The Republic of Armenia occupies an extremely difficult geopolitical position. To the east it is bordered by Azerbaijan, with which Armenia has conflictual relations because of the unresolved territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, ongoing since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. To the west, it is flanked by Turkey, which is friendly towards Azerbaijan and actively denies the Armenian genocide. Moreover, Armenia’s national symbol, Mount Ararat, is located in Turkey. Armenia’s northern neighbor is pro-Western Georgia, rather cold towards Yerevan because of the latter’s pro-Russian foreign policy.
One of Armenia’s key partners is the Russian Federation, with which the small Transcaucasian republic of 2.9 million people manages to have a positive dialogue. Armenia is a member of all the international organizations established by Russia in the post-Soviet space, particularly the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The Russian Federation is currently the main guarantor of Armenia’s sovereignty and the first partner in the order of importance in both economic and defense matters.
To the south, Armenia shares a border with the Islamic Republic of Iran, its second most important partner. Tehran’s support for Yerevan is primarily due to the fact that Iran’s political leadership is in confrontation with Turkey and Azerbaijan and does not want to see the positions of its geopolitical rivals strengthened. It is also important to note that Iran is building warm relations with Russia and therefore tries to maintain good relations with those countries with which the Russian Federation has a friendly dialogue.
On January 31, 2022, representatives of Yerevan and Tehran signed an agreement on cooperation in the tourism sector. Despite their religious differences, the peoples of Christian Armenia and Islamic Iran treat each other quite well.
It is important to note that there are about 200,000 Armenians living in Iran today. The Iranian leadership is tolerant of the Armenian ethnic minority and grants it a degree of autonomy. The Iranian authorities allocate budget funds for the restoration of cultural heritage monuments associated with the Armenian people. There are more than 40 Armenian churches in Iran.
On February 7, 2022, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian congratulated his counterpart, Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan, on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states. The Iranian diplomat noted that the year 2021 saw the strengthening and expansion of Iranian-Armenian bilateral relations in many sectors. The Iranian Foreign Minister said his country was one of the first to establish diplomatic relations with Armenia in 1992. Hossein Amir Abdollahian stressed the Iranian leadership’s desire to further deepen bilateral and regional partnerships with Armenia.
On February 9, 2022, during the Armenia-Iran international forum, Iranian MP Robert Beglaryan, who is of Armenian descent, spoke of the need to elevate relations between the two states from cultural ties to full-fledged security cooperation. According to the Iranian MP, the consequences of the Armenian-Azerbaijani 44-day war in 2020, as well as the generally unstable situation in the region, should give new impetus to the development of dialogue between Armenia and Iran.
Iran is now aiming to raise the status and expand exports of its automotive industry. In this regard, the country is interested in establishing a partnership with Armenia in the automotive industry. According to Tehran, Armenia is a convenient platform for Iranian cars to enter the EAEU market.
Iranian officials have repeatedly stressed the huge potential for developing partnerships with Armenia and other neighboring states in the automotive sector. Mohammad Karbasi, deputy head of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, said the two countries were committed to deepening cooperation in this area. He also added that Armenia has already expressed its intention to invest in the Iranian automotive industry, and this is an excellent chance for possible further export of not only cars to Armenia, but also other goods via Armenia further into Eurasia. Karbasi recommended taking advantage of this fortunate circumstance, stressing that Armenia is the only EAEU country that has a land border with Iran, which offers great opportunities for cross-border trade in the future.
According to former Armenian MP Mikayel Melkumyan, Armenia and Iran have great opportunities for cooperation in the automotive industry. Melkumyan stated that taxis produced in Iran were already in use in the early years of the formation of a taxi fleet in Yerevan. Entrepreneurs favored Iranian cars because they were cheap.
Most recently, on March 29, 2022, Artashes Tumanyan, advisor to the Armenian Prime Minister, and Ali Akbar Mehrabian, Minister of Energy of Iran, discussed the importance of developing cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector. Ali Akbar Mehrabian listed the capabilities of Iranian companies in the engineering and technical services industry, recalling their presence around the world. It was for this reason that he initiated bilateral talks to discuss potential cooperation between the two states. Representatives of both countries noted the high importance of expanding relations in the energy sector.
On April 10, Hamed Forouzan, director general for international affairs at Ministry of Labor and Cooperatives of Iran, announced Tehran’s plans to open a business center in Armenia. The Iranian official also announced the imminent signing of a memorandum of cooperation between the two countries on industrial production and trade in goods and services. According to Hamed Forouzan, this document will be signed during the Iranian labor minister’s visit to Armenia. The representative of the Islamic Republic expressed the readiness of Iranian academics to help Armenian youth as much as possible in vocational education. In addition, Iranian academics are able to provide Armenia with advice on insurance and services for persons with disabilities and retired people.
Today, the tense situation in the region does not prevent the strengthening of dialogue between Iran and Armenia. On the contrary, an unstable situation forces countries to be more united, leading to a deepening and broadening of mutually beneficial partnerships.
It can be assumed that in the foreseeable future Armenia and Iran will participate more intensively in each other’s economies. Above all, this is due to the fact that both Yerevan and Tehran have relatively few allies in the region and therefore need to elevate inter-state relations to a new level for the sake of survival and prosperity. Russia can also play a positive role in this process.
Dmitry Bokarev, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.