Islamic Republic of Iran according to its long term strategy in the vision of 2025 would be a country with the high level of interaction and relation with world environment. So the relation with neighboring countries is the first priorities of Iranian foreign policy.
The relations between Iran and Armenia started from ancient times. But during Russian Empire and then Soviet Union the relations has been functioned from the channel of very hard diplomatic structure and belonged to the government level. The possibility of the relation between the nations of both sides was very difficult and sometimes impossible.
There were no direct connection because of having no bridge over Arras River, which made borderline between Armenia and Iran and it was possible by the territory of Soviet Azerbaijan. The independence of Armenian Republic after the collapse of Soviet Union opened new pages for modern relations. Now, the two countries in the basis of common history and culture have established a closed relation. When Iran constructed a bridge over Arras River to connect the two sides, Armenians named it “мост дружбы”. When there is bridge over a bordering waterway, it carries multi aspect meaning. First of all it was a bridge of life to facilitate the connecting of Armenia with a friend country (Iran) to have access to import vital needed goods and services. The cultural and scientific relations started by this bridge. So the role of bridge is humanistic.
At the same time in terms of negative view, it was the attitude of Azerbaijan republic, the other Iran’s and Armenia’s common neighbor. They always say that Iran as a Shia’ country should support Azerbaijan. And they express that Iran must not constructed such bridge and should surrounded Armenia because of occupation the territory of Karabakh. What was the reaction of Iran: we are both neighbor with Armenia and Azerbaijan and we do not add the factor of Karabakh problem to bilateral relations with Azerbaijan. It is a problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia, but at the same time Iran always has neutral position. Iran is neighboring country for both of them and has good relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan. But Iran always invites Armenia and Azerbaijan to solve their problem by diplomatic means and avoid of military clashes which may have catastrophic result for both as well as for the region too.
Bridge at the same time facilitates the road connection between two sides. While Armenia was blockaded by rail and road according to clashes with Azerbaijan upon Karabakh region, the bridge played a vital factor for Armenia.
The main connecting road for Iran to Europe is through Turkey. But Iran is interesting to diversify its connecting routes which among them Armenian territory is an alternative that from there to have connection with Georgia and Black Sea basin. At the same time Azerbaijani territory is another one. Iran as a great regional power is interesting to have relation with neighboring countries. According to Iranian prospective development plan to 2025, Iran should be a country with high level of interaction with the international environment.
The road network of Armenia in terms of international transport and transit standard is not so good because of its geographical situation. So development of Armenia’s road networks to promote the international transportation needs investment. In the situation like this, Iran is not able to do that, but in the future perhaps it will be able to invest in this regard. Especially the railroad network is more important to Iran. Iran welcomes any foreign direct investment in this regards.
In some cases the construction of railroad between the two countries arises in mass media. But both of them have not enough resources to handle it. It is not the issue which could be able to attract foreign investment because of the mountainous situation makes it difficult and expensive. Because it is far from Iranian and Armenian railroad networks and in the case of having a plan to do it, the cost benefit analysis shows that will not be economical, but in local level it can be done in the future.
In economic cooperation in the trade and services sectors there are a lot of potentials that can be taken into account.
In the field of sciences and art cooperation both side have experiences that can be exchanged. Cooperation between universities and scientific centers like academies and non-governmental bodies there are a lot of opportunities which have been considered and are functioning and some capacities are still ready to work together.
The energy sector is one of the most important fields of economic cooperation between Iran and Armenia. The all Iran electricity network is jointed to Armenia’s network many years before. This network is another bridge between two countries. Iranian natural gas pipeline has passed the Aras river and from 2005 feeds many houses, building, farms and industrial enterprises. Iran had planned to export natural gas to Georgia via this pipeline system, but it was terminated by Gazprom of Russia in terms of some political issues.
Eurasian Economic Union
Eurasian Economic Union is a new approach to regional cooperation. Regional organizations (ROs) are, in a sense, international organizations (IOs), as they incorporate international membership and encompass geopolitical entities that operationally transcend a single nation state.
The Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU or EEU) is an economic union of states located primarily in northern Eurasia. A treaty aiming for the establishment of the EEU was signed on 29 May 2014 by the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and came into force on 1 January 2015. Treaties aiming for Armenia's and Kyrgyzstan's accession to the Eurasian Economic Union were signed on 9 October 2014 and 23 December, respectively. Armenia's accession treaty came into force on 2 January 2015. Kyrgyzstan's accession treaty came into effect on 6 August 2015. It participated in the EEU from the day of its establishment as an acceding state. Iran is negotiating to have cooperation with this union. In that case Iran will connect Armenia to EEU by its territory; because Armenia has no geographical connection with the other member states, again here we see a bridge.
Armenia is a beautiful country in terms tourism because of its rich sightseeing. There are many cultural, historical and ancient monuments. Many Iranian tourists every year visit neighboring country including Iraq, Azerbaijan, Turkey and United Arab Emirate (Dubai). Armenia has a lot of attractive factors to Iranian tourist including distance, cultural similarity, common cultural heritage and favorite cultural environment. None of Iranians feel themselves stranger here. They all find Armenia as a native land with closed friendly relation.
Armenia as a neighboring and close friend country is most attractive for Iranian. Every year thousands of Iranian in terms of individually and collective tourists visit Armenia. Considering the increasing of flight costs in the future, it will effect on the foreign tours for middle class Iranians. So road travel to Armenia as a nearest destination will be increased considerably and Armenia should invest in tourism infrastructure as well as road and transportation, to benefit from tourism, especially economy class tours will attract many tourists.
Iran's foreign trade volume with Armenia in 2014 compared to 2002, only 20 per cent increased. While in the same period, the volume of Armenia's foreign trade with the world has increased by 4 times. In all the years of 2002-2014 the export of Iran to Armenia is more than the value of Iran’s import from Armenia. Total volume of foreign trade between two countries is 142 Million US$(2014). Trade balance is 103 million US$ in favor of Iran. The share of Armenia in Iranian foreign trade is less than 0.2 % in 2014.
In 2003 when I was attending in a conference in Yerevan, in a hotel that I stayed there, a lot of Armenian from America, Europe and Lebanon were visiting Yerevan. They had used a bus which in the front window of it was written “Iranian Armenia”. It made me surprised, so I asked them “you are not from Iran why you have written Iranian Armenian? They said me that of course we are not living in Iran but originally we are from Iran. We do not like to ignore our home country.
I would like to introduce my idea about the deepening the friendship between two ancient nations, Iranian and Armenian. In both sides of Friendship Bridge we make a park and name it Friendship Park. A group of Armenian school boys and girls by passing the bridge come to Iranian side and plant some trees in the new park there and vice versa a group of Iranian school boys and girls at the same time come to Armenian side and plant some trees in the mentioned park which will be inaugurated in a friendship sphere with some local authorities from both sides. When the two groups meet each other in the middle of the Friendship Bridge they stay there and celebrate a historical event. It is better it record and keep in the museum for the new generation.
Bahram Amirahmadian, an assistant professor at the University of Tehran, is the senior fellow at The IRAS Institute.
This article first appeared at International Conference “Republic of Armenia – Islamic Republic of Iran: 25 Years of Cooperation”