Khamenei Adviser Says Iran Will Not Tolerate 'Takfiri Terrorists' At Northern Border
A senior adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has warned that Iran will not allow “takfiri terrorists” near its northern border. But in a sign of Tehran’s struggle for balance in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, Ali Akbar Velayati stressed that Armenian forces should “evacuate seven cities” they had occupied.
In an interview published in the Tuesday October 6 edition of Kayhan, a newspaper funded by the leader’s office, Velayati, Khamenei’s Senior Adviser for international affairs, claimed that “Armenians” had “occupied some seven cities in the southern part of the Republic of Azerbaijan.” It was unclear if Velayati was referring to the Republic of Armenia’s army or to other Armenians, armed or not, in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been ruled de facto by Armenians since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When Kayhan asked Velayati about reports that “Takfiri terrorists,” or Sunni militants, particularly from Syria with Turkish support, had joined the conflict in support of Azerbaijan, Velayati said he hoped this was untrue. “Otherwise those who have instigated this should be held accountable,” he said.
Velayati stressed that Tehran would strongly defend its borders and would not accept that “terrorists who are being used by America and Israel be based near our borders.”
But Velayati added that “over one million Azeris” had been displaced – a reference to fighting in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He drew a comparison to the displacement of the Palestinians, saying Iran supported both peoples returning to their homes.
Velayati’s remarks are probably aimed at appeasing pro-Azerbaijan sentiments among Iran’s estimated 15 million Azeris. During the past week, there have been major pro-Azerbaijan demonstrations in Iran’s four ethnic Azeri-inhabited north-west provinces as well as a smaller gathering in Tehran. Support has also come from clerics, including representatives of Khamenei, for fellow Muslims in Azerbaijan against Christian Armenia.
Despite religious ties to Azerbaijan, Iran has traditionally leaned towards Armenia. After the current conflict flared up on Sunday September 27, Tehran moved quickly to scotch reports that Russian supplies were going to Yerevan though Iran.
Velayati reiterated Iran’s official position of respecting both countries’ territorial integrity, noting that Karabakh was an old issue that Iran had always argued should be settled though negotiations. “We are against any military action by any side because there is no military solution to this problem,” he said. “The losers of this war are the people, particularly now that attacks on residential areas have started.”
Velayati expressed disquiet over both Israel, whom he said was warmongering in the region, and Turkey: “Why Turkey is insisting on continuing the war? If Turkey can, it should try to stop the war.” Velayati also criticized France for intervention: “We will not allow other countries to threaten the security of Iran’s northern parts.”
As the situation to Iran’s north has heated up, some Iranians on social media have been showing fervent nationalist sentiments, claiming that 17 cities in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia all belong to Iran and should be returned. Iran lost those cities after war with Russia in the early 19th century led to the 1828 Treaty of Torkmanchay, subsequently regarded by many nationalists as a capitulation.