Brothers or Comrades at Arms? Iran’s Relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan

  • James Barry


The significance of religion to the political identity of Iran is made obvious by its self-designation as an Islamic Republic. This is complicated further by instances where Iran appears to favor non-Muslim states in their conflicts with Muslim peoples, seemingly at odds with the core values outlined in the 1979 Constitution. The Caucasus is one area where this accusation has been leveled against Tehran. In appreciation of the sensitivity and fragility of the region, successive Iranian administrations have fashioned themselves as unbiased arbiters in their diplomatic engagements with these states. Rather than “spreading the Islamic Revolution,” the Islamic Republic has displayed pragmatism, not interfering in the Chechen and Dagestani conflicts, for example.1 In the oft-cited case of Armenia over Azerbaijan, both of which have been in a state of war over the Karabagh region for the past quarter of a century, Iran has long been understood to favor its only Christian neighbor over its (Shi’a) Muslim rival. Although Tehran has always denied the allegation, this interpretation is pervasive in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, and it is one of the issues that current President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif have had to address to reset relations with Azerbaijan during their first term in office.


Foreign Policy Foreign Minister Islamic Republic News Agency Iranian Government 
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© James Barry 2016

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  • James Barry

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