support for their opponents during the war.
Fuad Shahbazov is a policy analyst covering regional security issues in the South Caucasus. He was a research fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies and previously a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic Communications, both in Azerbaijan. He was also a visiting scholar at the Daniel Morgan School of National Security in Washington, DC.