President of the Iran Islamic Republic Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to visit Armenia this week. There’s a high level of preparation going on for the trip to a country that keeps 20% of our territory, a country that has made more than 1 million Muslims refugees and IDPs and made territorial claims against not only us but also Georgia and Turkey. Yeravan is doing their best to make Rouhani’s visit a success. Of course, this trip is not viewed unambiguously in Azerbaijani society. Most people think Iranian president’s visit will be a breath of fresh air for Armenia who has been put under economic and political blockade by its neighbors. And this will increase the nefarious intentions of Yerevan. Political scientist Fikret Sadighov answered our questions at "Kaspi” about this aforementioned visit and speculations about it.
- Mr. Sadigov, our southern neighbors, leader of a Muslim country H. Rouhani is planning a trip to a country that is the enemy of Azerbaijan. What do you think about this visit?
- Iran’s position is quite clear. Tehran recognizes the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Iranian state officials have repeatedly stated such opinions. Our friendly and partner relations are sufficiently strong. Iran has declared that their foreign policy priority is to improve relations with neighbor countries. That’s why they are developing bilateral ties with Armenia. This is how Iran can present it. We also know that Armenia is the outpost, stronghold and military base in the region. This fact is of great importance to Iran. Because Iran also has very close ties to Russia. These two countries closely cooperates in several operations going on in the Middle East. On the other hand, Iran-Armenia relations are the result of their policy going back years. Iran is demonstrating that they will never stop the policy of maintaining the Armenian factor in Caucasus. Iran is a Muslim country and most of its citizens adhere to Islam and are Shiites. Azerbaijan is also a Muslim country where majority of the population are Shia. The occupier Armenia is a non-Muslim country, it’s a mono-ethnic Christian state. Plus, this mono-ethnic Christian country state has invaded 20% of Azerbaijani lands and turned over a million Muslims into refugees and IDPs. But while Iran claims they support the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and maintains bilateral ties with us, they ignore the fact that Armenia has occupied our territory and instead of displaying Muslim solidarity, they improve their relations with Armenia. This allows us to say it is a part of the foreign policy of Iran to support Armenia despite their ongoing aggression against Azerbaijan. It seems another reason pushing Tehran to take such a step is the growing influence of Turkey in the region. That’s why they are trying to use Armenia. Maybe there is more to Iran-Armenia relations, but the things I mentioned are some of the main priorities of Iran’s foreign policy.
- You mentioned the reasons as to why Iran may be interested in Armenia. But how important are these relations, including Rouhani’s expected visit to Yerevan?
- If we look at this issue from the context of the processes going on in the region, Iranian president’s visit to Armenia is very important for Yerevan. Due to their expansionist foreign policy, Armenia has been isolated from all projects implemented in the region including trade and economic projects. Because of unfounded territorial claims, they live in a state of war with Azerbaijan, and borders are closed. Border are also closed with Turkey. Their relations with Georgia is not very satisfactory either. Under these circumstances, Rouhani’s visit to Armenia seems like a breath of fresh air to them. Rouhani’s official trip is of great significance in terms of energy supply and expansion of military and technology cooperation. But if we look at the visit from a global perspective, Rouhani’s visit to Yeravan doesn’t benefit Armenia in any way. Armenia doesn’t become significant in international relations and doesn’t become a foreign actor. Iran just remains the only country in the region to support Armenia and not let it sink into total destruction.
- Can the visits of Iranian officials to Armenia impact Iran-Azerbaijan relations in any way?
- Such trips somewhat negatively affect the relations between our countries. It’s not a secret that if it weren’t for Iran-Armenian partnership, Tehran and Baku could become close allies. Our close relations with such a regional and global power would be beneficial to both countries. Iran needs Azerbaijan as much as we need them. Tehran is well aware of the fact that Azerbaijanis in Iran is an important factor. More than 50% of the population of this country are Azerbaijanis. If Iran didn’t Armenia, Iran could also establish close ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, some countries including Iran still establish relations with Armenia and cooperate with them despite supporting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This is very unfortunate.
- Some experts think that Iran president’s scheduled trip to Yeravan is a response to Israeli prime minister’s upcoming visit to Azerbaijan on December 13? How correct is this assessment?
- I don’t think Rouhani’s Yerevan visit is directly linked to Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Azerbaijan. But it is a reality that Iran views Azerbaijan-Israel relations as a threat to itself. Tehran is displeased with the development of these ties. Iran doesn’t want to accept that. Therefore, any cooperation, official visits between Israel and Azerbaijan is met with concern in Iran. However, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly states that Azerbaijan-Israel relations are not against any country and are not intended to damage the state interests of any country. Israel is a country supported by the leading countries in the world. Israel provides Azerbaijan with military and technological equipment. There are many politicians and political figures in Israel that defend the interests of Azerbaijan. And it benefits Azerbaijan. Despite Iran’s annoyances, Azerbaijan-Israel relations are not meant to be against our southern neighbors. But if we compare these relations to Iran-Armenia ties, we can see that Armenia is standing on its feet today because of the support from Iran and thus they maintain their occupation of Azerbaijan. Iran has a very harsh stance on Israel. This of course cannot be an example for us. Azerbaijan is an independent country and pursues a foreign policy with all countries with the exception of Armenia based on mutual interests. Azerbaijan president pursues this foreign policy based on the will of people. Iran is a neighbor country and supports our territorial integrity. We have political, economic and humanitarian relations with this country. The meeting of Azerbaijani, Iranian and Russian president in Baku in a trilateral format was viewed very positively. Undoubtedly, this format will serve to improve the relations among our countries. But in some cases, the steps Tehran takes in their foreign policy doesn’t coincide with Azerbaijan’s stance. This doesn’t mean that it will damage our relations. But I think two neighboring Muslim countries should take into consideration their mutual interests in their foreign policies. We would like it very much if Iran respected the interests of Azerbaijan, they especially shouldn’t forget about the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and that Armenia has violated our territorial integrity. Azerbaijan and Iran are both Muslim countries and are represented in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. We’d really like it if Iran would invite Armenia to give up their aggressive expansionist foreign policy when they are establishing relations.