ASHGABAT -- Tehran has sparked outrage in Turkmenistan with attempts to spread disinformation about Ashgabat's role in an alleged secret plot to funnel fighters from Afghanistan to the ongoing Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
Azariha, an Iranian publication, posted on its Telegram channel on October 15 a baseless claim that Turkmenistan and the United States are tacitly aiding the transport of Afghan militants to Azerbaijan.
The Azariha post cited sources in the cybersecurity section of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
"To make the report on the deployment of Afghan fighters look authentic, the Telegram channel posted in Farsi the route of an An-124-100 cargo plane from Bagram, Afghanistan, to Baku," said Agajuma, a Turkmen journalist and expert on Iran. He declined to give his last name to protect his identity.
"The map shows a cargo plane flying over Turkmenistan, which is neutral, on October 14," he told Caravanserai.
The report falsely implies that Ashgabat and Washington covertly allowed this alleged flight in an attempt to make them look like accomplices to international terrorism, said Agajuma.
"[In the report in Farsi], the United States and Turkmenistan aren't directly accused of anything, but you can clearly infer that the post is hinting at those countries" being involved in the transport operation, Agajuma said.
"The air base in Bagram is controlled by coalition forces, which the United States leads. So then it's clear from the report that the Americans [supposedly] are involved in the deployment of Afghan fighters to Nagorno-Karabakh," he added.
Adding to the story's implausibility, it has the United States using a Ukrainian-made transport plane (the An-124-100) at a base that the international coalition controls.
"It's fake news, and it's intended to denigrate and spoil the international image of all of Iran's opponents and enemies," said Agajuma.
The post also suggests that Turkmenistan violated its quarter-century-old neutrality doctrine, which bars it from participating in any wars. A United Nations resolution enshrined the Turkmen doctrine in 1995.
The disinformation effort by Tehran is "futile", said a Turkmen Foreign Ministry official who requested anonymity.
"Turkmenistan has already proven its commitment to the principles of neutrality for a quarter of a century," the official said.
The Armenian Military Portal's Telegram channel reproduced the Telegram post in Farsi, according to the emigre news site Turkmen.news.
History of spreading conspiracies
This is not the first time Tehran has been involved in disinformation campaigns targeting various countries around the world.
The Iranian regime specifically sent "spoofed" emails to Americans "designed to intimidate voters" and "incite social unrest", said US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe.
Tehran also distributed a video implying that criminals could send in fraudulent ballots, including from outside the United States, he added.
Earlier this year, Tehran spread the conspiracy theory that the United States created the COVID-19 virus in an attempt to deflect blame from how the Iranian regime has bungled its handling of the outbreak.
The US government in February offered to help virus-stricken Iran, but rather than accept the aid and help the Iranian people, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected the offer, and spread another conspiracy theory that the offer of help was a cover for an effort to worsen the virus crisis in Iran.
In July, the Iranian regime also attempted to spin a ruling that the International Court of Arbitration handed down in favour of Turkmenistan in a long-running natural gas dispute with Iran.