Will Iran Sabotage South Caucasus Peace Through the Armenian Church?

Since Azerbaijan took over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region last September, it has sought to finalize border demarcation with Armenia in a new peace accord. In March, Baku demanded the return of four villages still held by Armenia in the nation’s Tavush Province.

According to the 1991 Almaty Declaration, which required post-Soviet republics to respect Soviet borders, these villages should belong to Azerbaijan. Last month, Pashinyan agreed to honor the treaty and return those villages in exchange for peace and a demarcation agreement.

Iran and Russia see such political turmoil as an opportunity to reignite the conflict and stop Armenia and Azerbaijan’s moves toward the West. Peace between Azerbaijan and Armenia is a direct threat to Russian and Iranian interests. A peace deal would boost both Yerevan and Baku’s independence and could lead to the establishment of a trade route through the so-called Middle Corridor. Such a route would connect China to Europe while bypassing both Moscow and Tehran.

Currently, the only Middle Corridor route used for trade passes through Georgia, traversing the country’s East-West highway. This road is just a mere kilometer from the Russian-backed separatist state of South Ossetia, which has in the past moved the border fence further and further into Georgian territory. Moreover, Georgia’s current government has become increasingly close to Moscow and is near passing a similar law used by Russia to stifle media freedom and endanger the nation’s European Union membership trajectory. Setting up a corridor seeking to bypass Russia through a Russian vassal is pointless.

Russia has historically been the security guardian of the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. For more than three decades, Moscow played peacemaker while selling weapons to both sides and preventing true settlement to keep both countries beholden to it. But Russia’s influence in the region has diminished in recent years.

Meanwhile, Iran is seeking to fill the vacuum left by Russia by using one of Moscow’s favorite political tools—the church.

Read the rest at Newsweek.

Joseph Epstein is a Fellow at Yorktown Institute.

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