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Երեքշաբթի, 30 Մայիսի 2017 17:07

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Foreign Policy of Armenia

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Robert Markarian - Tehran University, Iran

END OF TRANSITION

ARMENIA 25 YEARS ON, NOW WHAT?

Yerevan, Armenia    

Relations between Iran and Armenia has begun since ancient times.

The independence of the Republic of Armenia after the collapse of the Soviet Union opened new pages on the new relations between the two nations. At present, the two countries have established a strong relationship based on common historical and cultural background.

When Iran built a bridge to connect the two banks of the Araks River, the Armenians called it Friendship Bridge. First of all, it was a living bridge made to facilitate the connection of Armenia with countries like Iran to have access to imports of vital goods and required services. The purpose of this bridge was establishing a connection between two historical neighbors. The social, economic and cultural relations began from this bridge. The bridge connects two side’s roads and while due to the conflict with Azerbaijan at the beginning of the independence of Armenia, rail and road links with the south was blocked, the Friendship Bridge has played a vital role for Armenia. Armenia’s look to Iran is based on positive relationship and also strong Armenian minority living in Iran. Now, however, the approach of Armenia to Iran is less historical and more practical.

On December 25, 1991, the Islamic Republic of Iran recognized the independence of Armenia. Due to having a border with Armenia, as well as having political and security interests in the region and in order to develop economic, political and cultural relations, Iran established diplomatic relations with Armenia in 1992.

The geographical position of Armenia, which provides Iran with access to European countries and The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the need for playing an effective role in the South Caucasus causes the relations between the two countries to develop.

The relations between the two countries in the early years after the independence and during the presidency of Levon Ter-Petrosyan were under the influence of the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Later, from 1997 to 2000 internal developments and performance of Armenia's foreign policy affected bilateral relations. At the same time, the level of economic cooperation between the two countries decreased.

During the presidency of Robert Kocharyan and due to realistic foreign policy, the level of relations between the two countries improved. Following that, in 2008, the trade between the two countries reached to about $225 million. This trend continued during the first two years of Serj Sarkisyan's presidency reaching to $300 million.

However, despite strong diplomatic and political ties between the two countries and the political common positions about many international developments as well as the efforts being made in recent years, not only there hasn’t been any increase in the volume of trade between the two countries ever since, it has declined to $239 million in 2016. At the same time, more than the 60 percent of the trades between the two countries is the result of the exchange of gas and electricity. If the two countries cooperation in this field removes, the trade will be less than $100 million.

Since during the period of international sanctions against Iran, the level of trade between the two countries did not see sensible change, it seems that the failure to increase the level of trade between the two countries, especially under the presidency of Serge Sarkisyan, has been the result of the foreign policy and also the impact of external factors such as Russia.

In general, Armenia's relations with Iran are the result of a need to find a way to circumvent the blocks created by Turkey and Azerbaijan, and the desire to reduce reliance on Russia as the main and the only partner of Armenia.

According to Richard Giragosyan, the director of the Regional Studies Center, two main factors of energy and geopolitics are driving the relations between Iran and Armenia forward.

In the case of energy, as noted earlier, a large volume of trade between the two countries consists of the exchange of gas and electricity. This exchange is done through a pipeline and two power transmission lines. The third power transmission line is also under construction and will be operational in 2018. The important thing about the gas pipeline is the reducing of its diameter under Russian pressure which made any transiting of gas to Europe via Armenia impossible.

Richard Giragosyan also believes that the foreign policy of Armenia is complementary which tries to make a balance between West and Russia. At the same time, it’s flexible and Armenia looks for alternatives with more opportunities and fewer threats. It seems that Iran could be one of the best choices.

Iran plays a vital economic and political role for Armenia. Due to its geographical location and extensive communication, Iran is one of the significant countries in the region with high political and economic interests in the Caucasus region - and especially in Armenia. On the other hand, due to the connection with the Caspian Sea and the northern coast of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, Iran is a link not only to its neighbors but also to certain regions of the Caucasus, Central Asia, Eastern Asia, the Arab world, and the Indian peninsula.

Iran's national interests are provided by strengthening the independence of Armenia and participation in politics in the Caucasus region. Due to its geographical location and political position, Iran is considered a transportation bridge and one of the most strategic areas of the world. It’s not only because of Iran’s geographical location and natural rich resources but its economic huge potential and military capabilities. In addition, we must consider this reality that there are no territorial or ethnic disputes between Iran and Armenia which have been the most important factor in expanding relations.

Armenia also has a valuable place in Iran’s political and strategic programs. It should be noted that it’s not only the Armenia’s unilateral need which has necessitated the development of bilateral relations. The Iran’s mutual need to Armenia’s facilities and geographical location is also effective.

The geographical location of Armenia could help Iran transit its products and gas to Europe and The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

The importance of Armenia for Iran is because of:

  1. Connecting Iran to the Black Sea, Northern Caucasus, and Europe.
  2. Armenia's membership in The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and having a land border with Iran.
  3. The geopolitical importance of Armenia in coping with the Pan-Turkism in the region.
  4. Cultural importance due to the presence of the Armenian minority in Iran.
  5. The two countries cooperation for neutralizing the conspiracy of confrontation between Islam and Christianity.
  6. The political importance of using the powerful Armenian lobby.
  7. The economic importance of presence in Armenia’s market, especially in fields such as energy.
  8. A decisive presence in the Caucasus region and the prevention of the spread of crises such as the Karabakh crisis to Iran, and balancing the powers in the region.  

At the same time, identifying obstacles to cooperation between the two countries are important. In a general attitude, they could be divided to economic, political, and security obstacles.

Some of the economic obstacles are: Armenia’s economic structure, corruption and economic monopolies, Iran’s economic structure and the lack of investment.

The fact of the matter is that many of the economic opportunities have been lost because of the economic obstacles, while other countries have been able to take good advantage of this opportunities by taking appropriate preparations.

In the case of political obstacles, we can say that due to the geopolitical and strategic importance of Caucasus, this region has been the center of regional and international competitions. As a result, bilateral cooperation with neighboring countries, including relations between Iran and Armenia is under the influence of these factors and competitions.

The attempts of great powers for having influence in the Caucasus has led to intensified competition.

The political situation in Armenia has been an obstacle to cooperation. Some of Armenia’s internal obstacles are:

1-      Influence of foreign powers, especially Russia.

2-      The tensions and the lack of full political stability.

3-      The Karabakh crisis and the conflict with Azerbaijan.

Experts believe that stability and security are the preconditions of the development and the expansion of bilateral cooperation is also under the influence of this important factors. In this respect, security threats and conflicts in the Caucasus region has slowed economic development. Each country in the region defines the security layouts from its perspective and determine the affecting factors according to that definition.

In conclusion, it seems that cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Armenia in various fields has enough potential to expand. During the past few years, the necessary ground for economic cooperation has been provided. The Iran nuclear deal also has had an important role in this regard.

Fortunately, in recent months the Armenia’s government has made great efforts to expand relations between the two countries or at least create proper ground for it, including the elimination of visa regime between two countries, the approval of the establishment of free economic zone on Meghri located on the border of Iran, trial transit of gas to Georgia via Armenia and the pilot cargo transit from Germany to Iran by using Georgian ports, the railways of Armenia and Georgia, and the overland routes of Armenia and Iran. If the efforts wrap up and overcome obstacles successfully, these steps could have a significant impact on the development of bilateral relations and multiply the trade volume between the two countries several times, upgrading it to the level which matches the expanded political relations.  

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