Qom Conference Hears Iranian Pledges Of Support For Azerbaijan
Iran has not abandoned its mainly Muslim neighbor Azerbaijan in favor of mainly Christian Armenia, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi reassured Shia religious scholars at a conference on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict held on Monday [March 1] in Qom.
Fighting between Azerbaijan and Armenia from September to November over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave posed a serious challenge to Tehran, which has traditionally valued relations with both states. Despite its support for Azerbaijan’s claim to the Armenian-held enclave, Tehran was alarmed at Azerbaijan receiving assistance both from Sunni extremists – usually referred to as takfiri groups by Iranian officials – and Israel.
Azerbaijan is not only Muslim, but has a Shiite majority, which is important to Iran’s Shiite establishment. Shiite clerics, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representatives in the Azeri-speaking regions of Iran, openly called the Azerbaijani casualties in the 2020 conflict “martyrs.”
The conference was organized by the organization in charge of Iranian seminaries and attended by high-level clerics including Ayatollah Alireza Arafi, Head of Iranian Seminaries, Mohsen Rezaei (Rezaee), Secretary of the Expediency Council, and Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior foreign policy advisor to Khamenei.
Araghchi claimed that Azerbaijan had assuaged Tehran’s concerns about the presence of Sunni militants: “There was a concern about the widespread presence of takfiri groups in the region, and the Azerbaijani authorities assured us that these groups have no place with the people and officials of Azerbaijan.”
Araghchi cited Khoda Afarin Dam, a joint Iran-Azerbaijan project, as a sign of Iran’s serious opposition to Armenian occupation of Karabakh. The embankment dam on the Aras river, which marks the border between Iran and Azerbaijan, is located in an area that that the Armenian Republic of Artsakh occupied in 1993 during the first Nagorno-Karabakh war. In October 2020 Azeri forces retook control of the dam.
In his address, Rezaei called Azerbaijan “a limb in the body of Islam” and said the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict had been “the unfair war of Armenia on the beloved Karabakh under the pretext of defending the Armenians of Karabakh.” Rezaei said and demanded that Armenia hand over remaining territories claimed by Azeris.
IRNA, the government news agency, reported Monday that the Iranian embassy in Baku had disputed reports in Azeri media “deriving from the media of a third country” – apparently Turkey – that Iran provided intelligence on Azeri military movements to Armenia during the recent conflict as well as fuel and military equipment. “The clear stance of the great Leader of the Islamic Revolution [Khamenei] and high-ranking Iranian officials in support of the position of the Republic of Azerbaijan and condemnation of the occupation is clear and evident to all,” the Iranian embassy said in its statement.
“The mischievous report quoted from a source in a third country which is currently in a kind of propaganda confrontation with Iran was completely false,” the statement added, while stressing the many “historical, cultural and religious similarities of the Iranian nation and the Republic of Azerbaijan” that made their friendship “eternal.”