19:55 GMT24 June 2021
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    Azerbaijan and Iran share a 765 km border. Baku secured total control over the border area for the first time in decades following last year's war with the Armenian-backed self-proclaimed Artsakh Republic.

    Two Azerbaijani troops are dead following a firefight with drug smugglers on the border with Iran, Azerbaijan's Border Service said on Saturday.

    "On 15 May, at about 16:00, three unknown persons violated the state border near the village of Gendere, Yardimli region. The violators did not obey border guards' order to stop, opened fire on them, abandoned their cargo and attempted to flee the scene," the Border Service said in a statement.

    Two border guards were severely injured in the confrontation and transported to a local medical facility but died of their wounds, the statement added.

    The Border Service said about 10 kg of narcotics were found at the scene. One of the smugglers has since been detained, with the search continuing for the others. The detained individual is believed to be an Iranian national, and Azerbaijan has informed Iran about the incident.

    Iranian officials are yet to comment on the situation.

    Azerbaijan and Iran enjoy generally peaceful, amicable relations although the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh prompted Tehran to demand an immediate end to hostilities as multiple bombs, missiles, and drones landed in its territory, injuring at least one civilian.

    This week, amid a renewed flare-up of tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Iranian Foreign Ministry called on both sides to show restraint, and stressed the importance of preserving peace and stability in the region.

    Drug smuggling is also an issue. Last month, Azerbaijani border guards injured an Iranian national during his attempt to cross the border illegally while carrying large quantities of narcotics.

    The Islamic Republic has a large population of ethnic Azeris who live on the border with Azerbaijan and make up as much as 1/5 of Iran's population, but have pledged their loyalty to the central government, particularly after the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the end of the Shah's policy of Persian nationalism. Nevertheless, some local and foreign forces occasionally attempt to stir nationalist sentiments among Iranian Azeris. Last year, Iran summoned Turkey's ambassador over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recitation of a poem at a military parade in Baku, which Tehran took to be an incitement of nationalist, separatist sentiments. Turkey claimed Erdogan's comments were "deliberately taken out of context."

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