By Nane Atshemian
Specialists in Iranian studies and political analysts gathered at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) on Thursday to discuss a broad spectrum of subjects related to Armenian-Iranian relations.
All of the participants in the roundtable agreed that although close and mutually beneficial, these relations can be complex at times for a number of reasons, including different religions and geopolitical developments in the region.
Similarly, they agreed that it is vital for Armenia to continue to develop relations with its neighbor to the south despite reasons preventing their development on a sufficient level.
Opinions were voiced that among the obstacles to these relations is first of all Armenia’s aspiration to develop partnership with the West, and secondly Iran’s position on the Karabakh conflict supporting Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity.
ACNIS expert Alen Ghevondian thinks that close political cooperation with Iran may have a negative effect on Armenia’s relations both the West and Russia.
“Relations with Iran are important for Armenia because Iran is pursuing a balanced policy in the region. It constitutes a certain counterbalance to Turkish policy in the region. Considering the blockade imposed on Armenia by Turkey and Azerbaijan, relations with Iran acquire particular importance in terms of ensuring the country’s economic security,” Ghevondian said. “As one of the most influential countries in the Islamic world, Iran is important to Armenia as through it Armenia can alleviate any anti-Armenian manifestations within the organizations uniting these countries.”
As to Iran’s new president and his policies, including regarding the nuclear program, then in the opinion of specialist in Iranian studies Emma Begejanian, not much will change.
“I think no great changes will take place in Iran and generally in Iranian policies,” she told RFE/RL.
Begejanian also named several other obstacles to Armenian-Iranian relations, such as pressures of certain Azeri circles within Iran, the positions of radical Islamists, Tehran-Baku relations.
The expert thinks that the volume of economic relations between Armenia and Iran, which have been on the rise since 2000, still falls short of the existing potential.
The trade circulation between Armenia and Iran in 2000 amounted to $92.5 million, or four times less than Iran’s trade with Azerbaijan.
Regarding the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline construction project, Begejanian said: “This project has been dragged on for about 12 years, which has political implications. Yerevan did not treat the construction of the pipeline seriously as first Washington was against, and, to put it mildly, the project was not encouraged by Moscow either. This position of Yerevan was also suitable to Tehran, which didn’t show particular interest in the project as it could become an occasion for speculations within the context of the Armenian-Azeri conflict.”
Experts say Armenia must continue its cooperation with Iran especially in the trade and economic sphere. However, they add, these relations must not obstruct the establishment and development of Armenia’s relations with Turkey and Israel, the Euro-Atlantic bloc.
As to Iran’s nuclear program, Ghevondian advises: “Armenia should assume a rather delicate and clear attitude in this issue, taking into consideration Iran’s strategic importance for Armenia. Armenia should abstain from sharp evaluations, trying to be as balanced in its position as possible.”
Yerevan State University Iranian Studies Chair lecturer Vartan Voskanian says U.S. threats against Iran are unlikely to be realized and the Iraqi and Afghan scenarios will not work there for several reasons.
“Iran’s territory is larger, people are more united, its statehood is older, and the only more or less likely scenario of democratization of this country is a revolution from inside,” the specialist said.
However, some participants in the roundtable disagreed with this opinion, saying that “the U.S. has cleared tougher hurdles on its way.”