Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei. Undated. (MEHR)

October 8, 2020

Stressing the “integrity of Azerbaijan,” Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiei urged Armenia to pull out its forces from Azerbaijan’s occupied territories, Nagorno-Karabakh, saying that third-party intervention outside the agreed framework for resolving the dispute would be non-constructive and harmful.

Speaking in his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, October 6, Rabiei vocalized the Iranian position in the conflict between Armenia and the Azerbaijan Republic over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, that the conflict has no military solution and potentially puts the lives of Iranian citizens in border areas at stake.

“We want peace in the region,” he said, adding, “Tehran calls the two sides to immediately end bloodshed and hostility, and resume diplomatic negotiations to address the dispute according to the international laws.”.

Referring to rural Iranian border areas being hit by mortars, Rabiei underlined that Tehran was deeply concerned about harm to Iranian lives and assets.

“Should such incidents recur, we will not stand idly by and respond with all choices on the table,” Rabiei warned.

Rabiei’s comments echoed earlier remarks expressed by Ali Akbar Velayati, the senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in foreign affairs and the country’s Minister of Defense.

“Armenia should withdraw its forces from the regions it has occupied in the Republic of Azerbaijan,” Velayati said on Tuesday.

Nonetheless, he reiterated that such a process should take place politically, not militarily.

In an interview with the influential Iranian daily Kayhan, Velayati referred to the Armenian occupation of seven cities and the four UN resolutions calling for Armenians’ withdrawal from the occupied Azeri territories and their return to the internationally accepted boundaries, stressing that all UN member states must obey the resolutions.

“We call on Armenia to return those occupied parts to the Republic of Azerbaijan. More than one million Azeris have been displaced after the occupation of those areas and must return home soon,” he added.

While comparing Armenian troops with the Israeli forces “occupying Palestinian lands,” Velayati underlined that Yerevan should withdraw its troops from Nagorno Karabakh.

NAGORNO-KARABAKH -- A man walks in the yard of an apartment building damaged by shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the main city of the breakaway region of of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 7, 2020
NAGORNO-KARABAKH — A man walks in the yard of an apartment building damaged by shelling by Azerbaijan’s artillery during a military conflict in Stepanakert, the main city of the breakaway region of of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 7, 2020

At the same time, Velayati blasted Turkey for “fanning the flames of war”, adding, “Why is Turkey insisting on the continuation of war? This country (Turkey) must help end the war if it can do so, provided that the occupied cities of the Republic of Azerbaijan be liberated definitely.”

Velayati was referring to the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which has a predominantly Armenian population but has been part of the Republic of Azerbaijan since Soviet Union times.

Three decades ago, Nagorno-Karabakh was occupied by Armenia, along with seven other Turkish-speaking areas. Since then, the UN Security Council has issued four resolutions calling for returning the lands to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Apart from Armenia, no country has recognized these lands’ occupation and the self-proclaimed government of the “Republic of Artsakh.”

Last Saturday morning, widespread clashes between Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began in Nagorno-Karabakh, with Iran’s Minister of Defense, Army Brigadier General Amir Hatami, cautioning the warring parties in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that Tehran would take “measures stronger than warnings” if the shells fired in the fighting continue to hit Iranian territories.

While Rabiei clarified that “Iran’s official positions in the domain of foreign policy” are “only announced through the government and the foreign ministry,” regardless of the government’s official position, all other Shiite clergy-dominated Iranian authorities have openly supported Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia.

Along with Iran and Iraq, Azerbaijan is the only country with a predominant Shi’ite population.

Four representatives of Khamenei in predominantly Turkish-speaking provinces of Iran recently backed Azerbaijan’s position over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute.

The representatives of Khamenei, in the provinces of Ardabil, East Azerbaijan, West Azerbaijan, and Zanjan, issued a joint statement on October 2, asserting, “There is no doubt that Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan and its government’s move to recapture the region is completely legal, according to Shari’a, and in line with four Resolutions of the United Nation’s Security Council.”

Map of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas
Map of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas

The joint statement seemed to be in coordination with Khamenei’s “beit,” or office, to console the Republic of Azerbaijan.

“Unfortunately, the enemies of the relationship between the two friendly countries (Iran and Azerbaijan) have recently raised a clamor under pretenses and accused the Islamic Republic of betrayal (against Azerbaijan),” the statement said, warning against the “enemies’ psychological warfare.”

Furthermore, the statement referred to the Azerbaijani soldiers killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as “martyrs of the great nation of Azerbaijan” and wished them “heavenly high ranks.”

This public support comes as Iran seeks to pursue a “policy of neutrality” in the conflict between its two neighbors.

RFE-RL

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.