I'm reading a news article (in French) about the resurgence of conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and I learn that Azerbaijan is predominantly a Shiite country. This, in my understanding of traditional alliances in the region, should technically place them alongside Iran (a Shiite-majority country) and therefore against Israel (in conflict with Iran) and also against Turkey (Sunni-majority country).

Instead, I learn that Israel and Azerbaijan have a 30 year history of arms trade, Turkey supports Azerbaijan militarily (despite recent tensions between Israel and Turkey) and in fact Iran seems more aligned with Armenia.

This upends my understanding of power relations in the region, can someone explain how these alliances came to be?

Edit: Can the downvoter please explain their choice?

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    Re. Turkey, I think Turkish and Azeri are basically one and the same language, or at least very similar
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 14:46
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    Also I think your understanding of politics may be shaped by a misunderstanding of the role of religion. Most of the time religion in politics is a tool and not an end in itself.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 14:51
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    Why does the information found in Israel-Turkey relations and Azerbaijan-Israel relations not answer this question?
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 15:00
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    Turkey and Armenia are traditional enemies, and Armenia and Azerbaijan are more recent enemies. So you can see the logic for a Turkey-Azeri alliance.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 15:57
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    I did not downvote, but I will offer the following observations that may be an explanation. 1) OP response in comments and comment strings longer than 2 are correlated with downvotes. 2) Failure to document preliminary research in the question is correlated with downvotes. Although there is no way for you to know, in the past, explanations for downvotes have led to personal abuse, which left many of us sour on explaining downvotes.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 5, 2020 at 16:43

2 Answers 2

  • Turkey and Azerbaijan are historically the same nation. The slogan is "one nation two states". So Sunni/Shia difference is not very important. Both countries also have important economic ties such as gas and oil pipelines. In addition, both countries had conflicts with Armenia. So alliance is natural
  • Iran has a major Azeri population. Historically the south Azerbaijan now belongs to Iran. Today's Azerbaijan is historically North Azerbaijan. So Iran is uncomfortable with a strong Azerbaijan. Israel is probably hoping to divert Iran's energy into this domestic Azeri problem by helping Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is also a good military customer for Israel
  • Iran is also trying to block Turkey's access to other Turkic states in Central Asia. Iran and Turkey became rivals mostly because of Iran's Shia expansion in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon etc.
  • The problem may get more complicated if Russia and the US get involved.
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    Welcome on History.SE. You make several interesting points but they would be more powerful if they were backed by some sources.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 6, 2020 at 14:52
  • +1 from me, but I think the answer could be improved by mentioning why the dynamics for the Armenian minority in Iran are different (less people, no local majorities, do not live close to the border?). Are the post-WWII attempts at Azeri separatism worth mentioning here?
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 8:34
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    Hi, it would be interesting to support your assertions: I doubt of "Turkey and Azerbaijan are historically the same nation" since Azerbaidjan was part of Russian empire and USSR Commented Oct 9, 2020 at 17:13

Your reading of how alliances work is a bit too on the nose.

Religious and political links are a major factor. But they definitely aren't the only one. The word 'technically' is misapplied here.

Another factor is common adversaries. Azerbaijan has a long running conflict with Armenia, as you know. Turkey has also had major conflicts with Armenia. This is a reason they are on the same side as the Azeris here.

Turkey historically has had major conflicts with the Arab countries and been aligned with the United States (though not any longer). Also aligned with USA and in conflict with Arab states: Israel.

Iran OTOH has been an opponent of the US since the late 70s. When the US has asked its allies, including Azerbaijan, to cease trading with Iran or seize its assets, they've generally complied. Iran correctly interprets that as detrimental to its interests.

Democracies fight with democracies. Communist states fight with communist states. And so on. It's not that unusual.

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    Turkey's democratic nature is questionable at this point.
    – Ian Kemp
    Commented Oct 6, 2020 at 14:25
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    It certainly is, and I didn't say it was a democracy or it wasn't.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 6, 2020 at 16:22
  • "Democracies fight with democracies" - yes, but generally far less frequently and with less severity compared to non-democratic states.
    – Dai
    Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 1:39
  • "and been aligned with the United States (though not any longer)" Turkey is still aligned with the US. Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 5:49
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    Well, it is kinda... when I studied history we were told to keep our answers brief and succinct, even to complex questions. This isn't the place to dive into democratic peace theory or the history of US-Turkish relations. If an answer to a question like this is going to be reasonably brief, it has to be pretty high-level; that is, a high level of abstraction.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Oct 7, 2020 at 9:25

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