Iran deploys troops on Azerbaijan border

Updated 26 Oct 2020

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Azerbaijani soldiers who are civilians recalled for duty attend a training at a military training and deployment center near the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 23. — Reuters
Azerbaijani soldiers who are civilians recalled for duty attend a training at a military training and deployment center near the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 23. — Reuters

TEHRAN/BAKU: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Sunday they have deployed troops along the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia, following stray fire from the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh.

“Units of (the Guards) ground forces have been dispatched to and stationed in the region,” their commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

Their mission was “to protect national interests and maintain peace and security”.

Pakpour said Iran respects its neighbours’ territorial integrity but that “any shift in border geopolitics is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s red line”.

The commander visited the border county of Khoda Afarin on Saturday, the Guards’ website Sepahnews reported. The region in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province borders territory in Azerbaijan adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh.

Khoda Afrin and nearby villages have reportedly been hit by stray cross-border mortar fire.

“If there is any repetition of such fire, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not remain indifferent,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh warned on October 16.

In the first week of the fighting, mortar rounds repeatedly strayed across the border, with one wounding a six-year-old child.New fighting erupted between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces on Sunday over the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh as both sides blamed each other for blocking a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

Armenia accused Azeri forces of shelling civilian settlements. Baku denied killing civilians and said it was ready to implement a ceasefire, provided that Armenian forces withdrew from the battlefield.

The weekend’s clashes in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the foreign ministers of both countries in a new peace push on Friday.

The collapse of two Russia-brokered ceasefires had already dimmed the prospect of a quick end to fighting that broke out on Sept 27 over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Local officials in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azeri forces of firing artillery on settlements in the areas of Askeran and Martuni during the night. Azerbaijan said its positions had been attacked with small arms, mortars, tanks, mortars, and howitzers.

“I am absolutely confident in the effectiveness of the peace negotiations but this also depends on the will of the Armenian side to take part in them,” said Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.

“Why can Azerbaijani and Armenian people live together in Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, and other countries but not in Nagorno Karabakh?” he added in a Fox News interview that was reprinted by the state Azertag News Agency. Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accused Baku of being “aggressively stubborn and destructive”.

World powers want to prevent a wider war that draws in Turkey, which has voiced strong support for Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.Differences over the conflict have further strained relations between Ankara and its Nato allies, with Pompeo accusing Turkey of fuelling the conflict by arming the Azeri side. Ankara denies it has inflamed the conflict.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2020