Armenia-Iran relations are exemplary and unique – President Sargsyan’s interview to Iranian Shargh daily
YEREVAN, AUGUST 1, ARMENPRESS. Armenia and Iran best demonstrate the undeniable truth that peoples of different religions can live peacefully by developing the friendly relations and productive cooperation in all spheres that are beneficial for our countries and peoples, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan said in an interview to Iranian Shargh daily.
Armenpress presents the interview.
-Your Excellency, what is your assessment on the Iran-Armenia relations?
-First of all I want to thank you and the Shargh daily for the opportunity to communicate with the friendly and brotherly people of Iran.
Coming to your question, I want to state that there are numerous prerequisites for further developing special relations between our two countries and peoples the origins of which go back to millenniums. The friendship between the two neighbor peoples is so firm that it is just necessary to further develop and deepen them by maintaining the commonalities uniting us for centuries. This is the reliable base and stronghold of our relations. Our countries are descendents of the region’s ancient and rich civilizations.
In 2017 we mark the 25th anniversary of our day-to-day relations. Over the past century, since the independence of Armenia, the Armenian-Iranian relations have constantly developed including a wide range of different spheres, starting from high level political dialogue up to trade-economic close partnership, from human communications up to scientific-educational and cultural mutual cooperation.
-What impact do the Iran-Armenia deep relations have on establishing and expanding regional and world peace?
-Armenia and Iran are in the vicinity of the world’s most unstable and troubled regions: in some countries terrorism atrocities are increasing, large parts of these countries are under control of extremist structures, such as infamous Islamic State. From these countries terrorist tricks spread to other countries of the region, a painful example of which we have witnessed recently when our friendly Islamic Republic of Iran became a target of the actions of the abovementioned terrorist structure. In these circumstances it is important to unite the international community’s efforts to strengthen regional security and peace assuming an important role on fight against extremism. In fact, our two countries are not consumers of international security, but they are security creators whose partnership aims at ensuring a stable and peaceful regional coexistence. In my opinion, Armenia and Iran have an important commonality: our policy at international arena is based on the vision of reaching justice which is very important in terms of peaceful and thorough solution of many existing issues.
-During your meeting with Pope Francis last year, highly appreciating the Iran-Armenia brotherly ties, you mentioned that these relations between the Muslim and Christian countries are exemplary. In your opinion, in which spheres these relations are possible to expand?
-We can confidently state that Armenia and Iran best demonstrate the undeniable truth that peoples of different religions can live peacefully by developing the friendly ties and productive cooperation in all spheres without exception that are beneficial for our countries and peoples. I am convinced that the close ties, cultural commonalities and centuries-old friendship between the two peoples that are based on the dialogue of Christianity and Islam contribute to constantly increasing the relations between the two states to a new qualitative level. From this perspective, Armenia-Iran relations, without exaggeration, are exemplary and unique since on the way to strengthen them we manage to make the centuries-old traditional values in accordance with contemporary realities.
-What is Armenia’s stance on the spread of terrorism and extremism? What joint steps can Armenia and Iran take on this path?
-As I said, the terror threat is the most serious challenge in the whole world ever than before. In these circumstances the international community must make decisive efforts to strengthen internal security and stability by preventing the terrorist organizations to be settled in their territories. In line with this it is necessary to develop the inter-state cooperation on exchange of information, prevention of threats and demonstrate common will and commitment to fight against the evil of terrorism. The adoption of a truly intolerant stance against terrorism is a strict necessity for fight against that phenomenon. The international community should eradicate this phenomenon that threatens the civilized community, as well as the sources assisting and financing it. Unfortunately, some countries of our region, considering some dubious interests, cooperate with terrorists, provide them shelters and assistance. There must be a common intolerance against such behavior.
-We have witnessed elimination of visa requirements between the two countries aimed at developing the relations in tourism field: What achievements can the visa elimination bring between Iran and Armenia in the future? Is there any necessary infrastructure, including railway, land, air routes, hotels and other services for tourism development between Armenia and Iran?
-We attach importance to visa elimination between our two countries which has its positive effect on expanding the business ties, boosting economic and investment field, as well as tourism. As my dear colleague Mr. Hassan Rouhani said at one occasion, today it is necessary to build bridges instead of dams. I think the decision to eliminate visa requirements is a new friendship bridge between our peoples. According to our observations, a sharp increase in number of Iranian tourists has been recorded after the elimination of visa regime. Today tourism services are being formed in the market in accordance with the cultural preferences of Iranian visitors. We take huge steps to make our country attractive for tourists. In particular, steps are being taken aimed at creating additional and more comfortable infrastructures, increasing service quality, presenting our rich historical-cultural heritage, as well as increasing the number of flights to Armenia. Armenia has a remarkable culture, high level of security and hospitable and hard-working people which are among our country’s competitive advantages in tourism field.
-Your Excellency, what is your assessment on the Iran-Armenia energy cooperation, including electricity and gas exchanges? Why didn’t the Iranian gas transit program to Europe via Armenia and Georgia succeed? Is it possible to hope that new steps will be taken on this path?
-The energy cooperation is one of the key components of the Armenian-Iranian ties. It is already 10 years we carry out ‘gas for electricity’ mutually beneficial program with Iran. In this context, the construction of the Armenia-Iran 3rd transmission line is very important which will enable to significantly increase the exchange volumes.
As for the transit of gas from Iran to Europe, a large-scale project, it must be thoroughly observed, calculated, and if it is economically beneficial for all sides, why not? The question you asked is now at the discussion stage at the expert level. We in our turn have repeatedly stated that we are interested in taking part in major economic regional projects and are ready for cooperation.
-It is already half a year Armenia is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). What circumstances of this membership opportunities and challenges do you see for Iran-Armenia ties taking into account the experience acquired during that period?
-We have repeatedly stated that we are ready to contribute to the development of Iran-EAEU cooperation in all possible way. The Republic of Armenia has launched discussions on privileged trade regime with Iran within the EAEU, as a result of which, as you know, already talks are underway. I am confident that this cooperation can be beneficial for all sides by opening a market of 180 million population to the Iranian goods. In their turn the EAEU member states will have a chance to present their products at the Iranian market with privileged terms.
As for the Armenia-EU relations, it is important to state we do not consider them as contradictory to the relations with the EAEU. Armenia is the shortest and safest route for connecting Europe with Iran. Today Armenia has close partnering relations with the EU, we are ready to provide platform to the Iranian and European businessmen to carry out mutually beneficial activity. We have GSP+ privileged trade regime with the EU within the frames of which several thousand Armenian products can be exported to the EU by zero customs. This factor can also be an additional signal for Iranian investors to launch activity in Armenia.
-In line with deep and enlarged political, historical, civilized, cultural and linguistic ties between Armenia and Iran, unfortunately, the economic relations of the two countries have not recorded necessary and sufficient growth. Is there any specific program in the agenda for boosting Armenia-Iran economic ties and increasing the trade turnover volume?
-The development of economic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran is among our priorities. The regular activity of the Armenian-Iranian inter-governmental commission is aimed at increasing the bilateral economic cooperation and trade turnover volumes. The activity of Syunik free economic zone can contribute to this which will serve at best the Armenian and Iranian businessmen and will become an important component for strengthening the inter-state partnership. Armenia is ready with its opportunities to comprehensively assist the Iranian businessmen for carrying out activity in our country, and as I said, providing platform to enter other economic markets via Armenia. It is undeniable truth that in many cases the Armenian-Iranian joint economic initiatives can be much more competitive than each one separately.
-The joint capital investments between business, trade and industrial circles of Iran and Armenia as well do not reflect a favorable situation. Whether any specific program has been carried out for this purpose? Is there a special program on the Armenian Government’s agenda to jointly produce industrial and economic products between the Iranian and Armenian sides? Under what conditions are Iran-Armenia banking relations?
-We carry out an open door policy for foreign investments. Armenia is a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) which supposes that we do not put a difference between foreign and local companies in terms of doing business. Armenia carries out an industrial development policy on the sidelines of which we plan to intensify the cooperation with our neighbor states, especially with the businessmen of Iran.
As I said, we have great hopes over the development of Armenian-Iranian economic mutual partnership within the frames of the free economic zone to be created on Armenia-Iran border.
As a result of elimination of sanctions on Iran, there is also a positive progress in banking cooperation which will positively affect our mutual partnership in banking sphere. I believe in near future we will witness increase of cooperation on this direction.
-In the field of culture the relations of Iran and Armenia also have much more opportunities compared to present ties. Are there new programs for this purpose?
-Armenia’s cultural cooperation with Iran almost covers all spheres, such as cinematography, theatrical art, music, book publishing and etc. where numerous ambitious programs are being implemented.
For instance, in the film industry, an Armenian film week was held in Iran. Recently the 14th Golden Apricot international film festival ended in Yerevan.
In the music field, the sides are cooperating on exchanging musical and folk groups. There is also cooperation in the field of theatrical art, as well as between the museums.
The linguistic commonalities of our peoples are unique. Both Armenian and Persian are among those ancient languages through which it is possible to read 900-year-old literature with little difficulty. For centuries our peoples have maintained their mother tongue as a precious jewel, at the same time they have enriched the treasury of world literature by communication. Today many works of Ferdowsi, Saadi and other Iranian writers are translated into Armenian.
The list of our joint programs in the culture field can continue, however, I would like to sum up this in one assessment: we are actively cooperating on cultural exchanges and have repeatedly affirmed our mutual commitment to further intensify our partnership in this field by work.
-Another opportunity for the sides is the development of scientific and academic ties which as for now have not recorded significant progress. Is there any specific program implemented for this purpose?
-The scientific-cultural field in the Armenia-Iran relations is also noticeably developing, however, here as well there is huge potential which is still not utilized. I think our countries have all opportunities to closely cooperate especially in the field of higher education. Armenia’s universities are able to provide high quality education to Iranian students especially on such scientific branches that have strong positions in Armenia and established traditions. The implementation of joint research projects and exchange of experience can significantly contribute to establishing firm ties not only between the Armenian and Iranian scientists, but also in terms of transferring the results of this cooperation to practical field.
-Finally, I will be happy to convey the message of Your Excellency addressed to the people of Iran.
-I want to address both the people of Iran and Armenia: the Armenian-Iranian friendship has not been given from above, it has been formed, strengthened and received its today’s form and content over years, centuries and millennia. I am confident that we, as two native peoples of the region, will continue the peaceful and stable course of our history towards new millennia by boosting and constantly developing our relations.