CPC - Caspian Policy Center


azerbaijani embassy in tehran attacked as azerbaijani-israeli relations bloom

Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran Attacked as Azerbaijani-Israeli Relations Bloom

Author: Josephine Freund

Jan 30, 2023

Image source: apa.az

On January 27, a gunman entered the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Tehran, Iran, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. The attacker shot at embassy staff, resulting in the death of the head of security, as well as injuries to other staff members. 

While Iran’s government maintains that the attack originated from a personal dispute, this is unlikely. Tehran’s Chief of Police General Hossein Rahimi was quoted on Iranian State TV claiming that the gunman entered the embassy with his two children. However, this is not corroborated by released surveillance footage from outside and inside the embassy during the ambush. Also, it unclear how the attacker obtained his weapons in the first place, especially since the attacker himself claimed that he had two assault weapons: while gun ownership laws in Iran are generally lax, weapons such as Russian-manufactured Kalashnikov’s are quite expensive, going for around $2,800 on the black market. This price is especially steep in Iran’s difficult civil economy. 

Azerbaijan’s government thus far is not accepting Iran’s version that the gunman inflicted the attack to defend his wife -- she was not present. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev issued a statement reading, “We demand that this terrorist act be investigated and the terrorist be punished.”

In a call with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian stated that he hoped that this attack would not hurt bilateral ties between the two countries. But his statement rings hollow, because this attack did not occur in a vacuum: Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasized that it is part of a growing “anti-Azerbaijan campaign” that has been gaining traction in Iran. And it’s worth nothing that this is not the first attack with ties to the Iranian government on an Azerbaijani embassy in the past year.

With speculated linkage to Iran on August 5, the Azerbaijani Embassy to the UK in London was attacked by members of a radical Shiite religious group. While this was not an attack credited to the government of Iran itself, attacks such as this from more radical Shiite groups are usually attributed to being encouraged unofficially by Iran. 

As tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan have steadily mounted, Azerbaijan has nurtured relations with Israel, much to the chagrin of an increasingly aggressive Iran. On January 11, Azerbaijan appointed its first Ambassador to Israel, Muhtar Mammadov, after announcing on November 18 that it would open an embassy in Tel Aviv

Just last week, the growing good faith between Azerbaijan and Israel was further on display as Israel chose Baku as the destination for its Israeli envoys in Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo to meet to discuss Iran’s threat to security as well as Russia’s war in Ukraine and expanding ties with Muslim countries. This was the first time that this meeting was held in Azerbaijan; previously, the envoys had convened in Moscow. 

Iran has made it clear that it does not approve of Azerbaijan and Israel forging stronger diplomatic ties. In October, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) embarked on a provocative set of military drills along the Iran-Azerbaijan border. Coinciding with these drills, Iran’s state-run TV channel that is broadcast in the Azerbaijani language released a music video threatening Azerbaijan and Israel in the same portion. These acts can all be classified as part of the growing “anti-Azerbaijan campaign” referred to by Azerbaijan.

The U.S. State Department released a statement condemning the attack: “We remind the Government of Iran of its responsibility under the Geneva Convention to protect foreign diplomats in Iran.” 

Türkiye, which also has been fostering more positive relations with Israel and is a staunch ally of Azerbaijan, expressed support in the face of the January 27 attack. “Türkiye, which has been subjected to similar attacks in the past, deeply shares the pain of the Azerbaijani people…. Azerbaijan is not alone. Our support to Azerbaijan will continue without interruption, as it always has,” read a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry. The attacks referred to in this statement can allude to planned kidnapping and killing of Israeli citizens travelling in Türkiye. The attacks were to be carried out by Iranian agents and were foiled by Turkish and Israeli intelligence agencies jointly, thus helping relations between those two countries. 

Increased Iranian aggression toward Azerbaijan was again emphasized by Friday’s attack. Based on statements from Azerbaijani government officials, it is commonly understood that Iran poses a growing security threat. Although Iran might disapprove of Azerbaijan’s increased cooperation with Israel, attacks such as this will only bring those two countries closer together strategically. 

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