Azerbaijani police and customs set up on September 12 a checkpoint on the main highway connecting Armenia with Iran. A 21-kilometer section of the highway passes through Armenian-Azerbaijani border areas along Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province also bordering Iran. The Armenian government controversially ceded it to Azerbaijan following last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Azerbaijani roadblock caused significant disruptions in Iran’s cargo traffic with Armenia, with many Iranian drivers refusing or unable to pay a hefty “road tax” demanded by Azerbaijani officers. Two of them were arrested by Azerbaijani authorities two weeks ago for allegedly travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh without Baku’s permission.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry called for the immediate release of the drivers. Meanwhile, the Iranian military reportedly massed troops along the Azerbaijani border and began large-scale military exercises there last week.
Aliyev described the exercises as “very surprising” in an interview with the Turkish Anatolia news agency published on Monday.
“Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It's their sovereign right … But why now and why on our border?” he said.
“Why weren't the drills held when the Armenians were in the Jabrail, Fizuli and Zangelan districts? Why is this being done after we liberated these lands after 30 years of occupation?” he asked.
Aliyev expressed hope that Tehran will end its “emotional reactions to our legitimate steps.” He said that Baku set up the roadblock after Tehran ignored repeated warnings to stop Iranian trucks from shipping cargo to Karabakh. That was “disrespectful to the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan,” he said.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, reacted to Aliyev’s remarks on Tuesday, saying that they are “surprising” given the “good relations” between the two states.
Khatibzadeh insisted that Iran has always respected Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity and that its war games are aimed at “protecting regional security.” The Islamic Republic “will not tolerate the Israeli regime’s presence near its borders,” he added, clearly alluding to Azerbaijan’s military ties with Israel.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian discussed the road crisis with his Armenian and Azerbaijani counterparts during separate meetings held in New York last week. According to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Amir-Abdollahian told Azerbaijan’s Jeyhun Bayramov that “some third parties should not be allowed to affect” Azerbaijani-Iranian relations.
The friction between Azerbaijan and Iran was also highlighted by bitter verbal exchanges reported between members of their parliaments.
The Iranian ISNA news agency reported late last week that some Azerbaijani lawmakers have threatened to “remove Iran from the world map” and “raise Turkish flags in all parts of Iran.” It said Iranian parliamentarian have responded by “warning Baku of the dangers” of picking a fight with the Islamic Republic.