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May 21, 2009

ACNIS Holds Seminar on “The Outlook for Armenian-Iranian Relations”

Yerevan—The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) and Yerevan State University’s Center for Civilization and Cultural Studies convened a roundtable discussion today, entitled “The Outlook for Armenian-Iranian Relations,” assessing the current state of relations between the two countries in light of recent agreements on energy and transport and in the wake of the official state visit to Iran last month by an Armenian governmental delegation led by President Serzh Sarkisian.

After welcoming the participants and attendees to the joint event, ACNIS Director of Administration Dr. Karapet Kalenchian presented an overview of Armenian relations with Iran, explaining that “the recently signed bilateral agreements on energy and transportation provided a new momentum for the deepening of the strategic relationship between Yerevan and Tehran.”  He further added that Armenian-Iranian relations were stable and noted that Iran was “Armenia’s only neighbor that had no history of conflict” with Armenia.  Dr. Kalenchian then noted that although Armenia was “not fully utilizing its energy links (with Iran), Iran held an important place within Armenian national security.”

ACNIS Director Richard Giragosian then presented a four-part evaluation of Armenia’s strategic engagement of Iran.  First, Giragosian noted that “Armenia and Iran shared a set of common challenges, including a degree of isolation, stemming from the blockade of Armenia and due to the economic and trade sanctions imposed on Iran.”  He also pointed to “the common challenge of   regional insecurity, defined by the post-war shift in security in the Caucasus and for Iran, the pressure from instability in Iran’s neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan.”  Giragosian also noted the “shared geopolitical threats, for Armenia, from the unresolved Nagorno-Karabagh conflict and for both Armenia and Iran, the impact of Turkey’s new engagement and activism in the region, especially as Iran remains excluded from the Turkish Stability Platform for the region.”

Second, Giragosian highlighted “the common interests of each country, such as the pursuit of a greater role in regional development, based on inclusion over exclusion, especially in the energy and transport sectors.”  He then spoke of the strategic engagement between Armenia and Iran, stressing four factors: transportation and the $1.2 billion railway project, the natural gas pipeline, bilateral trade and investment, which he said was “marginal at best, reaching only $227 million last year,” and political engagement, citing the Armenian president’s visit to Iran in April 2009.

In closing, Giragosian stated that “in terms of the outlook for Armenian-Iranian relations, there are both inherent limits, such as the Russian pressure on Armenia over the size of the gas pipeline to prevent the re-export of gas beyond Armenia, and inherent opportunities,” arguing that “Armenia can play a role as a strategic bridge to Iran, and as a platform for Russia, the EU and the US to engage Iran.”

As a co-sponsor of the roundtable, Professor David Hovhannisyan, the Director of the Center for Civilization and Cultural Studies at Yerevan State University, also welcomed the participants before presenting his analysis of Armenian-Iranian relations.  Addressing the regional context of bilateral relations, he pointed to two specific trends: “what Armenia was expecting and seeking from Iran and what was driving Iran’s engagement of Armenia.”  He then stressed that “the wars in Karabagh, and again in Georgia last year, each demonstrated that Iran is an important alternative resource for Armenia.”

Professor Hovannisyan, who is also a retired senior Armenian diplomat and former Armenian Ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic, noted that “Iran is crucial for Armenia’s national security,” listing four key elements: “military security, energy, as well as social and economic consideration.”  He closed by stating that “Iran was using the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and over Nagorno-Karabagh, as a way to enhance its role in the region and to compete with Turkey.”

Finally, ACNIS Senior Analyst Manvel Sargsian provided concluding comments regarding the stability of Armenian-Iranian ties, but noting that “Iran’s problems with the international community also impacted Armenia.”  His comments were then followed by a series of questions and answers, as well as a lively exchange among many leading Armenian analysts, experts and journalists.

The Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) is a leading independent strategic research center located in Yerevan, Armenia.  As an independent, objective institution committed to conducting professional policy research and analysis, ACNIS strives to raise the level of public debate and seeks to broaden public engagement in the public policy process, as well as fostering greater and more inclusive public knowledge. Founded in 1994, ACNIS is the institutional initiative of Raffi K. Hovannisian, Armenia’s first Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Over the past fifteen years, ACNIS has acquired a prominent reputation as a primary source of professional independent research and analysis covering a wide range of national and international policy issues.

For further information on the Center call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; email root@acnis.am or info@acnis.am; or visit www.acnis.am.

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