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Turkey accuses Iran of stoking regional tensions

This week Turkey held joint military exercises with Azerbaijan on Iran’s border, as its Baku warns Tehran it will not be intimated. With anti-government protests continuing in Iran, Tehran is being accused of escalating regional tensions.

Iran is faces growing accusations from its neighbors that it’s deliberately raising regional tensions. Tehran has recently carried out military exercises on Azerbaijan’s border and warned Baku not to incite Iran’s significant Azeri minority. 

“Iran tries to shift the attention of the Iranian population towards foreign policy, towards conflicts on the border and towards a polemic with its neighbor countries, said Zaur Gasimov, an expert in the region at Bonn University.

“The (Iranian) military drills were conducted not only on the border with the Republic of Azerbaijan in the north but also with Iraq and Turkey. So, they are like messages to the region, but they are addressed much more to the local audience.”

But Baku is pushing back against Tehran, carrying out its own military exercises this month on Iran’s border with its close ally Turkey. 

Spying accusations

Meanwhile, last month, Azerbaijani security forces detained 19 people and accused them of working for Iranian intelligence.  

Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Policy Institute, argues Baku is emboldened by its support from Turkey, enshrined in the Shusha joint defence agreement.

“Turkey and Azerbaijan [are] brothers, friends. And they have this Shusha agreement, which is not binding but important,” said Bagci.

“If Azerbaijan is under attack or in danger, Turkey will come unconditionally to the help of Azerbaijan,” added Bagci. “Iran is trying to extend its influence, but Turkey is like a barrier stopping Iran’s influence in Azerbaijan. ”

Turkish military support was vital to Azerbaijan in 2020 when it decisively defeated Armenian-backed forces in a conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh enclave. 

This month’s joint military exercise with Azerbaijan underlines Ankara’s support to Baku and a warning to Tehran.

“Iran they do many military exercises and power show around the Azerbaijan border,” said Turkish Presidential advisor Mesut Casin of Istanbul’s Yeditepe University.

“This is giving to is a kind of signal against Iran, stop, and you have to take care about Azerbaijan’s independence and their sovereignty.”


In a sign of an increasingly assertive Baku, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev condemned Tehran last month.

“For all these years, a situation similar to today’s never occurred. A hateful and threatening statement was never made against Azerbaijan,” Aliyev said in a television address.

“Iran conducted two military exercises on our border in a few months. Therefore, we had to conduct military exercises on the Iranian border to show that we are not afraid of them,” added Aliyev. 

“We will do our best to protect the secular lifestyle of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijanis around the world, including Azerbaijanis in Iran. They are part of our people.”

Aliyev’s robust comments is seen as a marked change in relations between Azerbaijan and Iran. Until now, Baku rarely spoke of its large Azeri population in Iran, mindful of Tehran’s sensibilities and suspicions of it minority. 

“The last three decades, Baku was very cautious in its relationship to the very large Azeri-speaking community in northern Iran,” observes Gasimov.

“But we have seen the conduct of the military drills on the border to Iran as the reaction to the Iranian military drills by the Azeri side. And in the same time, new discourse in Baku about the Azeri speakers in Iran were two gestures addressed to the Iranian political class, saying that something has changed in the region.”

In a move analysts say will further anger Tehran, Baku opened an embassy in Israel. The two countries already have close military ties, despite Tehran’s warnings. For now, Ankara has refrained from commenting on the turmoil in Iran, but some analysts warn that silence will be tested if Tehran ratchets up tensions with Baku. 

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