February 24, 2017


by Prof Mahir Khalifa-zadeh

azglobalcontext.org, Toronto-based Media and Analysis Center, Canada
azglobalcontext.org (Canada)
24 February, 2017

original source: Journal of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, 2011, Vol 12, Issue 1, Stockholm, Sweden, www.ca-c.org; http://www.ca-c.org/journal/2011-01-eng/05.shtml  or

It is well known that within the dozen centuries the South Caucasus had a strategic importance for superpowers which dominated in different historical periods. As a start of superpowers’ struggle and paramount evidence of their attempts to secure interests in this strategic part of the world, we can recall the Roman Army advances under command of General Pompey (66-65 BC) and General Mark Antony (36 BC) to the Caucasus. And in 75 AD, Roman Emperor Domitian has sent the legion of XII Fulminata to support the allied kingdoms of Iberia and Albania (modern Republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan respectively). A rock inscription was found near the shores of the Caspian Sea (Gobustan, 60-70 km from Baku, Republic of Azerbaijan) mentions the presence of Legio XII Fulminata's centurio named Lucius Julius Maximus (1; 2).

The region’s strategic dimensions
For the centuries, the superpowers like Roman and Persian Empires (3), Caliphate, Persian and Byzantium Empires (4) or Ottoman, Persian and Russian Empires (5, 6) struggled to control the South Caucasus. Undoubtedly, since the time of Great Silk Way, the South Caucasus plays an important role and is a shortest land way from Chine to the Europe. The region is a land bridge between Black Sea and Caspian Sea; and is a gateway to the Middle East and the Central Asia. In this light, the South Caucasus has strategic geographical and transportation dimensions.

In the era of industrialization and the world’s economy dependency on oil and gas, the South Caucasus has gained an additional strategic dimension – the energy dimension - specifically for Azerbaijani hydrocarbons’ huge reserves and production. Azerbaijan, in the beginning of XX century, has produced more than half of the world oil production and 95% of Russian oil (11 million tones/per year) (7). And, in nowadays, the South Caucasus is a region neighboring the Persian Gulf. So, the South Caucasus has a multi-dimensional strategic importance both for global and regional powers. Finally, the region’s strategic significance has been brilliantly described by Dr Brzezinski (former National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter) in “The Grand Chessboard” (8).
South Caucasus politics' key players  
The contemporary politics of the South Caucasus is characterized by the high level of complexity as well as dynamic rivalry between global, regional and local players. Concerning to the region’s landscape, one can emphasize that the United States, Islamic world and European countries present global powers; Russia, Turkey and Iran are key regional actors; and finally, as local actors, one can indicate Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. In addition, a huge pool of influenceable international organizations like OSCE, CIS, EU, NATO, OIC and religious and humanitarian organizations operate and shape politics in this part of the world. Meanwhile, the large family of multi-national oil corporations and companies like BP (UK), Amoco (USA), UNOCAL (USA), McDermott International (USA) and others have their own “pie” in the Caucasus tangle web of oil and politics.

Last, the XXI century’s South Caucasus, like a whole Great Caucasus region, continues to be complex and unassimilated by Russians and occupies a strategic importance for global politics, international security and energy security.

Iran, as mentioned above, is one of the key players in the South Caucasus. And, as within the whole course of history, Iran (Persia) continues to be in the list of powers which struggles for their interests and goals in this region. So, the modern Iran has wide and deep historical experience to play its own strategic game in this part of the world.

Key sources of Iran’s foreign policy
It is necessary to emphasize Iran (Persia), within the whole course of history, was able to conduct smart, precise and delicate, balanced and pragmatic foreign policy. So as result of this successful approach, Iran continues to exist in the world map and now is one of the powerful nations. Moreover, Iran is able to adapt effective foreign and security policy that reflects the flowing strategic environments of different historical periods. The centuries of Persian policy’s experience and ability to implement the smart policy testify that Iran has fundamental sources which shape the nation’s foreign policy. Concerning the modern Islamic Republic of Iran, the scholars from the RAND Corporation (California based research organization) emphasize that there are certain characteristics of Iran which drive the country’s foreign and security policy (9).
Since the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran, as authors urge, there are two key factors -revolutionary Islam and Persian nationalism- which continue to be strong sources for Iran’s foreign policy. However, they argue that the revolutionary or ideological element has been decline after more than 20 years since the Islamic revolution. Such decline has been occurred for several unsuccessful attempts to export and spread the Revolution’s ideas into other parts of the Islamic world, particularly, to the Central Asia and South Caucasus. From other side, according the RAND, the revolutionary ideas brought Iran to the confrontation with superpowers and put the country to the isolation. So, as many scholars agree, ideas of revolution are declined and, finally, pragmatic, economic and geopolitical factors are raised as driven sources of the country’s foreign policy.

The RAND’s experts consider ethnicity and communalism as the next source of Iran’s foreign policy. They emphasize that some (Azeris, Kurds) ethnic minorities’ close ties with neighbor states as well as the ethnic communities across the Iranian border are a key source for the country’s foreign policy. And we agree with this implication. The Azeris are Iran’s largest ethnic minority. The ethnic composition is: Persians are 51% of the country’s population, Azeris 24%; Gilaki and Mazandarani 8%, Kurd 7%, Arab 3%, Lur 2%, Baloch 2%, Turkmen 2%, other 1% (10). Some ethnic groups are concentrated mainly in border areas and have ties with ethnic groups or states across the Iranian border like Kurds and Azeris. The Azeris have close ties with the South Caucasian Republic of Azerbaijan and Kurds with Kurdish communities in Iraq and Turkey. Moreover, Iranian Azeris have experience to establish their own an independent state (Southern Azerbaijan Democratic Republic) that emerged in 1945-46 with the support of Soviets (11). Finally, the Azeris minority’s experience to build their own independent state, as well as an existence of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan and Tajikistan (Persian speaking Central Asian state) have key policy-making implications for Iran’s foreign and security policy towards the South Caucasus and Central Asia.
The next fundamental source for Iran’s foreign policy is economics. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran faces significant problems to modernize national economy and military. Now the both issues occupy a high priority of Tehran’s agenda. Iran needs foreign investments and to diversificate the national economy and ensure access to new technologies. However, the isolation of Iran in global affairs, as result of US-Iranian tensions, creates a huge obstacle for Tehran to deal with economic, military and technological modernization.

Meanwhile, it is necessary to emphasize that the relations between Iran and the United States dominate Iran’s foreign policy and drive and fuel the country’s behavior on global and regional levels. Moreover, the key strategic issue for Iran’s foreign policy is: to solve problems with the West (United States). So, from our viewpoint, Iran conducts foreign policy exactly from the prism of relations with the United States and the West. So, Iran deals with the South Caucasus via an angle of Iran-USA and Iran-Europe relations.

Iran-Russia relations and Iran’s policy toward the region
The South Caucasus - is oil and gas rich region with a strategic location that creates brilliant prospects for local nations to be rich and prosperous. However, the Caucasus belongs to “the areas of greatest insecurity in today's world lie along an arc from the Balkans though the Middle East to Central Asia” (12). Unfortunately, the South Caucasus is an arena of hard struggle between global and regional powers for geopolitical influence and to control Caspian energy recourses, as well as energy transportation routes. And Iran engages into this rivalry.

It is well known that the main threat to Iran’s security and territorial integrity, within the last three centuries, has come from the North – from imperial Russia and later from the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the local states of the South Caucasus - Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia – were emerged after the disintegration of the USSR. And now these states form a “buffer zone” between Iran and Russia (13). Iran clearly understands that an existence of such buffer zone is vital for nation’s security because of strong Russian imperialistic ambitions and Moscow’s nostalgia on Red Empire’s “glory” days. So, Iran strongly supports the independence of all three states. From other hand, the existence of South Caucasian countries creates new opportunities and challenges for Iran’s foreign and security policy.
We consider that Tehran’s strategy toward the South Caucasus originates from Iran’s specific position in global affairs, especially from nation’s confrontational relations with the West (USA). Iran’s relations with the USA, as a backbone of Tehran’s strategic foreign and security policy, drive and rule Tehran’s behaviour in global and regional levels, including the South Caucasus. Moreover, some scholars believe that the significant degree of the US-Iranian confrontation is continuing in the South Caucasus as well (14).

It is well known, Iran tries to contain and minimize Western pressure. So, in accordance with this strategy, Tehran actively cooperates with Russia. Notwithstanding with the collapse of Soviet Empire, modern Russia continues to consider itself as a global competitor to the USA (15). Russia is a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council. And Tehran takes these points into account and considers Moscow as a key supporter. The cooperation between Iran and Russia is highly saturated and covers wide agenda: science, technology, military and nuclear and other issues with multi-billion dollar turnover.
Meanwhile, the strategic cooperation with Iran is beneficial for Russia as well. Iran is a huge market for Russia’s military weapons and nuclear technology exports. Since 2005, Russia has observer status at the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s influence in the Islamic world is an effective tool to create and support Russia’s friendly image in Muslim states. Moreover, by the cooperation with Iran and the OIC, Russia tries to minimize Islamic pressure in Russia itself, as well as in the Caucasus and Central Asia. From other hand, as global competitor to the USA, Russia tries (in accordance with the old Soviet strategy) to challenge America’s global positions, particularly in the Islamic world.

Russia very painfully reacts to the U.S. and NATO “advance” into Kremlin’s “near abroad”, particularly to the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Russia tries to weaken Western influence and presence in this part of the world, as well as to secure Caspian energy resources and energy transportation routes under Moscow’s control.

We can emphasize that Iran’s has similar strategic goals in the South Caucasus. So, Iran’s South Caucasian strategy is oriented to support Russia’s dominance in this part of the world. It is beneficial for Tehran to be under Russian umbrella or shadow in this region (16, 17). Both Russia and Iran strengthen their positions in the struggle for influence with the United States which has proclaimed that the Caspian basin is strategically vital for America’s national interests (18, 19). Moreover, the European Union step-by-step strengthens its positions as well. In other words, the West actively implements the set of strategic programs like - Silk Road Strategy, Partnership for Peace, Eastern Partnership and others which are oriented to project Western influence to the South Caucasus and Central Asia. These programs are vital to increase the Western presence and redesign the post-Soviet local order or minimize Russian influence and control. Therefore, Russia needs to react and reflect challenges which can weak Russia’s traditional dominance in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Finally, Russia needs to have a strategic partner and Iran is very valuable.
It is necessary to note that Iran’s hostility with the United States and Israel pushes Tehran to be close with Moscow. Moreover, Russia tries to prolong Iran’s problems with the United States as long as possible. In this case, Russia defocuses Washington’s strategic attention from Russia itself and Russia’s “near abroad” and creates significant “headache” for Washington’s decision-makers. It is logical that if Russia considers itself as global competitor for US dominance, so Russian strategists believe that US-Iran tension, as well as America’s problems in Iraq, North Korean issues and Afghan war would weak the United States global dominance and superiority. Finally, the continuation of the US-Iran hostility ensures Iran’s dependency from Moscow and secures Tehran’s billion dollars flow to the Kremlin that is vital to modernize the old-style Russian economy.

From our perspective, the development of Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus demonstrates that Tehran abandoned ideological (Islamic or Shia) considerations and adopted pragmatic (supports Russia’s policy) and regional (develops state-to-state relations) approaches toward the South Caucasus. Iran tries to expand its political-security and economic role in the region. Some Iranian scholars believe that “regionalism” could be beneficial approach in Iran’s foreign policy. They argue that a regional approach will strengthen Iran’s national interest at the regional and international levels and increase Iran’s capacity to deal with great and regional powers (20). Undoubtedly, by the developing of bilateral relations with the South Caucasus sates, Iran could significantly increase its capabilities in the international scene.
In this light, Iran considers the South Caucasus as a possible and good platform to cooperate with the West. And this is a key strategic dimension of Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus. Iran tries to participate in huge international projects (with Western participation) to explore and transport Caspian energy resources. However, the United States strongly opposes to any Iran’s participation like it was happen with Azerbaijan’s “Contract of the Century”. The United States excludes any possible cooperation with Tehran for its nuclear ambitions and precisely monitors Iran’s behavior.

Nevertheless, Iran develops economic cooperation with local countries and considers state-to-state relations as a valuable “tool” to increase political influence and strengthen strategic positions. In this light, the cooperation between Iran and Armenia (with Russia’s blessing) is an example of such strategy. Undoubtedly, Iran-Armenian cooperation has key implications for the South Caucasus and is an effective approach to contain Turkey’s influence, Turkey-Azerbaijan strategic alliance (21) and rising Azerbaijan’s economic and military power.

Obviously, an improvement of Turkey-Armenian relations will decrease Tehran-Moscow axis’ role and weak the axis’ significance for the region. Moreover, an elimination of Turkey-Armenian hostility will dramatically decrease or undermine Russian dominance in the South Caucasus. So, Turkish-Armenian reconciliation does not correlate to Russian (first) and Iranian (second) strategic interests. And indeed, this process is already deadlocked (22). Moreover, Iran tries to contain Turkey, as NATO’s key member and close US ally, in the Greater Middle East region (23) toward which Iran has its own strategic interests and political goals (20).

Notwithstanding Iran has wide historical heritage to deal with the South Caucasus, however, Tehran’s capabilities are significantly limited. Iran, unlike Turkey, is not so attractive for the South Caucasian countries because of Tehran’s tensions with the USA. This is first and key point. Both Azerbaijan and Georgia, unlike Armenia, consider the West (USA) as a key source to secure their independence and counterbalance predominant Russia’s power. Second, the Islamic nature of Tehran’s regime significantly limits the political co-operation; and third point - Russia! The elimination of Iran-US tensions or their any significant improvement does not correlate with Russia’s long term interests.
Finally, the strategic approach of Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus is more pragmatic than ideological or based on ethnicity and is oriented to prevent any significant shifts which could strengthen positions of the United States or European Union or NATO; support Russian dominance; keep balance between local states.

Region’s political dynamics and Iran’s strategic priorities
Since the Soviet Union’s breakup, we identify two significant shifts in the geopolitical game of the South Caucasus. The first is: - Azerbaijan’s “Contract of the Century” of 1995; and - second, the Russo-Georgian war that broke out in August 2008. From our viewpoint, the first shift led to the second and, so, the event’s consequence indicates that the Russo-Georgian war was unavoidable.
Azerbaijan’s “Contract of the Century” has opened doors for large scale Western penetration and investments not only into Azerbaijani oil and gas sectors, but to the whole South Caucasian region. And investments brought wide and active political engagement of the West into Caucasian affairs. The United States, NATO, the European Union and Turkey began step-by-step to strengthen their positions and gradually started to implement several strategic programs like: Silk Road Strategy, Partnership for Pease, Eastern Partnership and strengthening Turkic identity. These programs and the set of initiatives like Caspian Guard (24) are oriented to establish pro-Western security arrangements and ensure Western (US) interest and direct control over Caspian energy resources and energy’s transportation routes.

Undoubtedly, Iran considers such initiatives as a direct threat to its security. Moreover, Iran was the first (possibly with Russian approval) who tried to overthrow the situation and stop Western “advance” into the region in  which Russia and Iran are traditional players and have common strategic goals.
So, Iran’s reaction was very clear and aggressive like it was happen in 2001 when Iranian warship forced a British Petroleum boat to return to port or Iranian military aircrafts violated Azerbaijani air borders and entered country’s air space (25). Moreover, only the diplomatic intervention of Ankara and Washington prevented a full-scale war (26). These events emphasize that Tehran was very angry for Azerbaijan and Georgian pro-Western orientation and for rising influence of the United States in the whole Caspian basin.

It is necessary to note that Russia, in that time, was engaged to solve the unrest in Chechnya. And, possibly for Chechen issues, Moscow or Tehran-Moscow axis was unable to stop or at list to slow down Western “advance”.
Finally, within the next years, the West was able significantly to increase its presence in the South Caucasus. Moreover, Georgia directly and Azerbaijan indirectly began to speculate on future NATO membership. It was a time of “good hope” for local states to solve their security issues.

So, within the years after the “Contract of the Century”, Russia gradually being forced to retreat from the South Caucasus and Central Asia. And Moscow very painfully reacted for Western and Asian advances to these regions. Some experts emphasize that: “... to counter this development, one of Russia’s tactics is to slow down Western advances... ” (36). So, possibly that the origin of the Russo-Georgian war, from our viewpoint, comes from this strategy. And Moscow’s strategic goal were clear: to stop Russia’s retreat and retake strategic initiative and ensure Russia’s interests. Unfortunately, Georgia’s President Saakashvili’s miscalculations have provided an opportunity to shift the balance of power and strengthen Moscow’s security posture in the region.
Finally, we have second significant shift and new or current the region’s security pattern that has been emerged as result of the Russo-Georgian war. Russia, as result of the war, was able significantly to strengthen its position and influence. Moreover, Russia demonstrated to global and regional powers that the South Caucasus (like a whole CIS) is Russian “near abroad” and Moscow has exclusive rights to use the force and manage the situation in accordance with Russia’s interests. The war provided to Russia a brilliant opportunity to retake strategic initiative and enforce Moscow's strategic position in its immediate neighborhood. And now, Georgian and Ukrainian movement toward NATO membership is abandoned from the agenda. Some scholars directly emphasize: “Western actors have in practice been forced to recognize Russia’s military dominance in the region and act only in areas approved by Russia and within the limits set by Russia” (27).

As logical continuation of the current strategic opportunity, Russia (two years later) extends the lease of military base in Armenia through 2044 (28). This is next significant Russia’s step to utilitize success after the war with Georgia and, so, to strengthen its positions in the region.
Iran, which is against any Western military presence in the region, did not express any statements against Russia’s extension to lease a base. So, Tehran’s silence means an approval for such developments.

Meanwhile, Russia accelerates its role to negotiate the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (29). Obviously, Russia is capitalizing its advantages, coming as result of Russo-Georgian war and tries to arrange pro-Russian security order. Finally, we can state that now the pendulum is on the Tehran-Moscow axis’ side.
However, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last visits to the South Caucasus ensures the United States engagement to the ongoing hard rivalry in this strategic part of the world (30, 31).

Undoubtedly, Russia’s strong positions mean that neither the USA nor NATO will able to deploy military bases in close vicinity of the Iranian border. The continuation of Russian dominance, therefore, has a strategic significance for Iran’s foreign and security policy and is beneficial for both Tehran and Moscow because of their close strategic priorities in the South Caucasus:
- Counter and reduce US influence;
- Opposes US, NATO and EU current and long-term objectives;
- Contain EU influence and oppose to EU’s strategic initiatives;
- Prevent the deployment of US or NATO military bases;
- Oppose Israeli cooperation with Georgia and Azerbaijan;
- Stop Georgian and Azerbaijani drift toward NATO/EU membership;
- Arrange security order in accordance with Iran’s (and Russia’s) strategic interests;
- Ensure control over Caspian energy resources and their transportation routes;
- Contain rising influence of Turkey and Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance;
- Prolong Turkey-Armenia hostility;
- Oppose to the long-term strategic cooperation in Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan triangle;
- Keep strategic balance between Azerbaijan and Armenia and so, contain Azerbaijan’s rise to regional power;
- Support Russia’s leading role in Caucasian and Caspian affairs and so, ensure current "status-quo"
Finally, it is beneficial for Iran to keep status-quo and support Russian dominance. Iran, in this case, is able to ensure its paramount strategic goal: to limit or decrease U.S. influence and, so, to prevent America’s attempts to redesign the region’s political landscape and secure Washington’s dominance.

Iran’s bilateral relations with local countries
It is necessary to note that bilateral relations with the South Caucasus sates are a priority line in Iran’s foreign policy to deal with border countries. The cooperation with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia is powerful tool to strengthen Iran’s influence and political significance for local and global actors. The bilateral relation’s expansion could partially compensate Iran’s limited capacity, originates from Tehran’s regime nature, to participate in huge international projects that are currently implemented in the South Caucasus and Caspian basin as well. Moreover, Iran considers state-to-state relations as an effective approach to keep strategic balance between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.
Within the last decade, Azerbaijan was able to increase its political, economic and military mighty and now “the balance of power in the region shifted in favour of Azerbaijan” (32). Moreover, some European scholars argue to consider Azerbaijan as a key country in the region and call to focus or recalibrate EU policy on Azerbaijan instead of Georgia (32).

Undoubtedly, Iran clearly understands Azerbaijan’s strategic importance and tries to keep “on track” the dialogue with Baku. Tehran significantly intensifies high-level contacts and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad several times paid official visits to Baku to discuss the region’s agenda.

Azerbaijan’s raising power and its long-term cooperation with the USA/EU and Israel is a great concern for Iran. Some experts argue that Iran prefers to see Azerbaijan remain involved in the conflict with Armenia. In this case, as scholars believe, Azerbaijan will be “unattractive for Iran’s Azerbaijanis and unable to allocate resources to stir-up “South Azerbaijan” (33). Iran supports Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, but provides large scale economic assistance to Armenia. Interestingly, Iran, as Shia state, implements so called “double track” policy toward the Republic of Azerbaijan (87% are Shi'a Moslems). Tehran, possibly, considers the “double track” policy as an effective approach to contain the Republic of Azerbaijan which is becoming a new regional power. Moreover, Iran’s decision-makers suppose that Azerbaijan’s involvement in the conflict with Armenia is effective to contain Turkey and Turkey-Azerbaijan strategic alliance that covers energy, transportation, economic, political and military issues.

Meantime, the prolongation of Turkish-Armenian hostility is an important element in Tehran’s calculations to keep Ankara under pressure and limit the projection of Turkish power on the South Caucasus and Central Asia. From other side, the Turkish-Armenian hostility increases Tehran’s strategic significance for Armenia and Russia.
Finally, Iran is capitalizing political and economic advantages from the current deadlock situation in relations between Turkey-Azerbaijan alliance and Armenia. The main economic benefits are: - to keep Iran as a valuable exporter for Armenian market; and - vital transportation route that links Armenia with Iran's Persian Gulf ports.

Meantime, political advantages are huge: - to counterbalance Azerbaijan's alliance with Turkey; - to reorganize Tehran’s image and facilitate a US-Iran rapprochement via Armenian Diaspora’s assistance. And this point is a key strategic element for Tehran to keep relation with Erevan on track.
Georgia, it is necessary to note that Iran kept silence at the Russo-Georgia war of 2008. Some scholars consider that “behind Iran's official silence is a combination of factors. These range from Iran's common cause with Moscow against expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), interpreting this crisis as a major setback for NATO's "eastward expansion" in light of the unabashed pro-West predilections of Tbilisi's government, to Iran's sensitivity to Russia's national security concerns” (34). Notwithstanding Iranian position in Georgia’s crisis, the Iran-Georgia relations are now under fast development. So, according to Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze: “Our relations have entered a new phase”. And on the joint news conference in Tbilisi on 27 May 2010, the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast (with deputy minister’s rank) added that Georgia and Iran intend to resume direct airline flights, cancel visa requirements for travelers, open an Iranian consulate in Batumi. Moreover, as he has mentioned, the Iranian side “unconditionally supports Georgia’s territorial integrity” (35).

The same position Iran expresses on Azerbaijan territorial integrity. Baku and Erevan feel some mistrust toward Tehran because of Iran has huge Azeri population but supports Armenia. However, Tehran tried to mediate a peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan (13). Finally, Iran is playing its own game in a classic Persian style: to balance between rivals and secure its own interests.
As the world’s oil and gas dependency is rising, so the safe and regular energy supplies will continue to occupy a high priority in world powers’ strategic agenda. In this light, the export of Caspian energy, it is well-known, is an alternative to the Persian Gulf energy. Within the last 15 years, the West has invested billion dollars to explore, develop and transport Caspian energy bypass Russia, which tries to be only one hub to supply oil and gas from the post-Soviet area to the world market.

 The Clinton administration and the George W.Bush administration have launched several strategic programs and initiatives oriented to project and secure Western presence and so, to ensure stable energy supplies from the South Caucasus. Unfortunately, the Obama administration does not pay significant attention to the South Caucasus. And the lack of Washington’s attention is beneficial for Iran and Russia but dangerous for America’s stakes in the region. The decline of Washington’s strategic attention creates an opportunity for Tehran-Moscow axis gradually to push out the USA from the region and regain a full control over Caspian resources.
The continuation of US-Iran tensions means that Iran will continue to be oriented on Russia. And Iran will support Russia’s strategy to keep region’s “frozen conflicts” active. Because, it is better to keep local conflicts unresolved and wait for the further opportunity to establish finally pro-Russian-Iranian order than to allow the United States to solve the conflicts and create pro-Western security order.

From other hand, Tehran’s decision-makers clearly understand that the insecurity in the South Caucasus threats to Iran. So, Iran will try to escape any involvement into “frozen conflicts” and minimize or eliminate any threat of conflicts in the Central Asia. The continuation of insecurity in the South Caucasus could directly affect to Iran’s internal politics. Moreover, the military operations in the close vicinity of Iranian borders represent a serious threat to Iran’s security. If a new war between Azerbaijan and Armenia will break out, so the behavior of huge Iran’s Azeri population will unpredictable. In addition, it will unclear the possible reaction of Iran’s Azeris regarding the current Tehran’s regime which could fall.
"We are very concerned about security in the Caucasus region, it is a rather sensitive topic for Tehran, so we are ready to take part in solving the problematic issues in the region," said Iranian Foreign Minister Monuchehr Mottaki in Tbilisi at a joint press conference with Foreign Minister of Georgia Grigol Vashadze (38).

However, we can see that Iran’s foreign policy toward the South Caucasus has a strategic dilemma: to keep status quo and, so, to counter Western influence; or to facilitate the settlement of conflicts and secure peace and stability along Iranian borders.
Undoubtedly, a stabilized South Caucasus would be an optimal environment to ensure the Caspian energy’s stable supply to Western markets. And the United States has great stake in the region and Caspian oil business that obligate Washington to secure peace and stability in the region.

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23- Ozan Örmeci, Caspian Weekly: Turkey's Role in the Organization of Islamic Conference, JDP Government and the Greater Middle East Project, May 29, 2010, Council on Foreign  relations, http://www.cfr.org/publication/22373/caspian_weekly.html ;
24- Pyotr Goncharov, RIA NOVOSTI, 04/05/2005, US in Caspian Region and Russia’s Position, opinion & analysis, http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20050504/39817504.html?id= 
25-Gulnara Ismailova, Azerbaijani Presidential’s visit to Iran Again Postponed, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Analyst, http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/448 ;
26-Fariz Ismailzade, The Geopolitics of the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Centre for World Dialogue, GLOBAL DIALOGUE Volume 7, Number 3–4, Summer/Autumn 2005—The Volatile Caucasus, http://www.worlddialogue.org/content.php?id=354 ;
27-Krzysztof Strachota, cooperation with Wojciech Gorecki, The Southern Caucasus and Central Asia after the Russian-Georgian War – the geopolitical consequences, September 24, 2008, Center for eastern Studies, Poland,  www.osw.waw.pl
28- Russia extends lease on military base in Armenia through 2044, RIA Novosti, 20 August 2010, http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20100820/160276128.html ;
29-Leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia discuss Nagorno-Karabakh settlement in Russia, 27 October 2010, RT-Russia Today TV Channel,   http://rt.com/Politics/2010-10-27/azerbaijan-armenia-russia-karabakh.html ;
30- Clinton’s Caucasus Campaign Gains Tepid Results, July 5, 2010, Eurasianet.org, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/61464
31- Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia: Political Developments and Implications for U.S. Interests, Jim Nichol, Specialist in Russian and Eurasian Affairs, Congressional Research Service (CRS), September 16, 2010, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33453.pdf ;
32-Stefan Meister, Recalibrating Germany’s and EU’s Policy in the South Caucasus, DGAP analyse, July 2010,N2, http://aussenpolitik.net/themen/eurasien/kaukasus/recalibrating_germany-s_and_eu-s_policy_in_the_south_caucasus ;
33-Brenda Shaffer, Iran’s Role in the South Caucasus and Caspian Basin: Diverging Views of the U.S. and Europe, Belfer Center, Harvard University, July 2003, http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/ ;
34-Kaveh Afrasiabi, Iran gambles over Georgia's crisis, August 16, 2010, Asia Times, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/JH16Ak01.html ;
35- Vladimir Socor, Georgia Develops Functional Relations With Iran, Georgian Daily, May 27, 2010, http://georgiandaily.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18724&Itemid=132
36-Marcel de Haas, Current Geostrategy in the South Caucasus, January 06, 2007, Eurasianet.org; http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/pp010707.shtml ;
37- Mina Muradova, Iran Seeks Role in Karabakh Settlement, March 18, 2010, John Hopkins University, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Analyst, http://www.cacianalyst.org/?q=node/5291
38- Trend News Agency, November 11, 2010, FM: Iran stands ready to play 'significant role' in resolving conflicts in Caucasus, http://en.trend.az/print/1776791.html

February 22, 2017


by Prof Mahir Khalifa-zadeh

azGlobalContext.org, Toronto-based Media and Analysis Center, Canada
azglobalcontext.org (Canada)
22 February, 2017


Maiden Tower (Qiz qalasi), Baku, painting, Tahir Salahov

Baku's Holy Fire Temple Tower (Qiz qalasi, Maiden Tower), reconstruction, by Davud Akhundov, 1986 
Qiz qalasi (Maiden Tower), Baku, Azerbaijan
Baku Maiden Tower (Azerbaijani: Qız qalası) is a legendary and world famous landmark in Baku, Azerbaijan. Since 2001, Baku's Maiden Tower as well as the Walled City (Old City) and the Palace of ShirvanShah are enrolled into the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The are many scientific sources which confirm that the Maiden Tower is a paramount example of Zoroastrianism and the pre-Islamic architecture in Iran and Azerbaijan. Particularly, some archeological and architectural evidences indicate that the Tower is Zoroastrians' Holy Fire Temple-Tower approximately of VIII-VII BC. Some scientists argue that the Tower had 7 fire exits on the top that possibly symbolized Zoroastrian 7 Steps, or 7 Skye to reach heaven.

Legends and mysteries
There is a huge pool of mysteries and legends related to Baku Maiden Tower. But till now, the main mystery is the Tower's design and purpose. Meanwhile, the Tower is covered by a cloud of legends or epics which are rooted to Iran's and Azerbaijan's history, religion and culture. Indeed, some legends became a subject for scenario for ballets and theatre's plays and, thus, formed a part of Azerbaijan's national heritage and identity. So the Maiden Tower ballet is a world class Azerbaijani ballet created by Afrasiyab Badalbeyli in 1940. The ballet's remake was performed in 1999.

Interestingly, there are up to 20 legends related Baku's Maiden Tower. The large part of them are connected to Baku's Medieval or Islamic period. But at least one or two legend (which reached the modern time) are rooted deep to Baku's Zoroastrian or the pre-Islamic period.

In this light, as we believe, the most impressionable story on Baku's Maiden Tower is Zoroastrian Legend of virgin girl savior with fire-colored hairs. As Legends says, she saved Baku's people from slavery.

The Legend of Fire-Color Haired Girl Savior
Once upon a time, there was an ancient town-fortress of Baku. The fortress had a Fire Temple-Tower. In a very old time of Baku, the enemy encircled the fortress. The enemy requested Baku's people to be surrendered but they refused it. So the enemy launched a siege to demolish the fortress and capture all inhabitants into the slavery. Many fortress' defenders died trying to stop enemy attacks. Meanwhile, the enemy's commander ordered to cut the water supply lines, aiming to overthrow fortress' defenders. So everybody was thirsty inside the fortress. No water no food, only blood and death. And the Supreme Magi, together with other priests, prayed to the Holy Fire in the fortress' Fire Temple-Tower, asking the God of Ahura Mazda to help the people. They prayed day and night asking Ahura Mazda to save their life and to push the enemy back. Finally, He heard their prayers. On the next day, the people saw that a large piece of the Holy Fire was fell down to the earth from the top of the Fire Temple-Tower. A beautiful girl came up from the fire. She had long and fire-colored hairs. The crowd went down on their knees and started to pray to her. She said: "Don't worry. I'll help and protect you. Give me a sword and a helmet. The enemy should not see my girl's hairs. Open a fortress' gate". Meanwhile, the enemy's commander was waiting outside for the fortress' pahlevan for one-to-one fight. If the fortress' pahlevan wins the fight, then the enemy's army will back away. But if the enemy wins, they will capture the fortress and all survived inhabitants will be slaves. The fortress' gate was opened and the enemy's commander saw that one pahlevan is coming to fight with him. The heavy battle began. In one of God's blessing moment, the fortress' pahlevan unhorsed the enemy and put a knife direct to his neck. The enemy's commander screamed: "You win! Who are you? Take your helmet off. I want to see your face, pahlevan!" He moved out the helmet and saw that the fortress' pahlevan is a beautiful girl with long and fire-colored hairs. He exclaim: "Oh, you are a girl! You are brave and beautiful girl! If girls of Baku are so brave, I'll never capture your fortress! Don't kill me, beauty!" He fell in love with her for her beauty and bravery. He asked her to marry him. Of course, the girl did not kill him. She fell in love with him too for his open heart. Finally, the enemy did not captured Baku and the local people named a tower as the Maiden tower.

The next Legend indicates Zoroastrian roots as well:

The Legend of Why Baku Tower's Fires Stop To Flame
Once upon a time, an enemy besieged fortress of Baku. However, Baku's people refused the enemy's request to be surrendered. They decided to fight and defend their lives and fortress. So Baku's people fought with great bravery but the situation inside the fortress became more and more worse. The enemy launched a tight siege to overthrow defenders. The enemy cut the water supply. With no water and food, the defenders did not have any chance to survive. Meanwhile, Supreme Magi with other priests prayed in the fortress' Holy Fire Temple-Tower. All together, they prayed to God of Ahura Mazda asking him to protect and help the people. After several days of non-stop praying, He heard priests' blessings and prayers. A strong and devastating earthquake was occurred. Thousand enemies were perished by this catastrophe and some of them, who survived, ran away. Thus, the people of Baku escaped the slavery but the Holy Fires stopped flaming on the top of the Fire Temple-Tower.

Why Baku's Tower is named as the Maiden Tower?
Except of legendary background, till now, it is difficult to find historical explanation or archaeological and written evidences that why the tower is named as the Maiden tower. In addition to epical backgrounds, it is very believable that the word "maiden" means that the tower/temple was not destroyed by any enemy that means (from the religious viewpoint) that it was never desecrate (touched) by evil (Ahriman, Angra Mainyu) and stills to be "virgin" (untouched) or maiden temple-tower of God of Ahura Mazda.

1- Baku's Maiden Tower Legendary Monument of Mystery, Azerbaijan International, Los Angeles Office Box 5217, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413, USA, http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/42_folder/42_articles/42_maidentower.html

2- Maiden Tower Secrets of the Maiden Tower: What They Reveal about Early Man's Beliefs, Azerbaijan International, Los Angeles Office Box 5217, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413, USA , http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai143_folder/143_articles/143_mt_secrets.html

3- Sara Ashurbeyli, New evidences on the history of Baku and the Maiden Tower, in Azerbaijani, Journal of Arts, N2 (14), Azerneshr publishing house, 1972, Ашурбейли С. Б. Новые изыскания по истории Баку и Девичьей башни. Гобустан. Альманах искусств №2(14). Азернешр, 1972 (на азерб. языке)

4- Davud A.Akhundov, The Architecture of Ancient And Early Medieval Azerbaijan, In Russian, Baku, 1986, ISBN 5-94628-118-6, Azerneshr publishing house, pp-311, Ахундов Д. А. Архитектура древнего и раннесредневекового Азербайджана. Баку, Азернешр, 1986, ISBN 5-94628-118-6, стр-311, http://www.ebooks.az/book_0NetTl4d.html#

5- Hassan Hassanov, Baku's Maiden Tower. A Pagan Monument of Baku, in Russian, ISBN 9789952273793, Baku, 2014, Гасан Гасанов, Девичья башня : Бакинская Девичья Башня; Языческий комплекс Баку, 2014, стр 487, ISBN 9789952273793

6- Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair, The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, Oxford University Press, 2009, Vol N2. ISBN 9780195309911, page-239, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195309911.001.0001/acref-9780195309911

7- Azerbaijan. Pre-Islamic History, Encyclopedia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/azerbaijan-iii

8- Mahir Khalifa-zadeh, On the Problem of Ancient Baku's Location, edited by Prof Ziya Bunyatov, Newspaper Bakinsky Rabochiy, in Russian, Baku, Nov 24, 1988, https://ca.linkedin.com/in/prof-mahir-khalifa-zadeh-02a43844

February 17, 2017


by Prof Mahir Khalifa-Zadeh and Leyla Khalifazadeh

azGlobalContext.org, Toronto-based Media and Analysis Center, Canada
azglobalcontext.org (Canada)
17 February, 2017
Maiden Tower (Qiz qalasi), Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku's Holy Fire Temple-Tower (Maiden Tower), reconstruction by Prof Davud A.Akhundov

Baku Maiden Tower, painting, Tahir Salahov
The Maiden Tower (Azerbaijani: Qiz qalasi) is a legendary and world-famous landmark in Baku, Azerbaijan; and since 2001, the tower, along with Baku's Walled City (Old City) and the Palace of Shirvan-Shahs, has been included on UNESCO's World Heritage List.


Numerous scientific sources have confirmed the Maiden Tower as being a paramount example of Zoroastrianism and pre-Islamic architecture in Azerbaijan and Iran. In particular, some archaeological and architectural evidence indicate the tower to be the Holy Fire Temple-Tower of Zoroastrians, dating back to approximately the eighth to seventh century BC. As scientists argue, the tower had seven fire exits on the top, symbolizing the Zoroastrian "seven steps" or "seven skies" to get to heaven.

Legends and mysteries

There exists a rich pool of mysteries and legends related to Baku's Maiden Tower that have come down to the present day. However, a number of key mysteries remain unresolved: What is the purpose of the tower? Why does the tower have the kind of design it has?

 Undoubtedly, the tower is covered by a cloud of legends and epics deeply rooted in Iran's and Azerbaijan's hist01y, religion, and culture. Some legends have even become the subject of scenarios for ballets and theatre plays that have themselves become part of Azerbaijan's national heritage and identity. In particular, one such play is the Maiden Tower ballet, a world-class Azerbaijani masterpiece created by the Azerbaijani composer Afrasiyab Badalbeyli in 1940, of which a remake was performed in 1999.

Interestingly, up to 20 legends are related to the Maiden Tower, a large number of which connect to Baku's medieval or Islamic period. However, at least two such legends (which have come down to the present day) are deeply rooted in Baku's Zoroastrian or pre-Islamic period. We believe that the most impressionable and colorful story to come out of Baku's ancient Maiden Tower is the Zoroastrian legend of the virgin girl savior with fire-colored hair.

Legend of the Fire-Color-Haired Virgin Girl Savior

A long time ago, there existed the ancient town-fortress of Baku. The fortress had a Fire Temple-Tower. At one point in Baku's history, the enemy managed to encircle the fortress. The enemy requested that Baku's people surrender; however, they refused. Consequently, the enemy launched a siege to demolish the fortress and capture all the inhabitants into slavery. As a result, many fortress defenders died while attempting to stop the enemy's attacks.

 The enemy's commander ordered the cutting of water supply lines in an attempt to overthrow the fortress's defenders. Everybody in the fortress was thirsty. They had no water, nor food-only blood and death. The supreme magi, together with the other priests, thus prayed to the Holy Fire kept in the fortress's Fire Temple­ Tower, asking the god Ahura Mazda to help and protect the people. They prayed day and night, asking the All-Mighty and Merciful Ahura Mazda to save their lives and push back the enemy.

Finally, the supreme god Ahura Mazda heard the magi and people's prayers. One day, people saw a large piece of the Holy Fire falling from the top of the Fire Temple-Tower. A beautiful girl came up from the fire. She had long fire-colored hair. The crowd went down on their knees and started to pray to her. The girl said, not worry. I am here to help and protect you! Give me a sword and helmet! The enemy must not see my girl's hair. Open a fortress gate!"

Meanwhile, the enemy commander was waiting outside for a one-on-one fight with the fortress pahlevan. If the fortress pahlevan were to win the fight, the enemy's army would subsequently back away. However, if the enemy commander were to win, the fortress would be destroyed, and the surviving inhabitants would be enslaved.

The fortress gate opened, and the enemy commander saw the pahlevan coming to fight. Thus, the heavy battle began. In one of the god-blessing moments that ensued, the fortress pahlevan unhorsed the enemy and put a knife directly on his neck. The enemy commander screamed, "You win! Who are you? Take your helmet off. I want to see your face, Pahlevan!" He took off the helmet and saw that the fortress pahlevan was a beautiful girl with long, fire-colored hair. He exclaimed, "Oh, you are a girl! You are a brave and beautiful girl! If the girls of Baku are so brave, I will never capture your fortress! Do not kill me, beauty!"

He fell in love with her because of her beauty and bravery. He asked her to marry him. Of course, the girl did not kill him. She fell in love with him too because of his open heart.

In the end, the enemy did not capture the Baku fortress, and the locals named it the Maiden Tower.

The following legend indicates the tower's Zoroastrian roots as well:

Legend of Why Baku Tower's Fires Stopped Burning

Once upon a time, the enemy besieged the fortress of Baku. However, Baku's people refused to give up. They decided to fight and defend their lives. They fought with great bravery, but the situation inside the fortress increasingly worsened. The enemy launched a tight siege to overthrow the defenders and cut off their water supply.

 Meanwhile, the supreme magi and other priests prayed to the All-Mighty God Ahura Mazda in the fortress's Holy Fire Temple-Tower. They prayed to Ahura­ Mazda for help.

After several days of nonstop prayer, Ahura Mazda heard the priests' blessings and prayers. A strong and devastating earthquake occurred, perishing the enemy troops. Thus, the All-Mighty Ahura Mazda destroyed the enemy and Baku's people escaped slavery, but the Holy Fires stopped burning on top of Baku's Fire Temple­ Tower.

Comments: Why is Baku's Tower Named the Maiden Tower?

Except for the legendary background, there is no historical explanation or any archaeological or written evidence describing why the tower was named the Maiden Tower. Therefore, we cannot exclude the possibility of a religious explanation.

 We believe that the tower is named the Maiden Tower because it was never destroyed by the enemy. From a religious perspective, this means that the temple was never humiliated or desecrated by evil (Ahriman, or Angra Mainyu in Zoroastrianism). Therefore, if the tower was not desecrated by the enemy/evil (Ahriman), it continues to be "virgin" (untouched)-hence, a "Maiden" tower­ temple of the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda.

*Mahir Khalifa-zadeh, professor, Ph.D., regular contributor to international outlets on global politics and security, member of the Canadian Political Science Association, Toronto, Canada.

**Leyla Khalifazadeh, university student, Toronto, Canada

1- Baku's Maiden Tower Legendary Monument of Mystery, Azerbaijan International, Los Angeles Office Box 5217, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413, USA, http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/42_folder/42_articles/42_maidentower.html

2- Maiden Tower Secrets of the Maiden Tower: What They Reveal about Early Man's Beliefs, Azerbaijan International, Los Angeles Office Box 5217, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413, USA , http://www.azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/ai143_folder/143_articles/143_mt_secrets.html

3- Sara Ashurbeyli, New evidences on the history of Baku and the Maiden Tower, in Azerbaijani, Journal of Arts, N2 (14), Azerneshr publishing house, 1972, Ашурбейли С. Б. Новые изыскания по истории Баку и Девичьей башни. Гобустан. Альманах искусств №2(14). Азернешр, 1972 (на азерб. языке)

4- Davud A.Akhundov, The Architecture of Ancient And Early Medieval Azerbaijan, In Russian, Baku, 1986, ISBN 5-94628-118-6, Azerneshr publishing house, pp-311, Ахундов Д. А. Архитектура древнего и раннесредневекового Азербайджана. Баку, Азернешр, 1986, ISBN 5-94628-118-6, стр-311, http://www.ebooks.az/book_0NetTl4d.html#

5- Hassan Hassanov, Baku's Maiden Tower. A Pagan Monument of Baku, in Russian, ISBN 9789952273793, Baku, 2014, Гасан Гасанов, Девичья башня : Бакинская Девичья Башня; Языческий комплекс Баку, 2014, стр 487, ISBN 9789952273793

6- Jonathan M. Bloom and Sheila S. Blair, The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture, Oxford University Press, 2009, Vol N2. ISBN 9780195309911, page-239, http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195309911.001.0001/acref-9780195309911

7- Azerbaijan. Pre-Islamic History, Encyclopedia Iranica, http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/azerbaijan-iii

8- Mahir Khalifa-zadeh, On the Problem of Ancient Baku's Location, edited by Prof Ziya Bunyatov, Newspaper Bakinsky Rabochiy, in Russian, Baku, Nov 24, 1988, https://ca.linkedin.com/in/prof-mahir-khalifa-zadeh-02a43844


by Prof Mahir Khalifa-zadeh

azglobalcontext.org - Toronto-based Media and Analysis Center, Canada
azglobalcontext.org (Toronto, Canada)
created: February 17, 2017
updated: April 07, 2017 

Republic of Azerbaijan
Dawn of History

Paleolithic Period
Scientific research conducted by Azerbaijani and German scientists proved that primitive people appeared on the territory of Azerbaijan 2 million years ago (1). Archaeological excavations and anthropological studies confirm that the territory of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Period (350,000-10,000 Before Present, BP). Prof Mammadali Husseynov discovered human remains of the Paleolithic Period as well as some other early habitats artifacts in the Cave of Azykh (Khojavend in Karabakh, Azerbaijan) in 1968(2). The archaeological material of the Upper Paleolithic Period (40000 BC) was discovered in caves of Taghlar (Khojavend district)) and Dash Salakhly (Qazakh district) as well as in Aveidag, Damjily, Yatagery sites. Scientists believe that the stone carvings of Gobustan (60km from Baku) are the Stone Age Rock Art, dating back to 40,000 BP (3). The Gobustan caves' artifacts are dated to the last Ice Age and Upper Paleolithic (4).

The Neolithic Period (10000-3000 BC) artifacts were discovered in Leylatapa site (Garadagh district) (4). Many graves, artifacts and old settlements as well as Leylatapa’s cultures were found lengthwise of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline (5).

Bronze and Iron Ages (2200- 500 BC) the artifacts of Bronze and Middle Bronze Ages as well as the Iron Age were discovered in Nakhcivan and Karabakh. The Bronze Age’s several graves were found in Babaverdish site in Ganja-Gazakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan as well as near the Garajamirli village in the Shamkir district (6). The Borsunlu burial mound (Goranboy district), Zayamchai necropolis (Shamkir district) as well as Tovuzchai necropolis were discovered in Tovuz district of Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Hasansu necropolis was found in Agstafa district. Discovers occurred thanks to the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline.

Early State

The archeological studies confirm that several agricultural and stockbreeding settlements have existed in Azerbaijan since the 7th-6th millennium BC. The Caucasian tribes such as the Gargars, Utis, Saks, Sodes, Massagets, and others inhabited the territory of Azerbaijan, with Mannae emerging as the first state in the 10th Century BC (6,7).

8th Century BC – Northward expansion of the Kingdom of Mannae’s borders and absorption of the main part of Southern Azerbaijan (8, 9).

Ancient period

7th century BC – The Empire of Media with the capital at Ecbatana emerges in the area southwest of the Caspian Sea. Media was unified by a man named Deioces, the first of four kings who were to rule a true empire that included large parts of Iran and eastern Anatolia. King Cyaxares of Media (623-585BC) defeats the Assyrian Empire and captures the capital of Nineveh (10). The Medes (people of Media) defeat the Kingdom of Mannae. The Medes conquered the Kingdom of Urartu (present-day Armenia) and incorporated it into Median Empire (11). In the Assyrian raid, King Cyrus II of Persia (later Cyrus the Great) was a commander of the Persian unit in the Median Army under Cyrus uncle's command of King Cyaxares of Media (12).

6th century BC (550BC) – Cyrus the Great units the Iranian people of Medes and Persians and establish a new Empire under his Achaemenid dynasty. He extends his rule over his grandfather’s lands of Media (10).

Many scholars consider that the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism) was born in the territory of present-day Azerbaijan or in the vicinity of Urmia Lake (South Azerbaijan, Iran) in the 6th century BC (13).

4th-3rd century BC –In some historical sources, Azerbaijan is referred as "Medes Minor" and/or "Atropatenian Medes" or "Medes-Atropatena". Darius III’s general Atropat (Greek: Atropates) becomes King of Media Minor (northern Media) (14). Some sources indicate the name of Atropat originates from Ataropad (Old Persian/Arsacid Pahlavi: Aturpat)– who was one of the sons of Zarathustra. According to one theory, the northern Media is named after Atropates as Media-Atropatene (in Greek) or just Atoorpatkan (Old Persian/Arsacid Pahlavi: Aturpatkan). In Old Persian “Atur” is derived from the Avestan language “Atar” meaning fire. “Pat” is derived from the Avestan “payu” meaning “guardian” or “protector”. According to Sassanian King Shapur I's (241-272 CE) inscriptions, “Aturpatakan” is named “Adurbadagan”. Later “Adurbadagan evolved to “Azarbaijan” when “Adur” evolved to “Azar” or “Azer” Azarbayjan or Azerbaijan (15). Another theory traces the etymology from the ancient Persian words "Āzar" (Persian: آذر‎‎), meaning Fire, and "Pāyegān" (Persian: پایگان‎‎) meaning Guardian/Protector (Āzar Pāyegān = "Guardians of Fire") (Persian: آذر پایگان‎‎), with Āzar Pāyegān was later corrupted into “Azerbaijan” under the dominance of Arabic and the circumstances thereby imposed by that language's lack of facility in pronouncing some non-Arabic words.

Atropates and Alexander the Great
Atropates (Atropat) fights in the battle of Gaugamela between Darius III and Alexander the Great (331 BC) as a commander of the left wing of the Persian Army. During the battle, Atropates’ units pushed Alexander’s army to stop an advance and implement defensive measures. Alexander was forced to deploy additional troops facing the units under the command of Atropates. Only after new troops were deployed, Macedonians were able to re-launch attacks against Atropates' flank. Alexander nominated Atropat as Satrap of Atropatena (Arsacid Pahlavi: Aturpatakan, Pahlavi: Adurbadagan), following his pattern of involving local nobility to the state administration in the countries he conquered. The other version says that Alexander reappointed Atropates to be a King of Media because of his bravery, command ability, and great respect among his Median soldiers that Alexander noticed in the Battle of Gaugamela.

Atropat (Arsacid Pahlav: Aturpat) allows his daughter to be married to Alexander's most important generals, Perdiccas (commander of Alexander’s cavalry). Atropat tried to save Zoroastrian tradition in his land, and he offered to Alexander one hundred Media’s female warriors (Amazons). According to Strabo the name of Atropatenian Medes derives from Alexander’s Satrap Atropates. “Midia is divided into two parts. One of them is called the Great Midia with its capital in Ecbatana… the second one is Atropatena Midia, which got its name from the commander Atropates. Indeed, King Atropat made this country independent on his own decision and succession to the throne was kept in his family… It is a great country as regards to its military power, because it can be represented by 10,000 horsemen and 40,000 infantrymen…”, Strabo reports (16). It is in Atropatena that Azerbaijani identity began to be shaped.

Rome, Parthia and Arran (Caucasian Albania)
4th –3rd century BC - The Kingdom of Caucasian Albania (Parthian: Ardan, Pahlavi: Arran, Latin: Albania) is founded in the northern part of Azerbaijan in the late 4th – early 3rd century BC with the royal capital of Kabalaka (current Gabala, Azerbaijan). The Kingdom is a close ally of Parthia. The territory of Arran (Caucasian Albania) covered most of the present-day Republic of Azerbaijan including some areas in neighboring countries. It was a state with sufficiently developed agriculture, handicraft, and trade. Albania had its own coins and army.

1st century BC 1st Century AD- The Roman Army under General Pompey Magnus subjugates Armenia, Iberia and sizes Colchis (66-65BC). His army moves toward the Caspian Sea. Pompey forded the Alazan River and clashed with the forces of Oroezes (Orois), King of Albania. Finally, Pompey is defeated by the Parthians and Albanians in Caucasian Albania. Albanian army was able to have up to 60,000 foot soldiers and 22,000 horsemen (17).

Roman General Markus Crasus and wealthiest man of Rome, is defeated in 53 BC in the south of the Caspian Sea (18). Later in 36 BC, the Romans led by General Mark Antony is defeated by the Parthians and Albanians at the well-fortified Albanian capital Phraata (now Maragha, Iranian Azerbaijan) or (less possibly) at Ganzaka (Iranian Azerbaijan) (19).

75 CE– Roman Emperor Domitian sends Legio XII Fulminata to the allied kingdoms of Iberia and Albania. A rock inscription was found at the shores of the Caspian Sea in 1948 (Gobustan, 60-70 km from Baku, Azerbaijan) mentions the presence of a centurion of Legio XII Fulminata named Lucius Julius Maximus (20).

233 CE – Roman Emperor Severus Alexander’s army was defeated by Parthians and Arranians (Albanians) in Arran (Caucasus Albania) (21).

Christianity, Islam and Early Turks

1st- 2nd century– Christianity, brought over by the missions of St Eliseus and Nestor, reaches Caucasian Albania and spreads all over the country. The Church was established by the 1st-century missionary Saint Elisaeus, who proselytized throughout Arran (Caucasian Albania) and Persia. He establishes the first Christian temple in the Caucasus, in Kish (Sheki, Azerbaijan) (21, 22).  

In 313, King Urnayr declares Orthodox Christianity as an official religion of Caucasian Albania, predating King Mirian of Iberia’s declaration of Iberia as a Christian nation in 337 (23, 24).  Arran's  (Albanian) Dyophysite Orthodox church becomes a state institution. In 451 AD, Artsa'k, the mountainous part of Arran (Caucasus Albania), becomes the country's center of the anti-Sassanid resistance. Since 552 AD, Albanian Catholicos has been sitting in Partaw (now Barda, Azerbaijan), the capital of Caucasus Albania (Arran) (25). 

4th-5th century – Early Turks tribes starts to arrive and settle in the South Caucasus, particularly in Caucasus Albania.  Hun Turks come from the Don River to Azerbaijan in 395 and 398, respectively. The beginning of Turks’ linguistic and ethnic mixture with locals and Albanians started (26). In 466, the Aghaceri Turk tribes, belonging to the European Huns (the Oghuz), settles in Azerbaijan (27).

4th - Starting from the late Roman time (Byzantium), Nomadic Turkic tribes begin to penetrate into Arran and Northern Iran from the North Caucasus and later from Central Asia (28).

7th century – Albania under King of Varaz-Grigor and his son Prince and General (Pahlavi: Spahbed) Javanshir (Pahlavi: Juansher) resisted the Muslim Arabs (29). In 654, Javanshir sends a letter to Byzantine emperor Constantine II and asks the emperor to adopt Arran (Albania) under his patronymic. The Muslim Arabs' conquest resulted in the spread of Islam in Arran. This, subsequently, brings about the disintegration of the Kingdom and the entire region’s being assimilated into the Arabian Caliphate.

7th century - Islam becomes the major religion following the Arabs' advance into the Caucasus Albania.

6th-7th century - The Book of Dede Korkut which is the historic epic of the Oguz Turks is written in Azerbaijan (30).

Medieval and beginning of 18 Century

9th century – In 816, a popular Shiite liberation movement for independence from the Arabian Caliphate was launched under the leadership of Babek. Babek quickly seized power in Armenia, Esfahan, Mosul, and Hamedan (816-817). However, he was defeated and executed in 838 (31).

The Shirvanshahs state in Azerbaijan emerged in 861 and covered the area of Shirvan of present-day Azerbaijan and existed till 1539 (32).

10th - The Oguz adapts Islam. A new ethnic group of Azeri Turks emerges (33). The Oguz tribes’ Seljuk dynasty puts an end to the Arab control by invading Azerbaijan from Central Asia.

12th – 13th century – The emergence of the Atabek state in Azerbaijan under the Seljuk ruler Shams ad-din Ildeniz with a capital in Barda. In 1230s the Mongol Armies led by Genghis Khan conquered Azerbaijan (34).

14th century – The Mongol Armies of Tamerlane invaded Azerbaijan again. This is followed by the emergence of two successive Azerbaijani states: the Kara-Koyunlu and Ak-Koyunlu (1378-1469, Southern Azerbaijan) with a capital in Tebriz. Kara-Goyunly controls the areas of Southern Azerbaijan, Iraq, Fars and part of Eastern Iran.

15th century –When the city of Shemakha was abandoned as the capital of the state of Shirvanshahs (9th –16th centuries, Northern Azerbaijan) in favor of Baku, the Palace of Shirvanshahs was built in 1411 in the new capital.

1420 – 1436 - Qara Iskander ibn Yusuf rules the Kara Goyunlu and gains control over Armenia. 1467- Uzun Hassan of Turkic Ak Koyunlu defeates Kara Koyunlu’s Jahān Shāh (35). In 1468, the state of Kara-Koyunly disintegrated and a new state of Ak-Koyunly (1387-1502) with capital in Tebriz emerged under the rule of Turk of Uzun Hasan.

1468-1478- the reign of Uzun Hasan, the Emperor of Ak Koyunlu and Azerbaijan’s great statesman (36).

Shah Ismail Sefevid (Esmail Safavid)
16th –17th century – At the beginning of the 16th century Azerbaijan becomes a power base of another indigenous dynasty, the Safavids (Azeri Turk dynasty). The founder of the Safavid Dynasty, Shah Ismail I (1486-1524), declares Shi'a Islam as the state religion. He unites all Azerbaijani lands (Northern and Southern Azerbaijan) and creates a powerful Iranian empire with a capital in Tebriz. The state of Safavids stretches from Amur Darya River in the east to the Euphrates in the west and from the Darband fortress in Caucasia to the Persian Gulf in the south.

In 1504, Shah Ismail (Esmail) Sefevid ordered his general Revangulu Khan to build a fortress on the river of Zanghi (now renamed by Armenians into Razdan rver) bordering with the Ottomans.

In 1511, the fortress was built and named after Ismail's general Revangulu as Revan or Iravan (Erivan) qala (later dictator Stalin renamed into Yerevan, now the capital of Armenia) (37). 

In August 1514, Ismail’s army was defeated in the battle of Chaldiran by the Ottoman troops under Sultan Selim I. Between 1590 and 1639 wars over Azerbaijan were fought between the Ottoman and the Iranian Empires.

1736- A brilliant military commander Nadir Kuli-Khan Afshar (later Nadir Shah Afshar), a member of Turkic Afshar tribe settling in Azerbaijan since the 13 century, was crowned as Shah of Iran in Mugan (Azerbaijan). Nadir Shah was known as "The Second Alexander" or "The Napoleon of Persia".

Imperial Russia

18th –19th century – Emergence of Turkic Qajars state in Iran and Azerbaijan in 1781. The Turkic Qajars were origin from Ganja (present-day Azerbaijan). The Russo-Persian wars lead to the signing of the Gulistan (1813) and the Turkmenchay (1828) treaties between the Qajar and Russian Empires that split Azerbaijan into two parts (southern or Iranian Azerbaijan and northern or Russian/Soviet Azerbaijan that is the present-day independent Republic of Azerbaijan) along the Araz River. The Russian rule in Azerbaijan begins.

In accordance with the Treaty of Gulistan, Imperial Russia possesses Karabakh, Gandja, Sheki, Shirvan, Derbend, Kouba, and Baku, together with part of Talish and the fortress of Lenkoran (38).

22 June 1804- Iran's Crown Prince Abbas-Mirza Qajar, supreme commander of the Qajar Army, signs a capitulation of Iran's fortress Erivan (Azerbaijan's khanate) after a long siege launched by general Tsitsianov, Russian Imperial Army.

Under the Treaty of Turkmanchay, Iran ceded the Erivan Khanate (the present-day part of Armenia), the Nakhchivan Khanate (present-day Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan), the Talysh Khanate (southeastern Azerbaijan), and the Ordubad and Mughan regions (now also part of Azerbaijan) (39).

Finally, the Russian Empire conquered and incorporated the following Azerbaijani khanates - Erivan (later renamed by Russians into Yerevan, the present-day capital of Armenia), Karabakh, Nakhichevan, Ganja, Shemakha, Baku, Sheki, Guba, Derbend, Talysh, Salian and fortress Lenkoran.

In the late 1820s a massive resettlement of Armenians from the central parts of Iran as well as from the Middle East into Azerbaijani lands takes place under the Treaty of Turkmanchay (40).

March 21, 1828, the Russian Tsar issued and signed an Order that renamed Azerbaijani khanate of Erivan and some parts of Nakhchivan khanate into the Armenian oblast (province). Finally, Imperial Russia established the province of Armenia on Azerbaijani lands (41).

6 August 1832 - the birthdate of world-famous Azerbaijani lyrical poetess  Khurshid Banu Natavan. She was the daughter of Mehdigulu Khan, the last ruler of the Karabakh Khanate (1748–1822).

First Oil boom

1872 – Starting point of commercial oil production and the first Oil Boom in Baku (11 million tones are produced per annum; 50% of the world oil production). In 1879, the Nobel Brothers established their own company in Baku (some 12 percent of the Nobel Prize fund was drawn from Alfred's shares in the Nobel Brothers' Petroleum Company in Baku).

In 1883, the capital of the Rothchilds finances Baku-Batum railway which plays an important role in the export of oil from Baku to the European markets.

Independence, Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (ADR)

30-31 March – The massacre of about 20,000 Azerbaijanis in Baku is perpetrated by the Russian Red (Communist) Army and Armenian Dashnaks. 28 May - Azerbaijan declares independence and announces the creation of the Azerbaijani Democratic Republic (ADR) - the first secular and democratic state in the Muslim world. The first Cabinet of Ministers is formed under Prime Minister Fatali-khan Khoyski.

4 June – The Peace and Friendship Agreement is signed between the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic and Turkey. Establishment of Turkish Military Mission in Ganja.

15 September – Baku is liberated from Dashnak Armenians and Shaumyan’s communist armed formations. Joint Azerbaijani and Turkish troops enter Baku. The capital of Azerbaijan is moved from Ganja to Baku.

7 December – The opening session of the Parliament of Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. 18 December – General Thompson declares Britain’s support to the Azerbaijani Parliament as the only legitimate authority within the territory of the ADR.

8 January – Azerbaijan Democratic Republic’s official delegation participates at the Paris Peace Conference.

15 January –The Paris Peace Conference’s official decision on the recognition of Azerbaijan’s independence is presented to the Azerbaijani delegation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France. 27 June – Azerbaijani (based on Latin Alphabet) is adopted as the state language.

In the face of the Bolsheviks’ military advance, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed the Azerbaijani–Georgian mutual defense pact in Tbilisi that established a military union on June 16, 1919 (42). November-December –Armenian Dashnaks perpetrate massacres of the Azerbaijani population in ADR’s Zangezur.

11 January 1920, The Paris Peace Conference recognizes de-facto the Azerbaijan Republic with the capital in Baku. The Conference issued a Special Resolution, which confirms Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan (43). Under this document, the Allied Powers recognize Khosrov-bey Sultanov, appointed by the Government of Azerbaijan, as Zangezour’s and Karabakh’s Governor-General (44, 45).

20 March  1920 - Iran de-jure recognizes the independence of Azerbaijan (46).

27-28 April 1920 – 11th Red (Communist) Army invades Baku. The Soviet Government led by Nariman Narimanov was established in Azerbaijan.

1921 - Parts of the sovereign territory of Azerbaijan are transferred to Armenia by the Soviet Bolshevik Government. These include - Zangezur, Goyche, Daralayaz, and Sharur.

November 1921 - Azerbaijan's Soviet government transferred Zangezur to Armenia in November 1920 as a "symbol of friendship and brotherhood" (47, 48).

USSR and Black January of 1990

In 1922, Azerbaijan is incorporated into the Soviet Union as a part of the Transcaucasian Federation and subsequently, in 1936, it becomes a Union Soviet Socialist Republic. The Cyrillic alphabet is introduced in the country. Azerbaijan is one of the fifteen republics of the USSR until the country’s re-independence in 1991.

1988 – The beginning of ethnic cleansing against Azerbaijanis in Armenia results in the influx of refugees to Baku. The Soviet Authorities in Moscow stepped up measures to suppress the National Movement for Independence in Azerbaijan and secure Communist rule in the country.

20 January 1990 – Soviet military intervention. Up to 26,000 Soviet troops storm Baku. More than 130 civilians (Azerbaijanis, Russians, Jews, Ukrainians) were killed and 700 wounded.

Restoration of Azerbaijan’s independence and Armenia’s military aggression

31 August 1991 – Azerbaijani Parliament adopts the Declaration of Independence. The Parliamentary Act establishing State Independence of the Republic of Azerbaijan is passed on October 18, 1991.

June 1992 - President Ayaz Mutalibov flees Baku against the backdrop of increasing failure in internal policy and in Nagorno-Karabakh culminating in the Armenian massacres of Azerbaijani civilians in the town of Khojali on 26 February 1992 (613 were killed, 487 wounded and 1,275 civilians were taken hostage). The Popular Front of Azerbaijan seizes power and Abulfaz Elchibey becomes President. The CSCE (now the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE) set up the Minsk Group, a group of member states coalesced to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group include representatives of France, Russia, and the United States.

June 1993 – One year of unsuccessful rule by the Popular Front reaches its climax. The Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan over the Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh results in the occupation of Aghdam, Lachin, Kelbajar, Gubatly, Zangilan, Jebrail and Fizuli districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The number of Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons reaches one million. Armed revolt against the Popular Front Government gains momentum. Amid the imminent threat of civil war Abulfaz Elchibey appeals to Heydar Aliyev (at the time a Leader of Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan) to return to Baku and, using his rich political experience, address the dire situation and save the country from the outbreak of internecine hostilities. Elchibey flees Baku.

June 1993 - Heydar Aliyev returns to Baku and, through a number of skillful and courageous measures, manages to avert the confrontations. 15 June 1993- Heydar Aliyev becomes Chairman of the Azerbaijani Parliament.

In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted the four Resolutions (822, 853, 874 and 884) condemning the occupation of Azerbaijani territories and demanding unconditional withdrawal of Armenian Armed Forces.

3 October 1993 – Heydar Aliyev is elected President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

9-12 May 1994 - The cease-fire agreement between Azerbaijan and Armenia is signed.

20 September 1994 – Contract of the century is signed between Azerbaijan and Consortium of Major Oil Companies led by BP. 5-6 December 1994 - CSCE Budapest Summit. A decision on "Intensification of CSCE action concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict" is adopted.

2–3 December 1996 - OSCE Lisbon Summit. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office makes a statement supported by all (53) OSCE member states except Armenia, on three principles for the settlement of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

11 October 1998 - Heydar Aliyev is re-elected President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.  

17 April 1999 – Construction of Baku-Supsa oil pipeline is completed.

18 November 1999 - The Intergovernmental Agreement related to the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Crude Oil Pipeline is signed by the Presidents of the Turkish Republic, Republic of Azerbaijan and Georgia during the OSCE Summit in Istanbul.

25 January 2001- Azerbaijan becomes a member of the Council of Europe.

15 October 2003 – H.E. Ilham Aliyev is elected President of the Republic of Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan's Great Victory

On 10 November 2020, Armenia signed the Agreement (Capitulation Act) to withdraw all Armenian Occupational forces from Azerbaijan. The Second Karabakh War finished ending the Armenian occupation of the 20% of Azerbaijan. 

On 23 September 2023, Azerbaijan launched an anti-terrorist operation and liberated the city of Khankendi (former Stepanakert) from the Armenian separatists. The separatist junta was annihilated by signing the self-liquidation document. 

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Sasanian Imperial Policy and Strategy: Case of Adurbadagan and Arran (Caucasian Albania)

 by Mahir Khalifa-zadeh [1,2] [1] - Ph.D Canadian Historical Association, Ottawa, Canada [2] - Azerbaijan in Global Context, Media and A...