Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said on Sunday it deployed troops along Iran’s border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The decision followed recent reports that mortar fire from clashes between the two sides over Nagorno-Karabakh has hit border villages in Iran.
“Units of (the Guards) ground forces have been dispatched to and stationed in the region,” IRGC commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said 0n Sunday, according to Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
The unit said it stationed troops on the border “to protect national interests and maintain peace and security.”
Pakpour said that while Iran respects its neighbors’ territorial integrity, “any shift in border geopolitics is the Islamic Republic of Iran’s red line.”
The commander visited Iran’s northwest county of Khoda Afarin on Saturday, according to the IRGC website Sepahnews.
Khoda Afrin is located in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province; it borders territory in Azerbaijan near Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Khoda Afrin and nearby villages have … been hit by stray cross-border mortar fire” in recent weeks, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Sunday.
“If there is any repetition of such fire, the Islamic Republic of Iran will not remain indifferent,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on October 16.
The latest clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh began on September 27.
“In the first week of fighting, mortar rounds repeatedly strayed across the border [into Iran], with one wounding a six-year-old child,” according to AFP.
Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region that legally belongs to Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenian separatists since they seized the region in 1991. A three-year war followed the uprising, killing roughly 30,000 people. The Armenian separatists controlling Nagorno-Karabakh refer to the region as the Republic of Artsakh, though Artsakh’s sovereignty remains unrecognized by the international community, including Yerevan.
Demonstrations supporting Azerbaijan in the latest fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh reportedly took place across a handful of Iranian cities on October 1. In the national capital, Tehran, and in Iran’s northwest city of Tabriz, near the Armenia-Azerbaijan border, pro-Baku demonstrators marched in support of the Azeri cause.
Videos posted online at the time appeared to show dozens of people taking to city streets while chanting slogans in Azeri, a Turkic language, such as “Karabakh is ours. It will remain ours.”
A Turkic people, Azeris make up Iran’s largest ethnic minority. Up to 20 million Azeris reside in Iran, accounting for roughly 16 percent of the country’s population. Both the Islamic Republic of Iran and Azerbaijan are nearly 99 percent Muslim, and both nations are majority Shia. Azeris have been incorporated into Iran’s population since at least the 19th century after a treaty divided Azerbaijan between Russia and Iran.