Presidents Ibrahim Raisi and Ilham Aliyev at the opening of the dam "Maiden Tower" on the Iranian-Azerbaijani border. May 19, 2024

Presidents Ibrahim Raisi and Ilham Aliyev at the opening of the dam "Maiden Tower" on the Iranian-Azerbaijani border. May 19, 2024

Following the recent passing of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, questions loom over the future of Iran-Azerbaijan relations. On May 22, during a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei emphasized the importance of strengthening ties with Armenia. This meeting, occurring shortly after Raisi’s funeral, underscored Tehran’s commitment to its relationship with Yerevan. Khamenei stated, “The late president also prioritized relations with Armenia. We will continue our policy with these sensitivities in mind.”

Just hours before the helicopter crash on May 19 that claimed Raisi’s life, he had attended a ceremony with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate water junctions on their shared border. Raisi expressed a sentiment of mutual development, saying, “The enemies do not want to see the development of Azerbaijan or Iran. We believe that Azerbaijan’s development is also our development.” Aliyev echoed this sentiment, asserting that regional development should be determined by the local populace, free from external interference.

In light of these events, the future of Iran-Azerbaijan relations remains a topic of speculation. Hikmet Babaoglu, Deputy Chairman of Azerbaijan’s Milli Majlis Committee on Defense, Security, and Combating Corruption, expressed confidence in the enduring bond between the two nations. He told Turan News Agency, “Iran-Azerbaijan relations are deeply rooted in the cultural and religious ties of our peoples. This connection will persist regardless of political changes.”

Babaoglu emphasized that the bilateral relations would not escalate to a critical point due to the strong will of both peoples. He noted, “Every politician must acknowledge this factor. Azerbaijan consistently strives to maintain positive relations with Iran.”

The recent positive developments signal a potential stabilization. Babaoglu pointed out that President Aliyev’s remarks at the water junction inauguration suggest a commitment to peaceful relations, overcoming past tensions. He stated, “Iran-Azerbaijan relations are poised for improvement, moving past the tensions of 2021-2022. Future relations will develop positively and dynamically.”

Indeed, the relationship faced significant strain until mid-2023. On January 27, an armed attack on the Azerbaijani embassy in Tehran resulted in the death of a security officer and the evacuation of embassy staff. This incident marked a low point in relations, which had seen mutual accusations and military posturing along the border. The strengthening of Azerbaijani-Israeli ties and Iranian-Armenian relations also contributed to the strain.

Elkhan Shahinoglu, head of the Atlas Research Center, highlighted that post-Second Karabakh War tensions exacerbated the situation. He remarked to Azadliq Radio, “Certain factions in Iran appeared unwilling to accept Azerbaijan’s restored territorial integrity. Post-war, Iran conducted military exercises on the Azerbaijani border, which it hadn’t done during the 30-year Armenian occupation.”

Shahinoglu also recalled Raisi’s strong stance against the “Zangezur corridor,” viewing it as interference in Azerbaijan’s affairs. However, Raisi’s participation in the water junction opening hinted at a potential thaw. “The foundations of these projects were laid long ago. Raisi’s involvement suggested a move towards normalization, though underlying issues remain complex,” he said.

Despite Azerbaijan’s efforts to foster better relations, Shahinoglu warned that internal dynamics in Iran complicate the outlook. “Multiple power centers in Iran influence policy. While some seek normalization, others, particularly those close to the supreme leader, continue to issue provocative statements.”

Attempts to obtain comments from the Iranian Embassy in Azerbaijan regarding these views were unsuccessful.

As both nations navigate this transitional period, the hope remains that mutual interests and cultural ties will guide Iran-Azerbaijan relations towards a stable and constructive future.

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