Iranian Envoy Denies Closure of Supreme Leader's Office in Baku

Rahim Huseynli Feature 6 October 2021
Iranian Envoy Denies Closure of Supreme Leader's Office in Baku

The Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan Abbas Mousavi has dismissed the report about the closure of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's office in Baku.

"Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry closed a prayer hall where Iranian residents used to hold religious ceremonies," Mousavi said on 5 October, adding that reports on the closure of Ayatollah Khamenei's office in Baku run by his representative Hojjat ol-Eslam Ali Akbar Ojaqnejad were not true.

Ojaghnejad has been Khamenei's representative in Azerbaijan since 1996.

Earlier, Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported on the closure of the aforesaid office earlier on the same day. According to Azerbaijani Interior Ministry Spokesman Ehsan Zahidov, the reason for the closure of the mosque was the Covid-19 pandemic measures. 

It should be noted that the mosque is located in Nardaran, a village near Baku known for its pro-Iranian sentiments.

On October 5, Iran has closed its airspace for Azerbaijani military cargo flights to the autonomous exclave of Nakhchivan, ahead of the “Indestructible Brotherhood” military drills of Azerbaijan and Turkey in Nakhchivan (5-8 October), the Azerbaijani exclave that borders Iran, Armenia and Turkey. In the meantime, the Baku-Nakhchivan passenger bus services are continuing to run through Iranian territory. 

Meanwhile, the state-run Azerbaijan Airlines (AZAL) announced on October 6 that it has started using Armenian airspace for its flights from Baku to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The move can be described as the beginning of a new stage in Azerbaijani-Armenian relations.

"This move demonstrates that Azerbaijan is definitely ready for the opening of transport communications in the region, which is in the interests of all neighboring countries," the report said.

Regional aviation security regulations had changed since the end of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in autumn 2020. Under the regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the airspace in the region and all air corridors are open for flights.

Tension between the two countries which share a 700-kilometre border, began to rise following Azerbaijan’s imposition of a road “tax” on Iranian truck drivers who cross a corner of its territory to transport goods to Armenia and ethnic Armenian-controlled parts of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory. Iran’s accusation that Baku has admitted Israel to its soil, followed by a drill by Iran’s Army along borders with Azerbaijan, escalated tension to a higher level.

The large-scale war games conducted by Iran were criticized by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, saying that "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? There were no such incidents in the 30 years of Azerbaijan's independence." 

Iran and Azerbaijan are at odds over several issues including Baku’s recent holding of the “Three Brothers” joint military maneuvers with Pakistani and Turkish troops, with the latter joining one set of exercises that involved a presence on the Caspian Sea, something Iran says is against the spirit of an agreement made by the countries with a Caspian Sea coastline; and Azerbaijan’s warm relations with Israel, with Baku having bought billions of dollars of Israeli defense and security equipment, including “kamikaze” drones and surveillance technology.

There are over 30 ethnic Azerbaijanis among Iran's 84 million people. Tehran has always been somewhat anxious about separatist feelings among them.

In autumn 2020, Azerbaijan won a six-week war with its neighbor Armenia over the Karabakh region, with Israeli and Turkish drones acquired by Baku causing the Armenians devastating losses.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have long been at odds over the Karabakh region. On September 27, 2020, the decades-old conflict between the two countries spiraled again, and during the military operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long Armenian occupation.

The war ended in a tripartite statement signed on November 10 by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia. Under the statement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan. The tripartite agreement addressed the deployment of a Russian peacekeeping contingent in the Armenian-inhabited part of Azerbaijan’s Karabakh region, including the city of Khankendi.