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Iran’s rapprochement with Nagorno Karabakh: is it inevitable?

The recent interview of Iranian Shargh newspaper with the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic Foreign Minister Masis Mailyan has not just showed Stepanakert’s plans and cooperation vectors with Tehran, its vision of the regional and global politics, but also sparked mass media outcry in Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), Armenia and Iran. The reason of such high attention to the interview was not only its content, but also the fact of the Iranian newspaper’s interview with high-ranking official of Nagorno-Karabakh as such.

Minister Mailyan talked to Iran’s representative Salar Seifoddini, not to an Armenian, Western or Russian journalist. On the other hand, the Karabakh minister of foreign affairs introduced an important thesis on opening of the border with Iran and Artsakh, as well as hailed Tehran’s mediatory role. In addition, Foreign Minister Mailyan emphasized the inviolability of the current borders of Artsakh, i.e. impossibility of transferring the regions that were not part of the Nagorno-Karabakh autonomous region to Azerbaijan. Besides, the minister recalled that 15% of Nagorno-Karabakh territory is still occupied by Azerbaijan.

It is not surprising that Mailyan’s interview was widely covered in Azerbaijani mass media. Authors expressed generally expected but sometimes quite interesting views. Traditionally refusing to recognize Artsakh, its government, territory and the minister who gave the interview to Iran’s Shargh newspaper, the Azerbaijani authors blamed Iran for the interview. Some of the authors stated about Baku’s loyalty to Tehran, while others openly threatened it. To confirm their words, supporters of the first line cited statements by former ambassadors of Iran to Azerbaijan, some Iranian parliamentarians and officials. Meantime, supporters of the second line recalled about multi-national population of Iran claiming that “Azerbaijanis are not an ethnic minority there.”

Azerbaijani expert Mubariz Ahmedoglu “recalled” that “many countries suggested Azerbaijan to wage an anti-Iranian policy,” but “Azerbaijan has not accepted any suggestion.” Perhaps, Ahmedoglu forgot about Baku’s flirting with Israel for cooperation in the political and intelligence field, and with U.S. in the Caspian region. It is evident that the Azerbaijani side was angered not only with the content of interview, but also with the fact of the interview as such.

Usually, Iranian mass media have been very restraint when it came to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the Armenian-Azerbaijani relations. That is why the interview with the Karabakh minister sparked such an outcry. Besides, the Shargh newspaper used the Armenian name of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh republic - Artsakh, which is very unusual for the Iranian mass media.

Noteworthy that Shargh, the mouthpiece of Iranian reformers, has a reputation of an anti-Turkish newspaper. However, many mass media in Iran are, to put it mildly, loyal to the Pan-Turkic policy at large and Baku’s policy, in particular. For instance, ANAJ newspaper responded to the interview with the foreign minister of Artsakh quite toughly and spectacularly at the same time. At first, it blamed Shargh for making a provocation against Shia Islam and Shiites of Azerbaijan. Further, ANAJ published an open lie claiming that Azerbaijani mass media could not write about Iran’s loyalty to Armenia for long years because of some reasons not depending on them. Certain thaw in the relations of Baku and Tehran has been observed just recently, ANAJ wrote. According to ANAJ journalists, Shiites of both the countries greatly benefit from the process. Meantime, Azerbaijani adepts of Shia Islam consider Iran as an ideological ally and Baku pressed them just because of “political discrepancies of the two countries.” It is evident that the pro-Azerbaijani resource uses religion and religious identity for political reasons. At the same time, “for some unknown reasons, ANAJ did not mention the high pressure on the believers and Shiites in Azerbaijan, the Nardaran events, arrests of religious activists over espionage in favor of … the most “ideological ally,” the Islamic Republic of Iran!

Instead, the paper questions Iran’s friendship with Baku because of Shargh’s interview with “the person calling himself a minister of the non-existing and illegitimate country.” Besides, ANAJ emphasized that Iran has not recognized Artsakh and “will never recognize it.” Actually, there are forces in Iran that disagreed with the decision of Shargh newspaper staff and undertook the hard task of promoting Pan-Turkic ideas in the territory of Iran.

In fact, cooperation of Nagorno-Karabakh and Iran is mutually advantageous. In some sectors the two countries have already started developing cooperation. In particular, yet in 2016, it was reported that Iran stepped up efforts to put into operation Khudaferin HPP located on the border of Iran and Artsakh along the Aras River, as well as to finish the construction of dam on that river. In 2016, Iran used to inform Azerbaijan of such activities (like it happened during Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Tehran in the same year), now we have no information of such consultations. Besides, journalist Seifoddini’s question to Masis Mailyan about the border of Iran and Artsakh should be considered in the context of comprehending who should be a really legal, logical and, consequently, official subject of the talks on HPP. Any trans-boundary projects of such level give “subjectivity” to Artsakh.

In addition, Iran works on restoration of Govhar Agha Mosque in Shushi – famous monument of Persian architecture. Iranian specialists led by architect Saeid Nahavandi designed the project of the mosque at the request of the Department for Tourism and Protection of Historical Environment at the Ministry of Economy of Artsakh. Noteworthy that architect Nahavandi processed a huge variety of sources mentioning and describing the Mosque, which enables waving any claims of Azerbaijan related to the monument’s identification.

All these facts arouse true nervousness and concern in Baku, which is expressed in political statements, mass media reports, and sometimes, unfortunately, in provocations on the Line of Contact. However, this cannot stop the process of the Iran-Artsakh rapprochement. Back to Masis Mailyan’s interview, it should be noted that the Artsakhi minister is neither an orientalist nor Iranist, and he had no ties with scientific, political or expert quarters before. The Shargh correspondent arrived in Artsakh with a specific goal to talk to the foreign minister of that country. This fact was repeatedly mentioned also in the Azerbaijani media, of course in negative sense. This is natural, since the Iranian journalist’s visit speaks of Tehran’s interest in closer cooperation with the unrecognized Armenian republic. It is hard to imagine that the Iranian journalist could prepare such an interview independently. It is much more logical to accept Iran’s steps towards natural cooperation with its northern neighbor.

Anton Yevstratov for EADaily

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