TEHRAN — Iran’s Revolutionary Guards began on Monday major military exercises along the country’s borders with Armenia and Azerbaijan amid lingering fears of renewed fighting between the two South Caucasus states.
The war games, described by Iranian news agencies as “massive,” are taking place near a stretch of the Arax river that separates northwestern Iran from Armenia’s Syunik province as well as Azerbaijan’s Nakhichevan exclave and districts south of Nagorno-Karabakh captured by the Azerbaijani army during the 2020 war.
News reports quoted Brigadier-General Mohammad Pakpour of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as saying that his elite troops will practice building a bridge over the river and seizing strategically important hills.
The exercises are meant to a send a message of “peace and friendship” to Iran’s neighbors, Pakpour said, according to the Mehr news agency. The Islamic Republic also wants to show its enemies that it is ready to “respond decisively to any threat,” added the commander of the IRGC’s Ground Forces.
Over the past year Iranian leaders have repeatedly warned against attempts to change their country’s “historical” border with Armenia. They stepped up those warnings following the September 13-14 large-scale fighting at various sections of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. One of those sections is in Syunik, the sole Armenian province bordering Iran.
“We will not tolerate changes in the borders of the countries of the region,” Iran’s top army general, Mohammad Bagheri, said on September 22.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reportedly made this clear to his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev when they met in Kazakhstan last week.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said afterwards that the consulate will help to deepen Armenian-Iranian ties.
Syunik connects the rest of Armenia to Iran through mountainous roads used not only for Armenian-Iranian trade but also cargo shipments to and from other parts of the world. Armenia lost control over one of those roads after a controversial troop withdrawal ordered by Prime Minister Pashinyan following the 2020 war with Azerbaijan.
In September 2021, Azerbaijan set up checkpoints there to tax Iranian vehicles, triggering unprecedented tensions with Iran. Some Iranian officials accused Baku of seeking to effectively strip the Islamic Republic of a common border with Armenia. The Iranian army held exercises near Nakhichevan in October 2021.