IRAN AND THE SOUTHERN CAUCASUS: A STRUGGLE FOR INFLUENCE

Mahir KHALIFA-ZADEH


Mahir Khalifa-Zadeh, Ph.D., Member of the Center for Research on Globalization (CRG), an independent research and media organization based in Montreal (Montreal, Canada)


Introduction

It is a well-known fact that for many centuries the Southern Caucasus was of strategic importance for the great powers that dominated at different historical times. The Roman Armys advances on the Caucasus under the command of General Pompey (66-65 BC) and General Mark Antony (36 BC) mark the beginning of the great powers struggle and provide ample evidence of the attempts to secure their interests in this strategic part of the world. And in 75 AD, Roman Emperor Domitian sent Legio XII Fulminata to support the allied kingdoms of Iberia and Albania (the present-day republics of Georgia and Azerbaijan, respectively). A rock inscription was found near the shores of the Caspian Sea (Gobustan, 60-70 km from Baku in the Azerbaijan Republic) that mentions the presence of one of the centurions of XII Fulminata named Lucius Julius Maximus.

The Regions Strategic Dimensions

For centuries, great powers like the Roman and Persian Empires, the Caliphate, the Persian and Byzantium Empires, and the Ottoman, Persian and Russian Empires struggled to control the Southern Caucasus. Since the time of the Great Silk Road, the Southern Caucasus has undoubtedly played an important role and is the shortest land route from China to Europe. The region is also a land bridge between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and a gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia. In this light, the Southern Caucasus has strategic geographical and transportation dimensions.

In the era of industrialization and the worlds economic dependence on oil and gas, the Southern Caucasus has gained an additional strategic dimensionthe energy dimension specifically in terms of Azerbaijans huge hydrocarbon reserves and production. At the beginning of the 20th century, Azerbaijan produced more than half of the worlds oil production and 95% of Russian oil (11 million tonnes/per year). And nowadays, the Southern Caucasus is a neighboring region of the oil-rich Persian Gulf and of multi-dimensional strategic importance for the global and regional powers. The regions strategic significance has been brilliantly described by Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (former national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter) in his well-known book The Grand Chessboard.

The Key Players of South Caucasian Policy

The Southern Caucasus present-day policy is characterized by a high level of complexity and dynamic rivalry among the global, regional, and local players. The United States, the Islamic world, Russia, and the European countries are the global players, the regional actors include Turkey and Iran, while the.


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