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Iran, Russia urge calm following new Armenia-Azerbaijan clashes

Iran has significant interests at stake in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, having a somewhat tense relationship with the latter.
Citizens visit their loved ones at Yerablur Military Cemetery who were killed recently during September in Nagorno-Karabakh. Family and friends lay flowers and burn incense at the graves throughout the days. On September 19th Azerbaijan launched a large-scale military offensive against the Armenian Republic of Artsakh. The violation was seen as a breach in the 2020 ceasefire, which led to over 190 servicemen killed, and over 360 wounded. After the fighting officially ended on September 21, Azerbaijan opened

Iran and Russia called for calm on Tuesday after a border skirmish between Armenia and Azerbaijan that left four Armenian soldiers dead, and one Armenian soldier and one Azeri soldier injured. 

Armenian authorities said that Azerbaijani troops fired on Armenian forces across the border in the Syunik region of southeast Armenia on Tuesday. But Azerbaijan said it fired on Armenian forces in retaliation for shelling of Azerbaijani forces on Monday, the Associated Press reported. 

Nasser Kanaani, spokesperson for Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs “called on both sides to exercise restraint and maintain peace."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, “We urge both sides to exercise restraint, to avoid in every possible way any actions that the other side might consider provocative,” Russia’s official news agency, TASS, reported.

At the press briefing Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the US was concerned by the renewed violence and offered condolences to the families. Miller said that the US is committed to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations, warned that the use of force undermines those efforts. He added that "any ceasefire violations should be investigated and properly addressed."

Armenia and Azerbaijan have had territorial disputes since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in early 1990s. In 2020, the two countries fought a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh region — an area that was inhabited by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan. Baku launched a new offensive in September of last year, leading to the mass exodus of Armenians from the area and the dissolution of the local government in January of this year.

Syunik is located just south of Nagorno-Karabakh, and some residents are concerned Azerbaijan may move on the area, Radio Free Europe reported in November.

Why it matters: Iran has concerns about conflict in Syunik. The Islamic Republic fears the possibility of an Azerbaijani incursion in the area, as such an action could threaten Iran’s land border with Armenia, according to a January report from the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Iran has a complex relationship with the conflict. In October, Iran hosted Armenian and Azerbaijani diplomats for a dialogue conference aimed at resolving tensions.

Iran has historically enjoyed warm relations with Armenia, but its relationship with Azerbaijan has been tense at times. The following is a breakdown of some notable recent developments in Iran-Azerbaijan relations:

  • A gunman shot and killed a security official at the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran in January of last year.
  • Iran slammed the opening of an Israeli embassy in Baku in March.
  • Azerbaijan expelled four Iranian diplomats in April, prompting Iran to make a reciprocal move in May.
  • Iran arrested five ethnic Azeris last week, accusing them of planning sabotage acts on orders from an unspecified entity in Azerbaijan.

Iran and Russia have expressed agreement on the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan recently. At the October conference, both countries denounced Western inference in the conflict, Agence France-Presse reported at the time.

Know more: Iran and Azerbaijan have been working to establish the Aras corridor recently. The corridor would link the Azerbaijani exclave Nakhchivan to the Azerbaijani mainland via Iran. The Islamic Republic has been pushing for the Aras corridor as an alternative to the proposed Zangezur corridor, which would connect Nakhchivan to the rest of Azerbaijan via Armenia. Iran opposes Zangezur, believing it would cut its trade and transit links to Armenia, Rahim Rahimov wrote for Al-Monitor in December.

Kristen Talman in Washington contributed to this report.