Iran continues to improve its relations with Armenia, which has an important role to preserve the viability of its strategy for the Caucasus.
The Middle East and its close geography are one of the most vibrant regions of the world in terms of politics and social aspects. While the chaos in Syria still continues, Iran is also one of the countries that are party to this tension. Tehran, which has taken strategic steps so far mainly in terms of developments in Syria and Iraq, is trying to keep relations with other actors which are important for itself in the region. Thus, Iran continues to improve its relations with Armenia, which has an important role to preserve the viability of its strategy for the Caucasus.
The course of relations between Iran and Armenia is one of the subjects that have escaped from the attention. The bilateral talks and the decisions made between Tehran and Yerevan in recent years are an essential part of the political balance in the region. Both countries need each other in terms of the future of their regional policies. In this regard, the bilateral talks of the both country’s leaders emphasize that “Armenia and Iran will be allies forever.”
It is worth to summarize the history of relations between Iran and Armenia briefly. Armenia was separated from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) on 21 September 1991 and gained its independence. Tehran officially recognized Armenia on 25 December 1991. On 9 February 1992, a declaration was signed between Yerevan and Tehran on the establishment of diplomatic relations.
The main highlighted point in the commercial and cultural relations between the two countries is that bilateral relations will be shaped according to Iran’s attitude towards developments in the region. Besides, the primary strategy of Iran against Armenia varies according to the relationships between Azerbaijan and Iran. Iran is worried that the Turkish population, who lives in its territory and is sympathetic towards Azerbaijan, is engaged in a struggle for independence against itself. In spite of this possibility, the Tehran administration has focused on improving its relations with Armenia. Tehran has used Armenia as a trump card against the option of Azerbaijan taking initiatives over the active Turkish presence in Iran. This strategy of Tehran has never changed, regardless of whether the Reformists or the Conservatives were in power in Iran.
A possible threat from Azerbaijan stands out as the primary factor affecting Tehran’s Yerevan policy. Iran’s attitude on the Karabakh issue is the result of this situation. Iran, which sees the historical and cultural ties of the people living in the northwest of the country with Azerbaijan as a threat to itself, has tried to pursue a policy of neutrality since the beginning of the Karabakh conflict. The Turkish population living in Iran (Iranian Turks) has a large share in the success of the Iranian Revolution. Since the revolution in 1979, the Tehran administration has been giving an impression that it does not openly support Armenia to avoid the reaction of the Turkish population in Iran. However, during a period when Armenia occupied Azerbaijani territory, it provided natural gas and fuel support to Armenia in December 1992 to continue its military operations.
Further, Iran did not support Turkey and Azerbaijan when they close their border with Armenia in 1993 and began an embargo against this country. Contrarily, Iran has maintained its commercial relations with Armenia. During this period, the Tehran administration supplied Armenia with food, raw materials and energy, which are essential needs of the country’s economy. In this way, Tehran tried to prevent Yerevan from falling into a weak position against Baku because Iran saw Armenia as a “buffer state” against Azerbaijan and developed a strategy to use Armenia as leverage in the case of Baku’s attempts to influence Iran.
Armenian presence in Iran
According to indefinite information about Armenian existence in the Iran, which is one of the ancient nations in the country, it is estimated that around 100,000 Armenians live in the country. The meaning of Iranian Armenians for Tehran is not limited to strengthening ties between the two countries in trade, education, culture and tourism. Tehran aims to attract the attention of the Armenian Diaspora in Europe and America and to benefit from its influence in the West by keeping its relations good with both the Armenian community in Iran and Armenia. Tehran, with the help of the Armenian lobby in the US, is trying to balance the Jewish lobby, which forces Washington to impose sanctions against Iran.
Iran also wants to give a message to international community through the Armenian diaspora that the nuclear energy program is carried out for peaceful purposes. To carry out this strategy, it is essential to keep good relations with the Armenians living in its borders. For this reason, Tehran gave to the Armenians some cultural and religious rights that it did not provide to other minorities in the country. Some of these rights and freedoms are freedom of worship, freedom of using alcohol, permission to teach Armenian language in Armenian schools and existence of Armenians parliamentarians in Iranian assembly. Providing these rights to the Armenian minority living within its borders, Iran tries to have diplomatically strong arguments. Thus, Tehran opposes accusations of the US and the European Union’s about the lack of democracy and human rights violations by showing the situation of the Armenian minority in the country.
As a result, Armenia does not consider the sanctions imposed on Tehran by the US, even if it is not considered as a strategic partner for Iran. The reason behind this decision is its diplomatic relations with Iran. This means that there is a channel between Iran and Armenia that the US’s isolation policy cannot penetrate. In this context, the attitude of Armenia points to a psychological and symbolic importance rather than an economical one. On the other hand, Russia also can be a determinant factor in Iranian-Armenian relations. The level of cooperation between Tehran and Yerevan can be limited by Russia as it is seen in the example of the natural gas pipeline project. When we look at the relations between Iran and Armenia and the recent history of these relations, we can say that as long as there is no radical change in the domestic and foreign policy of both countries, close ties will continue to develop.
This article is written by Cemalettin Tasken