Armenia is an Important Economic Partner of Iran

11 m.   |  2021-06-07

“Armenia is the most vital part of the North-South corridor, connecting the Persian Gulf with the Black Sea”. Iranian expert

T he article presents an interview with Ehsan Movahedian, lecturer at Tehran’s Allameh Tabataba'i University and expert on international relations. It touches upon Iran’s position on the situation in the region after the 44-day Artsakh war, new challenges for Tehran, prospects for the development of Armenian-Iranian relations, the Iranian side’s approach to the reality of Azerbaijan’s violating the state border of the Republic of Armenia and other topics.

 -Recently, we have witnessed mutual visits of Armenian and Iranian officials. The parties intend to expand bilateral cooperation. In your opinion, what obstacles and opportunities are there for the development of Armenian-Iranian relations?

 -Both Iran and Armenia have ample opportunities of developing relations in economic, trade, security, culture and political fields. The needs and opportunities of the two countries in the fields of energy, transport, industry, mines, quality and cheap labor for creating various products, on the one hand the complementary geographical position of the two countries and on the other hand, Iran’s experience and specialization in overcoming security challenges, as well as modern technologies for the production of some products, rich energy resources, the fact of having developed communication channels provide good opportunities for the expansion of relations between the two countries. However, since now the governments of the two countries haven’t taken any serious steps to introduce bilateral capabilities to Armenian and Iranian traders and businessmen. The reason for it is that the governments of the two countries ignored the need to use the opportunities of neighborhood. Banking relations between the two countries haven’t yet developed enough, financial turnover and customs services weren’t easily implemented for the private sector and traders on both sides, and the opportunities of Aras Free Trade Zone are not used efficiently. One of the obstacles is the slowness of the two countries in completing the North-South corridor, connecting the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea, as well as the fact that the Free Trade Agreement between Iran and the EEU wasn’t signed and the deficiencies of the infrastructure, freight system.

Taking into account that the import of Turkish goods is banned in Armenia, this country can become a showcase of quality Iranian goods in the Eurasian region, and the two countries can work together to create joint brands. However, the governments of the two countries must first provide infrastructural opportunities for the development of economic relations between Iran and Armenia, so that businessmen do not face obstacles. Private sectors of Iran and Armenia should urge their governments to refrain from passing conflicting or obstructive laws, and there should be one voice in the foreign policy of the two countries. In addition, attracting foreign investments, development of cooperation in the fields of oil, gas, energy, simplification of customs procedures, increasing the efficiency of the customs agreement, signing bilateral monetary, banking and insurance agreements, especially investment-export credit agreements, as well as the establishment of a joint bank will facilitate investments and trade turnover between the sides and contribute to the launch of a model of safe and fast financial settlement.

-Azerbaijan has violated Armenia’s state borders in Syunik, Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor regions, occupying some territories. Iran has stated that territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia is a red line for him. In this regard, how can Iran support Armenia?

-At the beginning of the military conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Iran didn’t play a serious role in this crisis for various reasons, such as US sanctions and economic pressures, clashes on other fronts in Western Asia and the desire not to add a new front, some specific and incorrect internal perceptions of the impact of this conflict on Iran’s national security interests, as well as the lack of consistency and serious response from the Armenian Government. However, the continuation of Azerbaijan’s provocative actions with the support of the Turkish Government and Russia’s insufficient steps to resist the military movements of Azerbaijan have necessitated more serious role of the Iranian Government in this issue. It’s obvious, that Iran doesn’t benefit in any way from the lack of use of the advantages of the North-South corridor and Black Sea to Europe transit routes from Iran to Armenia. That’s why, at the request of the Armenian Government Iran may provide an advisory presence in Armenia, to train the Armenian military, to counteract external aggression and to share its experience with them, to strengthen the combat capability and practical skills of Armenian military. Iranian forces may also be deployed in sensitive border areas as peacekeepers to prevent foreign aggression and send necessary message to those countries that do not want to respect Armenia’s territorial integrity and have adopted a policy of exporting terrorists to Armenia’s borders. Armenia can purchase advanced military equipment from Iran, particularly various UAVs and missiles to strengthen its military capability. It’s obvious that in case of Armenia’s military weakness, Azerbaijan will pursue its plan to occupy Syunik and besides ensuring communication between Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, Turkey will have direct access to oil and gas reserves of the Caspian Sea and later of Central Asia.

-How did the situation after the 44-day war affect Iran? What new challenges arose for Iran? What is Tehran’s official approach to this issue?

- The 44-day war in Karabakh caused significant damage to Iran’s national interests. Transfer of Takfiri terrorists from Syria to Karabakh by Azerbaijan and Turkey endangered national security of Armenia, Russia and Iran, and it is possible that Karabakh and the Caucasus will become a new hotbed of stateless terrorists. Because of the absence of a central government, Turkey has already done the same in Libya, turning that country into a playground for all kinds of terrorists. These terrorists can cause unrest and endanger their national security in neighboring countries by using ethnic and linguistic factors. Besides transferring terrorists to the region Turkish Government has strengthened military capability and armaments of Azerbaijan, provoked Azerbaijani Government, the Turkic-speaking citizens of other countries and escalated the Karabakh war.

Azerbaijan’s successful strategy in the recent war, that is moving along the Iranian border and the conduct of hostilities, may turn into a strategic policy for Azerbaijan to provide a land route connection with Nakhichevan through the occupation of some part of the Armenian territory in Syunik, especially the regions bordering Iran. After occupying Karabakh, Azerbaijani government, with Turkey’s provocation and support, can attack Armenia and Syunik region in two main directions, from the territories of Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan, so as to provide land connection with Nakhichevan. Iran’s borders with Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nakhichevan in the process developed by Turkey, Iran’s main rival in the region, may turn into borders of tension and a new hotbed of regional war and terrorism. Because of the existence of land border between Turkey and Nakhichevan, mercenaries and Iranian oppositional groups can more easily establish a presence in Nakhichevan. Cunning and ingenious policy makers of the Kharabakh war (Israel, Turkey), using the tactic of moving along the Iranian border, tried to create restrictions for the Armenian Army and provoke Azeri-speaking citizens of Iran to clash with Armenia, which however didn’t happen due to the vigilance of Iranian military. However, the repetition of this tactic is possible.

Strengthening of Azerbaijan and its military capacity in the region, which we witnessed during the Karabakh war, is a process recalling the 1970-90s militant rise of the Baathist regime in Iraq. In those years, the large-scale armament and strengthening of Saddam’s government led to a long period of war and crisis in the region. The provocation of war against Iran by Saddam’s government and then the occupation of Kuwait, the threat to Saudi Arabia can be considered as a consequence of the policy of blindly arming Iraq by regional and global role-players and the same is now being carried out in case of Azerbaijan, with armament by Turkey and Israel.
The consequences of the 44-day war in Karabakh also include the reduction of the land border between Iran and Armenia, the likelihood of elimination of North-South corridor and the likelihood of obstacles arising for the transportation of energy from Iran to Armenia and then to Europe and the establishment of transit routes. This process may deprive Iran of million dollars of revenue. On the other hand, Ankara will no longer need an Iranian transit route to get access to Azerbaijan.

Another worrying consequence of the war is the possibility of Israel strengthening on Iran’s northwestern borders. After the signing of the end of war agreement, the presence of the Turkish and Israeli flags next to the Azerbaijani flag during the people’s celebration in Baku, is an indicator of some bitter realities in this issue. With a permanent presence on Iran’s northwestern borders, Israel can be the complementary hand of NATO and the US in the South Caucasus, pursuing a policy of causing controversy among countries in the region. The interference in Iran’s internal affairs, efforts to control the Islamic Republic, causing ethnic provocations in Iran is one of the motives of Israel for supporting Azerbaijan. On the other hand, with a presence in Azerbaijan, Israel can influence the region’s oil and gas policy, as well as will try to establish a military base on the shore of the Caspian Sea.

-Iran wants to launch the corridor connecting the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea through the territory of Armenia. Besides there is a desire to pass a part of the North-South corridor through the territory of Armenia. What is the reason for this interest of the Iranian side?

-Considering Azerbaijan’s unfriendly policy towards Iran, and its strong dependence on the wishes of Turkey and Israel, it’s natural, that Iran views friendly Armenia as an alternative country for gas transportation and for export of goods and services. Armenia is an important economic partner of Iran, and besides this, it benefits from Iran’s participation in different road construction projects. Armenia is the most vital part of the North-South Corridor project, connecting the Persian Gulf to the Black Sea and the countries of the Caucasus to the Central Asia and if Turkey’s dreams of depriving Iran of its land border with Armenia, Iran will lose the advantage and capacity of its geopolitical position. Unification of Nakhichevan, Karabakh and Azerbaijan will lead to the elimination of land border between Iran and Armenia. Armenia is considered as an alternative transit route for Iran, so that trade with Europe doesn’t depend exclusively on Turkey. Currently Turkey, pushing Azerbaijan on a military adventure and implementing its dangerous projects and reducing Iran’s access to Armenia, may impose its interests on Iran to some extent. Having access to these communication corridors, residents of Iran’s northwestern provinces, gain great economic benefits, and their elimination will significantly deprive these states of income. We hope that by strengthening friendly relations between Armenia, Georgia and Iran, these three countries will be able to create an integrated zone to ensure mutual interests.

-Presidential elections in Iran are scheduled for June 18. How can its results impact on foreign policy, particularly on its relations with Armenia?

-The majority of Iranian presidential candidates emphasize the need to expand relations with neighboring countries in foreign policy, thus being convinced that it will possible to ensure each other’s political, economic, cultural, security and other issues. Hojatoleslam Raisi, the favorite candidate for the candidacy, met with businessmen in his first pre-election session and stressed the importance of creating economic markets with neighboring countries. During his visit to Iran’s northeastern border region of Taibad in March 2021, he stated: “Relations with neighboring countries are on the agenda of the Islamic Republic of Iran and we must use the opportunities available in neighboring countries and in the region and increase the cooperation. Facilitating the export of goods, people, especially the young people in border regions can play an important role in the development of production, thus increasing jobs. Accordingly, the future president of Iran attaches a great importance to the deepening of relations with neighboring and friendly countries like Armenia”.