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Tehran at an Impasse over of the Zangezur Corridor

October 11, 2023
Ebrahim Ramezani
8 min read
Turkey claims that a corridor between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan would “benefit any territory through which it passes,” but the Islamic Republic is very worried about the consequences of allowing such a corridor going through Iran
Turkey claims that a corridor between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan would “benefit any territory through which it passes,” but the Islamic Republic is very worried about the consequences of allowing such a corridor going through Iran
The Islamic Republic fears that a corridor connecting the Republic of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan would hinder Armenia’s access to Iran, one of its key regional allies and trade partners
The Islamic Republic fears that a corridor connecting the Republic of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan would hinder Armenia’s access to Iran, one of its key regional allies and trade partners

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s statements last week about a corridor through Iran to connect the Republic of Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan, by bypassing Armenia has met with a negative reaction by some Islamic Republic officials and media. The Islamic Republic fears that such a corridor would hinder Armenia’s access to Iran, one of its key regional allies and trade partners.

What could be Iran’s final decision and what is the current situation of the Zangezur corridor?


“We believe that if this corridor passes through Armenia, they would benefit from it and it should be evaluated without political considerations, [but] if Armenia is against it, Iran can be the other option,” said the Turkish Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Abdulkadir Uraloğlu, making the same points as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

“The important point here is the routing of Zangezur through Armenia,” Uraloğlu said. “Considering the geographic conditions, this would benefit any territory through which it passes. We believe that Armenia will evaluate this issue without political considerations but if [Armenia] is not an option, then routing [the corridor] through Iran is another option, as our president has announced.”

When asked about the fate of Zangezur corridor after these statements by Turkish officials, Kamal Kharazi, president of Iran’s Foreign Relations Strategy Council and a former foreign minister, said that the Republic of Azerbaijan “used to propose the Zangezur corridor, under the sovereignty of the Republic of Azerbaijan, to connect its territory to Nakhchivan, as an alternative to the Lachin corridor, which was under the control of Armenia and connected it to Nagorno-Karabakh. But now that the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh has been resolved and, as a result, the Lachin corridor has become irrelevant, there is no longer any justification for such an alternative.”

“From the very beginning,” Kharazi claimed, “Iran considered Karabakh as part of the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan and emphasized that this occupied territory must be liberated. Iran even proposed to provide the country with weapons during the time of Heydar Aliyev, the late president of the Republic of Azerbaijan.”

This is not how the media in the Republic of Azerbaijan see the situation and the Islamic Republic’s intentions. On September 8, they reported that Iran provided the Armenian military with armored vehicles and artillery.

Islamic Republic’s Fear of “Foreign” Powers

In October 2021, Russia introduced the idea of a “3+3” format— Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia plus their three big neighbors, namely Russia, Turkey and Iran—to focus on unlocking economic and transport communications in the South Caucasus region.

In the first week of this month, after statements by Erdoğan, Khalaf Khalafov, special assistant to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, visited Tehran and held talks with Iranian officials. In his meeting with Khalafov, President Ebrahim Raisi once again praised the 3+3 format and said: “Iran welcomes regional dialogues in the 3+3 format or in any other format that can help solve problems and remove obstacles in the relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Armenia. The countries of the region have the capacity to solve the problems of the region, and allowing foreign countries to the region under any pretext is not in the interest of any of the countries of the region.”

Raisi’s statement about “foreign countries” was, of course, a veiled reference to the increasingly close relations between Azerbaijan and Israel and the joint US-Armenia military exercise in Armenia.

“The national security adviser of Armenia and the special representative of the president of Azerbaijan presented detailed reports about the Caucasus in meetings with the president. In both meetings, Dr. Raisi emphasized that the Zangezur corridor is a platform for NATO's presence in the region and a threat to the national security of countries in this region, which the Islamic Republic firmly opposes,” wrote Mohammad Jamshidi, Raisi’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Political Affairs.

In his meeting with Khalaf Khalafov, Ali Akbar Ahmadian, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, also reiterated the Islamic Republic’s opposition to the Zangezur corridor: “Actions that cause geopolitical changes in the region such as those proposed about the issue of the Zangezur corridor will not help the countries of this region and will also prepare the ground for the intervention of powers outside the region and lead to new crises in this strategic area.”

Since the beginning of the second Nagorno-Karabakh war, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly announced that it is “opposed to border changes” in this region and, in response, the Republic of Azerbaijan has announced that it has no intention of doing so.

The “3+3” Alliance

The idea of the “3+3” alliance was brought up by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the visit of the Islamic Republic’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Moscow in October 2021. “This alliance would include cooperation in the areas of security, trade and shipping,” said Lavrov after meeting his Iranian counterpart.

Amid tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and also between Russia and Georgia, the “3+3” alliance is a non-starter at this moment; nevertheless, considering international sanctions, the Islamic Republic welcomes such an alliance and the possibility of trade with these countries. In recent years, following the dispute between Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan over the Zangezur corridor, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly presented the 3+3 initiative as the best solution to achieve peace in the region.

What Do Experts Say?

Hakkı Uygur, president of Center for Iranian Studies in Ankara, tells IranWire: “Mr. Erdoğan said that ‘if Armenia opposes this, the corridor can pass through Iran, and Iran has a positive view toward this issue.’ But it is still too early to say that Tehran has changed its position regarding the corridor between Nakhchivan and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, if an agreement is reached on the issue of sovereign rights and it is guaranteed that the Zangezur corridor will not close the border between Armenia and Iran, it can reduce the level of Iranian opposition.”

Regarding the reasons for the Islamic Republic's opposition to the Zangezur corridor, Uygur says that a corridor that only passes through Armenia would take Iran out of the [China’s] Belt and Road Initiative between Europe and China, weakening Iran's logistical position and harming its potential revenues.

However, he also says that “Iran's logistics infrastructure  – ports, railways, highways – is inadequate and international players other than Turkey and Azerbaijan are not interested in crossing the beltway through Iran but it should be noted that Iran's position would change and would be strengthened in the event of an agreement between Iran and the United States or a serious flow of international capital into Iran. However, this is something that would take time.”

Regarding the possible reaction of the Islamic Republic if Armenia accepts to revive the Zangezur corridor, Uygur says: “The Islamic Republic cannot have a serious response. Considering Iran’s opposition to the Zangezur corridor, the next step would be the normalization of relations between the two countries of Turkey and Azerbaijan and Armenia, and this normalization is what the Islamic Republic is primarily worried about, especially the normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia that can seriously reduce Iran's influence in the South Caucasus.”

Ismail Ismailov, political analyst and university professor, tells IranWire that Erdoğan’s statements are actually a message to Armenia: “Azerbaijan is eager for this corridor to pass through Armenia rather than through Iran. Iran's behavior in its international relations has not been predictable and is not based on international law and, at any moment, it might close the corridor for many days on baseless excuses."

Pointing out that the corridor going through Iran could be a source of income for the country, Ismailov says: "Iran is aware that if this corridor passes through its territory, the image of this country would  improve in the international arena, and it would be beneficial as a source of revenue as well. Iran is worried that if Armenia agrees with allowing the corridor to go through its territory, Iran would lose its position in the region.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited Iran before Erdoğan made his statements about the Zangezur corridor, leading to speculations that his visit has changed Iran’s position regarding the corridor.

In an interview with Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), Abdolreza Faraji-Rad, Iran’s former ambassador to Norway, said that “Iran has always emphasized that we shall not allow geopolitical changes in the region. During the recent visit to Tehran by the secretary of Armenia’s National Security Council, Iran announced that geopolitical changes would destabilize the region. It seems that Iran’s position has somehow changed compared with the past but it is not yet clear whether it was changed after the visit by the Russian defense minister or not.”

Ismail Ismailov does not believe that the Russian defense minister’s visit has affected Iran’s position: “Talks at this level are not conducted through a military envoy. I don’t think that the Russian minister’s visit was related to the Zangezur corridor.”

In retaliation for a joint US-Armenian military exercise, the Islamic Republic announced it was going to hold a joint naval exercise with Azerbaijan in the Caspian Sea. Also, it apparently sentenced to death the person responsible for attacking the Azerbaijan embassy in Tehran with a Kalashnikov in January 2023. Azerbaijan blamed the attack on the Iranian secret service and believes that this sentence is meant to cover up the truth.

In the meantime, the Republic of Azerbaijan and Turkey are still determined to open the Zangezur corridor, while the Islamic Republic remains opposed to it.


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