The Armenia-Azerbaijan War: Downgrading Iran’s Regional Role (2023)

By Brenda Shaffer

November 25, 2020, the CACI Analyst

The security architecture emerging in the South Caucasus following the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan led to significant changes for the region’s three main powers: Russia and Turkey gained increased power in the region, while Iran’s leverage in the region declined. The war outcomes also strengthened domestic challenges from Iran’s large ethnic Azerbaijani community, which opposed Tehran’s support for Armenia in the war.

The Armenia-Azerbaijan War: Downgrading Iran’s Regional Role (1)

(Video) The Armenia and Azerbaijan war, explained

BACKGROUND:The results of the Armenia-Azerbaijan war and the subsequent Russian-brokered agreement created significant new challenges for Iran. Iran lost part of its previously long border with Armenian-controlled territory, with the return of Azerbaijani control of the border regions that had been under Armenian occupation. Moreover, Russian forces will be deployed in close proximity to Iran’s border with Armenia, and Tehran was largely ignored by Ankara and Moscow in setting the post-war security arrangements. Finally, parts of Iran’s domestic ethnic Azerbaijani minority has been mobilized against the regime due to its support for Armenia in the conflict.

The war resulted in Azerbaijan regaining control of regions that border Iran, which had been under Armenian military occupation for close to thirty years. In response to the developments in the battlefield, Iran bolstered its troops at its borders with Azerbaijan, including its border with Azerbaijan’s exclave, Nakhchevan. According to Tehran Times, Iran has deployed additional troops and military equipment along its borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan in an effort to prevent any change in the geopolitics of the region and international borders.

Tehran had preferred Armenian control of the border area, and had enjoyed extensive cooperation with Armenia in the occupied territories, including the establishment of a hydroelectric plant that serves Iran’s border regions.Iranian state-sponsored media have already warned that Iran could face commercial losses from the change of control of the border areas.

The new security architecture for the South Caucasus will see an increased role for Russia and Turkey, with no new formal role for Iran. Under a Moscow-brokered agreement, Moscow has deployed Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh and in the Lachin Corridor, which connects the region to Armenia. The accord also establishes a joint ceasefire monitoring center manned by Russian and Turkish forces.

The post-war agreement also leads to the deployment of additional Russian troops in close proximity to Armenia’s border with Iran. While Russian forces already control Armenia’s borders with Turkey and Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia agreed to establish of a safe passage corridor, passing through Armenian territory, which links Azerbaijan with its exclave Nakhchevan. Russian forces will patrol a road, in proximity to the border with Iran, to secure Azerbaijani access through this region. The establishment of this safe passage corridor could lessen Azerbaijan’s dependence on Iran for travel and for the transit of goods to Nakhchevan. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev stated that Turkish forces will also patrol this road, although the role for Turkey did not appear in the signed agreement, indicating that it was a topic of disagreement and likely to be a topic of further negotiation between the sides.

(Video) Avoiding war in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict - BBC News

The players in the South Caucasus have largely ignored Iran, including Tehran’s unsuccessful promotion of its own peace plan for the region prior to the agreement’s finalization. The Tehran Times asked, “Why did the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia decide to keep Iran in the dark about the ceasefire agreement while Iran shares long borders with both sides of the war and was directly affected by the conflict?” Subsequently, a planned visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif to Russia and Azerbaijan was canceled. The Iranian Foreign Ministry had announced that the visit would take place Nov. 23-24.

Iran also seems concerned about the increased influence of Israel in the region, due to its significant security cooperation with Azerbaijan. Iranian media recentlyexpressed concern aboutIsrael’s growing popularity in Azerbaijan due to the contribution of strategic cooperation with Azerbaijan to Baku’s military success in the current war.

Iran’s support for Armenia in the war incensed large swaths of the ethnic Azerbaijani community in Iran (which comprise up to a third of the population of Iran). During this war, as during the first Armenia-Azerbaijan War in 1992-1994, Iran served as the main conduit of supplies—military and otherwise—to Armenia. Russia does not share a border with Armenia and because of Georgia’s refusal to serve as a corridor, Moscow depended on transit through Iran to supply Armenia. Russia supplied Armenia during this war, both via flights that overflew Iran and also via land shipments from Iran’s Anzali port on the Caspian Sea. Ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran are pressuring the government to halt the transit to Armenia, which they are able to observe, since Iran’s border crossing point with Armenia is located in Azerbaijani populated regions.

The return of Azerbaijani control of the border with Iran creates additional opportunities for direct interaction between Azerbaijanis in Iran and in the Republic of Azerbaijan. Over the last weeks, Tehran arrested hundreds of ethnic Azerbaijani protesters and activists who criticized Iran’s support for Armenia. Several rounds of demonstrations took place in Iranian cities with large ethnic Azerbaijani populations. Ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran also cheered on Azerbaijani soldiers as they regained control of their lands bordering Iran.

Azerbaijan President Aliyev’s first trip to the newly recovered territories included a visit to the Khudafarin Bridge, which straddles the Araxes River and links to Iran. President Aliyev personally hoisted an Azerbaijani flag on the bridge. Tehran clearly perceived the symbolism of his visit, which seemed to also generate enthusiasm among Azerbaijanis in Iran. During the visit to the border region, an Iranian sniper published a picture of his aim at President Aliyev and his wife.

(Video) Armenia Azerbaijan Conflict full timeline explained - Significance of Nagorno Karabakh region

In parallel to its loss of political influence in the region, in the last year, Iran’s role in regional gas trade has greatly diminished. Azerbaijan and Turkey are in the process of building a gas pipeline that will connect Nakhchevan to the Turkish gas transmission system, eliminating Azerbaijan’s need to transit gas to the exclave via Iran. At the same time, Turkey has drastically reduced gas imports from Iran. However, Armenia is likely to continue to import natural gas from Iran, and export electricity to Iran.

IMPLICATIONS: Russia and Turkey’s snubbing of Iran may reflect larger strains in the relationships between Moscow and Tehran, and Ankara and Tehran. While Russia and Iran are often viewed by the West as allies, Moscow clearly did not create any role for Iran in the post-war security arrangements in the Caucasus. Iran did not even receive a ceremonial role in the negotiations process or post-war security arrangements. In parallel, Turkey and Iran are airing accusations against one another. During the war, Turkish media published several articles criticizing Iran’s support for Armenia in the war and highlighting the dissatisfaction of Iran’s Azerbaijanis (referred to as Iranian Turks in Turkish media). Iranian officials and media were also critical of Turkey, echoing Armenian propaganda that claimed that Turkey brought foreign jihadi forces to the war zone.

The geopolitical results of the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan war set off a discussion in Iran on its foreign policy toward its neighbors in light of what Tehran perceives as a serious geopolitical setback. The newspaper Tasmin, which is close to Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence, ran a series of articles analyzing the results of the war for Iran, including the threat from additional Russian troops that will be deployed close to Iran’s border with Armenia, and Tehran’s perceived “loss of Armenia” due to now increased Russian and Turkish power. In one of the articles in the series, the author suggests that Iran adopt a less threatening foreign policy toward its neighbors.

CONCLUSIONS: The post-war security design in the South Caucasus improved the position of Russia and Turkey, while creating challenges for Iran, both foreign and domestic. Russia and Turkey’s treatment of Iran may indicate larger rifts in each’s bilateral relationship with Tehran. While Moscow and Tehran, and Ankara and Tehran, share some common interests, they also clash on many issues, and these rifts have not been the subject of sufficient study.

Tehran’s support for Armenia in the war created great dissatisfaction among ethnic Azerbaijanis in Iran and likely enlarged the numbers holding anti-regime sentiments, creating an additional factor of public dissent against the ruling regime in Iran.

(Video) Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Is Russia's war giving Azerbaijan the upper hand? | DW News

Russia and Turkey’s snubbing of Iran came despite warnings by Tehran that without its participation, it may act to undermine the new security arrangement in the region. Tehran is likely to act to reverse its losses, possibly through efforts to destabilize the new security design in the South Caucasus.

AUTHOR'S BIO:Prof. Brenda Shaffer is a faculty member at the US Naval Postgraduate School, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, and a Senior Advisor at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. She currently is writing a book on ethnic minorities in Iran.

Image Source: Public Domain. Accessed 11.25.2020

Vali Kaleji


Does Iran support Armenia against Azerbaijan? ›

Fearing Baku's intentions to fuel secessionism inside its borders, Iran provided vital backing to Armenia in its war against Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which dragged on from 1988 to 1994 and ended in an inconclusive cease-fire.” Iran's siding with Armenia during the first Nagorno-Karabakh ...

What was the result of the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia? ›

The First Nagorno-Karabakh War resulted in the displacement of approximately 725,000 Azerbaijanis and 300,000–500,000 Armenians from both Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Which is better Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

Overall, Armenia is ranked in the Prosperity Index much higher than Azerbaijan and Turkey. Armenia is ranked 61st in 2023, slightly down from 59th in 2022, but considerably up from 76th in 2013. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan is ranked much lower at 92nd in 2023, the same as in 2012 – somewhat higher than 104th in 2013.

Does the US support Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

Since then, the US has supported Armenia in many of its endeavours such as encouraging a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, reopening the closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and promoting regional prosperity.

Why is Iran helping Armenia? ›

Due to the perceived threat posed by this community, the Iranians collaborate with Azerbaijan's enemy Armenia in hopes of weakening secessionist sentiment in South Azerbaijan. Iran is trying to ease its isolation by using Armenia to bypass sanctions.

Are Armenia and Iran enemies? ›

Bilateral relations exist between Armenia and Iran. Despite religious and ideological differences, relations between the two states remain extensively cordial and both are strategic partners in the region.

Which country does not accept Armenia? ›

The international and bilateral relations between Armenia and Pakistan are poor. Pakistan is the only country in the world that does not recognize Armenia as a state, although most Pakistanis are not aware of this fact. The primary cause of the two countries' diplomatic rift is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

What are the top 3 countries of Armenians? ›

While the largest Armenian diaspora populations reside in Russia, the United States, and France, small Armenian trading and religious communities have existed outside Armenia for centuries.

Does Saudi Arabia support Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

Due to the history of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in particular, the First Nagorno-Karabakh War that ended in 1994, Saudi Arabia and Armenia have no formal relations as Saudi Arabia has backed Azerbaijan's position in Karabakh.

Who is Armenia main ally? ›

Armenia and Russia are both members of a military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), along with four other ex-Soviet countries, a relationship that Armenia finds essential to its security.

Who does NATO support Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

As part of Armenia's Individual Partnership Action Plan, Armenia and NATO cooperate in the defense sphere, improving democratic standards and the rule of law, and tackling corruption.

Who is backing Azerbaijan? ›

Turkey also supports Azerbaijan diplomatically. Turkish and Azerbaijani armed forces cooperate extensively and regularly hold military exercises. Azerbaijan has also bought weapons from Turkey. Turkey closed its border with Armenia in April 1993 after Armenian forces captured Kalbajar.

What agreement did Azerbaijan break against Armenia? ›

The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire agreement is an armistice agreement that ended the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.

What countries support Armenia? ›

Since its independence, Armenia has maintained a policy of complementarism by trying to have positive and friendly relations with Iran, Russia, and the West, including the United States and the European Union.

When did Armenia defeat Azerbaijan? ›

First Nagorno-Karabakh War
Date20 February 1988 – 12 May 1994 (6 years, 2 months, 3 weeks and 1 day)
LocationNagorno-Karabakh, Armenia and Azerbaijan
ResultArmenian victory Ceasefire agreement Significant territorial gains for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic UNSC adopted resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 Bishkek Protocol
1 more row

Which country is supporting Iran? ›

Syria and Iran are strategic allies. Syria is often called Iran's "closest ally", the Arab nationalism ideology of Syria's ruling Baath party notwithstanding.

Who brought Armenians to Iran? ›

In the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks drove thousands of Armenians into Iranian Azerbaijan, where some were sold as slaves and others worked as artisans and merchants.

How did Armenians end up in Iran? ›

New Armenian settlements began to emerge in Iran since the 11th century. As a result of the mass deportations, organized by Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), 150-200 thousand people settled in the capital Isfahan and the surrounding provinces. Nowadays, there are around 60-80,000 Armenians living in Iran.

What is in between Armenia and Iran? ›

It is bordered by Armenia to the east and north, Iran to the southwest, and Turkey to the west. It is the sole autonomous republic of Azerbaijan, governed by its own elected legislature.

Does Iran touch Armenia? ›

To the north and east Armenia is bounded by Georgia and Azerbaijan, while its neighbours to the southeast and west are, respectively, Iran and Turkey.

Is USA an ally of Armenia? ›


The United States established diplomatic relations with Armenia in 1992, following its independence from the Soviet Union. The United States is committed to helping Armenia strengthen democratic institutions and foster sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Can a US citizen go to Armenia? ›

Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements. You need a valid passport to enter Armenia. U.S. citizens are allowed visa-free entry to Armenia for up to 180 days per year. For visits of longer than 180 days, you must apply for a residency permit through the Armenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Does China recognize Armenia? ›

Diplomatic relations between Armenia and the People's Republic of China were established on April 6, 1992. The Embassy of China to Armenia was established in July 1992, while the Embassy of Armenia to China started its activities on August 10, 1996. The Armenian Ambassador to China resides in the Beijing embassy.

Which country do not accept Israel? ›

(Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen do not recognise Israel as a state.) (Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan do not recognise Israel as a state.) (None of these countries recognise Israel.)

How many Americans are Armenian? ›

The 2017 American Community Survey estimate found 485,970 Americans with full or partial Armenian ancestry. Higher estimates, of 800,000 to 1,500,000, are offered by many Armenian and non-Armenian organizations, media and scholars.

What ethnic group is closest to Armenians? ›

Armenians' relationship to world populations

More specifically, Armenians are close to 1) Spaniards, Italians and Romanians from Europe; 2) Lebanese, Jews, Druze and Cypriots from the Near East; and 3) Georgians and Abkhazians from the Caucasus (Figure 2b).

Why is Armenian so different? ›

Armenian is a unique language, classified as its own branch in the Indo-European language family. At first, it was thought to be an Indo-Iranian language, but later it was found that, despite many loanwords from Iranian languages, it didn't share enough other characteristics to be classified as such.

Who is the biggest enemy of Azerbaijan? ›

Armenia. According to a 2012 opinion poll, 63% of Armenians perceive Azerbaijan as "the biggest enemy of Armenia" while 94% of Azerbaijanis consider Armenia to be "the biggest enemy of Azerbaijan." The root of the hostility against Azerbaijanis traced from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Who are Azerbaijan's closest allies? ›

The elevation of bilateral diplomatic relations was preceded by vital Israeli military support to Azerbaijan over the years, including, importantly, while Azerbaijan's closest ally, Turkey, was not yet in a position to supply it with the same types of advanced arms.

Who are all Azerbaijan allies? ›

Diplomatic relations
  • Armenia.
  • Botswana.
  • Central African Republic.
  • Cyprus.
  • Republic of the Congo.
  • Kiribati.
  • Federated States of Micronesia.
  • Tonga.

Are Germany and Armenia allies? ›

Relations between Armenia and Germany, have always been stable and solid, with both countries continuing to work together and advance through the years in cooperation.

Is Armenia friends with Ukraine? ›

Bilateral diplomatic relations exist between Ukraine and Armenia. Diplomatic relations were established on December 25, 1991. Currently, Ukraine has the 5th largest Armenian community in the world. The Embassy of Armenia in Kyiv opened in 1993.

Who controls Armenia? ›

Republic of Armenia Հայաստանի Հանրապետություն Hayastani Hanrapetut'yun
GovernmentUnitary parliamentary republic
• PresidentVahagn Khachaturyan
• Prime MinisterNikol Pashinyan
• President of the National AssemblyAlen Simonyan
49 more rows

Who does Turkey support Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

Turkey supported Azerbaijan politically, supplied arms, and held joint military drills to improve combat interoperability since the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War.

Does Poland support Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

Poland supports Azerbaijan's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

Is Azerbaijan an American ally? ›

The United States established diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan in 1992, following its independence from the Soviet Union. Together, the two countries work to promote European energy security, expand bilateral trade and investment, and combat terrorism and transnational threats.

Is the US helping Azerbaijan? ›

The United States remains deeply engaged in helping Armenia and Azerbaijan work toward a comprehensive peace agreement.

Why is Azerbaijan against Iran? ›

Azerbaijan has also criticised Iran for allegedly backing Armenia in the decades-long conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Is Azerbaijan a friend of Russia? ›

Relations between the two countries remain friendly and close but there are numerous disagreements such as in the first Nagorno-Karabakh War, the South Ossetian-Abkhazian conflict, and the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

Which countries support Armenia? ›

Since its independence, Armenia has maintained a policy of complementarism by trying to have positive and friendly relations with Iran, Russia, and the West, including the United States and the European Union.

Does China support Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

China supports Azerbaijan's development path independently chosen by its people.

Does Syria support Armenia or Azerbaijan? ›

However, since the Syrian Civil War, Syria has been supporting Armenia, Azerbaijan's arch-rival. Both countries are members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), although Syria is suspended since 2012.

Which country supported Armenia? ›

In the post-war period, Russia is Armenia's main arms supplier and the two countries are military allies.

Which countries don t accept Armenia? ›

The international and bilateral relations between Armenia and Pakistan are poor. Pakistan is the only country in the world that does not recognize Armenia as a state, although most Pakistanis are not aware of this fact. The primary cause of the two countries' diplomatic rift is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Is Turkey an ally of Armenia? ›

Diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey are officially non-existent and have historically been hostile.


1. Why are Armenia and Azerbaijan fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh? | Start Here
(Al Jazeera English)
2. Why fighting between Armenia, Azerbaijan has regional implications
(PBS NewsHour)
3. Why Azerbaijan Will Keep Attacking Armenia
4. Armenia Azerbaijan war conflict Explained | International Relations UPSC Current Affairs
(Amit Sengupta)
5. Nagorno-Karabakh: Armenia vs. Azerbaijan explained
(Politics with Paint)
6. War in Nagorno-Karabakh: Regional and Geopolitical Implications
(Foreign Policy Research Institute)


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