Suren Sargsyan

Aligning Interests with Global Players: Part 1 The Case of Armenia-Iran

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I have had the chance to point out many times in my previous articles that the only opportunity for Armenia in this difficult period in its history is to align its interests with those states that attach fundamental importance to our region. In this series of articles, my goal will be to present the opportunities and challenges that Armenia is facing today and the solutions which could be of fundamental importance for our future. Let’s not forget that the only positive opportunity at present is to form a combat-ready army and acquire self-defense weapons, as well as the development of a proactive, balanced and professional foreign policy.

In this context, I will first address Iran, a friendly and neighboring country to Armenia, which has serious problems with the West, particularly the USA, and has been under sanctions for decades. Naturally, under such conditions, the question arises as to how far it is possible to cooperate with Iran without spoiling relations with the US. The answer to this question is clear. Such an opportunity for cooperation definitely exists.

First of all, it should be taken into account that, to Washington’s credit, the US has never demanded that Armenia completely stop trade, cooperation and all contact with Iran. To Tehran’s credit, Iran has never confronted Armenia with such a dilemma either. This means that both states understand Armenia’s limited capabilities to cooperate in the region, taking into account the Turkish and Azerbaijani aggressive approach towards Armenia and the blockade implemented since the independence of Armenia.

In fact, the USA has never imposed sanctions against Armenian organizations for cooperation with Iran. While Iranian air companies and banks operating in Armenia have come under sanctions, this was not on the grounds of operating in Armenia, but on the basis of being Iranian.

Now let’s turn to the main questions. What common interests do Armenia and Iran have? First of all, let’s note that Armenia has two windows to the outside world, Georgia and Iran. Secondly, Iran is the only country through whose territory Armenia has the opportunity to import weapons and ammunition, considering that Georgia has declared neutrality in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and has closed its airspace to military planes that may come from Russia.

It is known that Armenia acquires weapons and ammunition mainly from Russia, and its delivery to Armenia can only take place through Iran, taking into account the geographical and regional realities. In fact, Armenia used to buy about 90 percent of weapons from Russia simply because it was two times less expensive than all alternatives.

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Can Armenia get what it needs from Iran? This is an extremely important and delicate question. One might think that if Armenia acquires weapons (such as drones or rockets) from Iran, it will come under American sanctions, because the acquisition of weapons from Iran could lead to this point.

At the same time, if Armenia acquires weapons from Russia, it could also lead to the same results, because Russia is now under even more sanctions than Iran. The question arises as to how Armenia can organize in self-defense, if it finds itself in such a situation.

The counterargument may arise that Armenia can acquire weapons from the West, but the import of these weapons to Armenia may be physically problematic, because it will not be possible to do this via Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan or Turkey. It turns out that Armenia has no possibility of self-defense and this may lead to a second genocide of Armenians. This is where the idea comes in that the lack of alternatives needs to be discussed openly and directly with Washington, where perceptions might be shaped in the light of these realities.

In addition to the aforementioned economic aspects of cooperation, the second interest Armenia has in common with Iran is the issue of security of the Syunik region of Armenia that borders Iran. Syunik is extremely important for Iran and Tehran cannot allow the Turkish-Azerbaijani tandem to cut Syunik from Armenia, which would mean the loss of Iran’s external border in favor of Turkey. Moreover, for Iran, the Armenian-Iranian border is the only external land border between Iran and the Eurasian Economic Union, with which Tehran seeks cooperation. So, the territorial integrity of Armenia is really a red line for Tehran, as has been pointed out many times. Let’s not forget that Iran is considered a counterbalancing power against Turkey with all its consequences.

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