What is Iran’s tiff with Azerbaijan really about? - BÜLENT ORAKOĞLU

What is Iran’s tiff with Azerbaijan really about?

During the leaders’ summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in October, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev announced that Karabakh, which had been under Armenian occupation for nearly three decades, had for years been used as a transit route in Armenian-Iranian drug trafficking. However, with the liberation of the region, a heavy blow was dealt to Armenia’s drug partnership with Iran. After Baku took over the reins of the region, a dire amount of narcotics were seized. A drug distribution factory and a transfer line with tunnels to Zangilan were discovered in Jabrayil.

In the past too, there was talk that Karabakh was being used as a center for trade, however, action couldn’t be taken because the region was under occupation. Following its liberation, the drug route became clear for everyone to see. During searches conducted by Azerbaijani soldiers, who ensure security in Karabakh, myriad drugs had been seized. In an operation, where 520 kg of liquid heroin was seized in a truck carrying preservatives and chemicals from Iran to Lithuania at the Bilesuvar Customs Gate on the Iranian border, the transfer route formed by tunnels between Jabrayil and Zengilan, as well the drug distribution factory in the Jabrayil region, came to light.

According to regional sources, for so many years now, Armenia has been aware of the fact that drugs have systematically been cultivated on lands in Karabakh, and under the state’s protection no less. 

The region, which has been used for cultivating, collecting, processing, and distributing drugs, has virtually been transformed into a transit center for narcotics. While Armenia was in charge, everyone could come and go as they pleased on the unmonitored 132-kilometer Iranian borderline. It has been ascertained that the three crossing points on the aforementioned line have been a hub for drug trafficking. Turns out that the drug distribution factory that was discovered in Jabrayil was run in cooperation by Armenia and Iran. These drugs are then smuggled into Iran, via tunnels dug in the areas of Jabrayil and Zengilan, and then to Europe. 

It was revealed that this route was operated under the special protection of Armenian officers and soldiers during the occupation, allegations say that Armenian and Iranian rulers have been splitting the profits ever since 1994.

A fourth drug route

There are three known routes in the world that encompass the Caucasus. These lines are: the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran-Azerbaijan line; the Afghanistan-Iran-Azerbaijan line; and the Afghanistan-Central Asia-Azerbaijan line. Azerbaijani sources state that, following Aliyev's statements, the "Afghanistan-Iran-Karabakh" line was added as the fourth drug route to these transit networks.

Persian tensions in the Caucasus

Perturbed by Azerbaijan's liberation of Karabakh, Iran has been sending truckloads of supplies and fuel to Armenians in this region for the last two months. The shipment, in which the Lachin corridor was used, without the knowledge of Azerbaijan, was not halted, despite a diplomatic note issued to Tehran by Baku. Following the "Three Brothers" exercise by Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Pakistan, Iran decided to flex its muscles and held its very own military drills on the Azerbaijani border. Furthermore, it has been conducting a military buildup on the border.

Tehran also sent weapons to Armenia to help it during the Second Karabakh War, and it seems that it has no intention to alter its stance. Iranian trucks and fuel tankers entered Karabakh in July and August without the knowledge of Azerbaijan and brought aid to the Armenians in Khankendi via the Lachin corridor. They used regions where the Russian peacekeepers were temporarily stationed to deliver this aid. 

Seventy trucks entered  Khankendi through Iran

From July 11 to August 8, Iranian trucks (carrying God knows what) entered the region of  Khankendi 70 times. Azerbaijani authorities summoned Tehran’s ambassador to Azerbaijan Abbas Mousavi and issued him with a diplomatic note, to no avail. Then, from August 11 to September 10, this shipment continued, with 58 trucks coming and going to and from Khankendi. Some of these trucks were decked with Armenian plates to avoid detection. Russian forces, who are responsible for the Lachin corridor, glossed over the violations once more.

I think that Iran’s real problem with Azerbaijan is that Aliyev decoded the drug traffic between Armenia and Iran. It is now common knowledge that Armenia is conducting its trafficking under state control. Well, what about Iran?


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