Iran a Bedrock for Armenia’s Stability

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

An exhibition opened on October 17 at the National Museum of Tehran to celebrate historic and cultural relations between Armenia and Iran since time immemorial. The show is called “Iran and Armenia: Memory of a Realm.” The exhibition will run through January 17, 2018 and features 100 ancient artifacts from Armenia and 200 from Iran.

Archeological excavations date back 5,000 years into history of the close relations between the two nations. The current exhibition focuses mostly on the Bronze and Iron Ages, when the Urartian civilization flourished around Lake Van.

Armen Amirian, minister of culture of Armenia, joined hands with Ali Asghar Mounesan, director of Iran’s Cultural Heritage to cut the ribbon at the exhibit’s opening. On this occasion, Mounesan outlined Iran’s policy towards its neighbors: “The message of peace and friendship that the Iranian government pursues as its cultural diplomacy.”

Relations between the two nations have been more friendly than not over the centuries, except perhaps during the Vartanants War (451 AD), when Armenians fought to preserve their newly-found Christian faith. During the reign of the Shah of Iran, the Armenian community there enjoyed a privileged position and prospered. Contrary to the big guns of news media to vilify Iran, Armenians remained a respected minority and the Iranian government took special care of Armenian monuments, churches and institutions, unlike neighboring Turkey.

Perhaps the most significant era of relations between Armenia and Iran was during the reign of Shah Abbas (1571-1629), the strongest ruler of the Safavid Dynasty in Persia.

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Iran has fought many wars with the Ottoman Empire and Armenia has changed hands during the ebb and flow of those conflicts. In the year 1604, Shah Abbas forced 250,000 to 300,000 Armenians from their native land and moved to New Julfa (Nor Jugha); whether this resettlement was out of admiration of the Shah for the Armenians’ creative skills or because of his scorched-earth policy toward the more powerful Ottoman forces at the time, we may not be able to tell, especially as there was a significant number of Armenian casualties crossing the Arax River.

His ruthless measures define the actions of a ruler who imprisoned his own father and killed his own son.

Once settled on the Persian territories, Armenians were offered special privileges to keep their mayors and judges and develop trade in the country and were able to extend it all the way to the Far East and Europe.

In recent years, Armenia’s reliance on Iran has grown by necessity, given the blockades put in place by Turkey and Azerbaijan with Georgian collusion. It has been a risky relationship since Iran has been under international sanctions and as a result trade has been growing at a slower pace. Once those sanctions were eased, Armenia’s exports to Iran jumped to $54.8 million from January to August 2017, a net increase of 11 percent.

Recently Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan visited Tehran to sign a number of agreements in the areas of electricity, gas, agriculture, conversion industries, transportation, science and culture. Iranian gas, especially, will allow Armenia to have an alternative, so that it can be weaned from the single source of Russian gas running through the unfriendly territory of Georgia.

During a joint press conference with Karapetyan, Iran’s First Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri stressed the need to remove obstacles for closer economic relations and “take advantage of Armenia’s bonds in the Eurasian Union in addition to its relations with the European Union.”

Topics: Iran

Armenians had been complaining that the country did not benefit much from joining the Russian-centered Eurasian Economic Union. Now, within the context of regional developments, the value of that membership will be further enhanced by Iran signing an agreement with the EEU. The relationship may counteract attempts by Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia to isolate Armenia both economically and politically.

Iran maintains a balanced relationship with Armenia and Azerbaijan, always advocating for a peaceful solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, which may spill over into Iran in case of a full-scale war. Another reason is not only concern for peace in the region but fear that the Azeri republic in war mode will also make a play for the province of Azerbaijan in Iran. Iran’s 80-million population is not homogeneous. There are 9 million Iranian Azeris that live in the north of Iran, in the province of Azerbaijan, which was claimed once by former Azeri President Abulfaz Elchibey.

In Neocon plans for Iran, Iranian Azerbaijan is considered to be situated on an ethnic fault line, which can be a convenient breakup line for potential enemies. The Iranian leadership is similarly wary about Israeli plans and activities in neighboring Azerbaijan.

For now, it seems that relative peace has been restored in the region with Iran’s nuclear deal. But the unpredictable President Trump has begun to threaten to unilaterally back out of the deal despite the fact that Russia and Europe are fellow signatories to the agreement. President Trump considers the agreement to be a bad deal, although there is no proof that Iran is not holding up its end of the bargain.

The Paris Climate Agreement was also similarly scuttled by Trump, though his fellow international signatories remain in place. The US president does not give a hoot and might similarly decertify the Iran deal.

But this time around, his administration seems to be split; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis do not seem be in agreement with the president. Also, Frederica Mogherini, the foreign affairs commissioner of the European Union, has bypassed the White House, appealing to the US Congress to maintain the agreement.

Should the US administration get its act together and decertify the Iran nuclear deal, not only will it generate instability in the region, but will have far bigger consequences and ramifications worldwide.

When sanctions were in place, the State Department was tolerant towards Armenia’s relations with Iran after the Islamic Revolution, realizing the country offered Armenia the only outlet to worldwide markets.

Should turmoil resume, Armenia may still be safe, but its business activities will remain restrained and its economy will continue to suffer.

Iran serves as a bedrock for Armenia’s stability. Any pressure on Iran will impact Armenia by limiting its access to worldwide markets and hamper its prospects for economic development.

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