Azerbaijan and Iran have laid the foundation for a transit route connecting western Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhchivan through Iran.
On 6 October, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev and Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development, Mehrdad Bazrpash, took part in a groundbreaking ceremony for a bridge connecting the two countries over the River Aras.
Bazrapsh announced that Azerbaijan and Iran would establish a border crossing near the abandoned town of Aghband, close to the point in which the borders of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia meet. The town came under Azerbaijani control during the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War.
The corridor is set to be financed by Azerbaijan and overseen by Iran, and will include a motorway and a railway. It was initially announced in March 2022, with the two countries forming a joint economic commission to oversee construction.
‘In this project, Azerbaijan is responsible for the construction of the bridge, and Iran is responsible for the construction of the highway’, said Bazrapsh.
‘Also, an agreement was reached on the construction of the bridge and the railway line. It is carried out with the investment of Azerbaijan and by this country’.
Azerbaijan has since the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War increasingly sought to establish a corridor to connect the exclave of Nakhchivan to the rest of the country. This manifested in proposed plans to establish the ‘Zangezur corridor’ through Armenia’s southern Syunik Province.
The proposed corridor remains a point of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan in peace talks.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received Minister Bazrapsh on 6 October in Baku, where the two discussed deepening economic and commercial ties.
They also reportedly discussed tripartite regional cooperation with Armenia.
Tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have been on the rise since the end of the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Last year, an armed man stormed Azerbaijan’s Embassy in Tehran, killing its head of security and injuring two others.
Iran has also held at least two military exercises on the border with Azerbaijan, with officials in Tehran often issuing threatening statements against Azerbaijan.
[Read more on OC Media: ‘Irrationality is subjective’: fears rise of conflict between Iran and Azerbaijan]
Fazil Mustafa, an Azerbaijani MP and outspoken critic of Iran, welcomed the beginning of the corridor’s construction. Mustafa was recently shot by an unknown person in an attack that Azerbaijani authorities have indirectly pinned on Iran,
In an interview with Meydan TV, he said there was hope for the warming of relations with Iran now that Azerbaijan had ‘restored its territorial integrity’ in Nagorno-Karabakh.
‘The policy of supporting Karabakh Armenians or Armenia has already become meaningless; there is no excuse for not improving Baku–Tehran relations’, Mustafa said.