Iran has started on Wednesday a series of consultations to mediate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. At the same time, it has been strengthening its border due to the fall of shells on Iranian territory.
The Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araqchí, is in Baku today to explain the initiative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and is due to travel to Moscow, Yerevan and Ankara next.
According to Araqchí, his trip aims to hold talks with "the countries of the region that are influential in resolving the recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia".
"This plan can lead to a lasting peace and put an end to the existing conflicts between the two countries and, of course, to the occupation of Azerbaijani territories," said the deputy minister, quoted by the official agency IRNA.
Other important points of the Iranian initiative are respect for "minority rights and humanitarian law", as well as the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the inviolability of borders.
On this last point, Araqchí stressed yesterday during a visit to the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan, which borders the conflict zone, that "the security of the inhabitants of the border areas is very important" for Iran.
The war in the separatist enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has been going on for a month without any prospect of a solution after the failure of three ceasefire attempts and without Azerbaijan and Armenia having yet started negotiations to try and settle the conflict.
Judging by the Baku statements, the military balance is in favour of Azerbaijan, which has regained over a hundred localities, including three major cities in the south of Nagorno-Karabakh occupied by Armenia since 1994, and control over its border with Iran.
The situation on the border is a matter of concern to Iran, as many shells have hit its territory this month, though without causing any significant damage.
Therefore, Iran has increased the presence of air defence units in the border areas of the northwest of the country and, as the army commander Abdolrahim Mousavi warned yesterday, could deploy more forces if necessary.
"Respecting the territorial integrity of countries and protecting international borders are our objectives and we will not tolerate any changes to them," Mousavi added.
The Revolutionary Guard Land Force has also deployed a mechanised brigade to the border counties of Joda Afarin and Jolfa.
Since the start of the war a month ago, the Iranian authorities have called for an end to the conflict and offered to mediate between the warring parties, whom they have also urged not to damage Persian territory.
The steps of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the return to arms in 2020
This territory is located within Azerbaijan and is a small enclave of Armenian population that wants to become independent and part of the neighbouring country (Armenia). With 140,000 inhabitants, 90% of whom speak Armenian, in 1991 they proclaimed themselves an independent state by creating the Republic of Artsaj.
To understand how this whole territorial conflict began, we have to go back to 1918, when Iosif Stalin, with the creation of the USSR, occupied the Caucasian region and divided the territory into three socialist republics: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. As in many other cases in the history of colonisation, the ethnic groups and religions that lived together in the area were not taken into account. This is how Nagorno-Karabakh remained within Azerbaijan despite being more akin to Armenia. For many years this uncomfortable situation was maintained without wanting to take it to the Soviet leadership.
But when the Soviet empire began to weaken, the inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh began to demonstrate and Armenia, in an attempt to expand its territory, entered into a war with Azerbaijan that was to last eight years (1987-1994). This war took more than 30,000 lives and displaced around a million people.
Although the USSR tried to prevent this Armenian annexation, its priorities were beginning to focus on survival. This is how the Soviet regime began to deflate without being able to exert any kind of influence. In 1991, the Nagorno-Karabakh region proclaimed itself independent by creating the Republic of Artsaj. This new state shares administration and banks with the Armenian country, which also gained Azeri ground during the war by surrounding the eastern part of the newly proclaimed country.
The war ended in it with the Azerbaijanis as the big losers as they suddenly found 20% of their country invaded by Armenia and an independent republic proclaimed without their consent. About 800,000 Azeris were forced to leave the occupied area after the war.
This state has not been recognised by any UN country, but diplomatic efforts to recognise the region have made (and continue to make) great efforts to achieve their goals. The president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, has proclaimed on several occasions that "their greatest enemies are the Armenians" and has given no sign of wishing to settle this conflict of which they feel they are historical victims.
In the city of Madrid, in 2009, an attempt was made to enliven the resolution of the conflict in which three lines were proposed to ease tensions: first, the inhabitants of Artsaj could decide whether to be from Armenia or Azerbaijan. The second point urged the Armenian army to withdraw from the occupied region to the southeast of Nagorno-Karabakh. And finally, Azerbaijan would guarantee a humanitarian corridor for all those who wish to leave Artsaj for Armenia.
These talks were broken off as neither country was willing to give up the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Tensions have been building up until now, which have resumed the military confrontation, leaving dozens of wounded, according to sources from the Ministries of Density on both sides.
During February 2020 the leaders of both countries were seen for the first time in public during the Munich Security Conference. Both Nikol Pashinian, the Armenian prime minister, and Ilham Aliyev were discussing at a conference the historical reasons for belonging to one or other of the disputed territories. The talk did not reveal any agreement, but the idea that they should discuss it in public opened the door to hope for a peaceful future.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Seven months later, both countries have taken up arms again and, right now, they do not seem to have any intention of stopping. Azerbaijan wants to recover its lost territory and, in the process, control the Republic of Artsaj, over which it has no jurisdiction since its self-proclamation.