Last September, long-brewing strains between Iran and Azerbaijan reached an unprecedented level, resulting in the deployment of troops and large-scale military drills by both sides. The most immediate trigger was the Azerbaijani authorities’ arrest of two Iranian truck drivers on Armenia’s Goris–Kapan highway (which partially straddles the undelimited portion of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border) for illegally entering the territory of Azerbaijan (Turan, September 15; see EDM, October 6, 27). In addition to Baku’s and Tehran’s rival demonstrative military exercises near the two countries’ shared border, their mutual diplomatic rhetoric became even more aggressive. Inadvertently or not, Baku’s blockade of the road for Iranian trucks also notably spotlighted Iran’s energy exports to Karabakh.
On September 6–10, Azerbaijan and Turkey held joint special forces exercises in the Lachin region of Azerbaijan, marking the first time Turkish troops carried out military operations in the Azerbaijani territories liberated as a result of the 44-day Second Karabakh War (September 27–November 9, 2020) (Mod.gov.az, September 6, 11). This was only one of a series of joint military exercises between the two countries in September, some of which would also involve forces from Pakistan (Mod.gov.az, September 7, 10, 11). In a move to further deepen bilateral military cooperation, Ankara has upgraded the representation of the Turkish Armed Forces in the “Azerbaijan Operational Group” (an entity established in 1992 but hitherto represented at a lower level) by appointing four generals to its leadership (Yeni Shafak August 26).