Tehran, Iran – Iran has opened a consulate general in Kapan, located in the southernmost Armenian province of Syunik, in what appears to be a direct message to Azerbaijan and its backer Turkey.
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian officially inaugurated the consulate on Friday, making Iran the first country to establish a diplomatic mission in the province that is sought by Baku and Ankara.
The move appeared to come in support of Tehran’s assertion that any changes in its borders and transit links with Armenia would be a “red line” that it would not tolerate being crossed.
Azerbaijan – which also has a border with Iran – and its ally Turkey wish to establish a new transport link connecting Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan with the Azerbaijani mainland, a route they call the “Zangezur corridor”.
If the route is established, in effect bypassing Armenian checkpoints, it will have consequences for Iran-Armenia commerce and could sever a major Iranian transit link with the South Caucasus.
A historic day, as Iran opens a consulate in Kapan, Armenia.
Iran is the first country to establish a diplomatic mission in the southern province of Syunik, backing up its red line against Azeri designs.
May this be the beginning of the end of the Zangezur project. pic.twitter.com/aBPfhtmo1a
— Alison Tahmizian Meuse (@AliTahmizian) October 21, 2022
Yerevan has also said the corridor signals a breach of the ceasefire signed after the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, which Azerbaijan won, taking back territories that had been in Armenian control since the previous conflict in the early 1990s.
“I will advise the people of Kapan not to worry, we are here for the Armenian people,” said Morteza Abedin Varamin, Iran’s new consul-general in Kapan, at the inauguration ceremony.
Amirabdollahian, the Iranian foreign minister, said “Iran considers Armenia’s security to be the security of its own and the region” while expressing a readiness to host an Armenian consulate general in northwestern Tabriz, where many ethnic Iranian Turks live.
Iran’s top diplomat, who led a high-level delegation to Armenia, met with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan on Saturday. He has also held talks with his counterpart Ararat Mirzoyan and Alen Simonyan, the president of the National Assembly of Armenia.
Crossing the Aras
Tehran has not contented itself with only diplomatic messages.
The inauguration of the Kapan consulate comes on the heels of several days of large-scale military exercises by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) near Iran’s borders with Azerbaijan.
The elite force earlier this week deployed and displayed endless rows of tanks and rocket launch systems. It also practised simulations of heliborne operations, taking enemy positions, and firing missiles from attack helicopters.
In a highly symbolic move, which the IRGC said was a first, the force built a pontoon bridge over a part of the Aras river which rises in eastern Turkey and also marks parts of the border between Iran and Azerbaijan.
In footage carried by state television, tanks and other equipment were shown to be carried over the bridge to a northern part of the river, which was still on Iranian soil but presumably very close to Azerbaijani land. The exact location was not disclosed.
Iranian armed forces have held three drills since the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, but state-linked media said this week’s exercises have been the largest in terms of area and scope of operations.
During the exercises, the IRGC also deployed suicide drones, including a newly unveiled model called the Meraj-521, which was used by the Saberin brigades of the force. A miniature loitering munition, the drone can carry a warhead weighing up to 1 kilogramme and endure flights up to 15 minutes with a range of five kilometres, according to Iranian media.
This comes amid reports that Armenia is seeking to buy drones from Iran, something officials from both sides have yet to comment on.
Tehran has recently come under heavy criticism and also sanctions from the United States and the European Union for its alleged supply of more advanced Shahed-136 kamikaze drones, a claim it has consistently denied.
On Saturday, Iran condemned the UN call for an investigation into the alleged use of its drones in Ukraine.