Iran and Armenia open borders

Javad Zarif and Edward Nalbandian
Javad Zarif and Edward Nalbandian

After the partial lifting of the international sanctions against Iran, Tehran has figured out the need to develop the tourism industry. Within the framework of the state program of tourism development, the Iranian authorities are studying the possibility of introducing a visa-free regime for citizens of 60 more countries. Iran has already lifted visa requirements for travelers from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Lebanon, Georgia, Bolivia, Egypt and Syria to stimulate the tourism industry in the country. Citizens of these countries can stay in Iran without visas from between 15 to 90 days.

Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif recently signed a memorandum on liberalization of the visa regime between the two countries in Tehran. The director of the Caucasus Institute, Alexander Iskandaryan, explained to Vestnik Kavkaza that the decision of Tehran and Yerevan came from a longstanding background: "Iran and Armenia have good-neighborly relations, which are developing in the economic and communication spheres. Iran is one of the two countries with which Armenia has open borders. Political relations between them are also quite favorable – there are many Iranian tourists and businessmen in Armenia."

Iranian citizens have prevailed among people receiving visas to Armenia for years, they are ahead of citizens of the US, Turkey, Israel, Syria, Canada, Japan, Lebanon, India and Iraq. In 2013 Armenia unilaterally ratified the visa regime for citizens of 27 EU Member States, as well as 4 non-EU members, but to which regulations of the Schengen-area apply – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland: they can visit Armenia without visas and stay in the country for 90 days.

According to Iskandaryan, the abolition of visas is advantageous for Iran in economic terms: "Relations will develop, because the process of lifting the sanctions against Iran has started, while there were economic problems between Armenia and Iran in the absence of political problems – that is, some decisions were taken, but there was a problem with money. The fact is that Iran's hands were financially tied. Now, due to the gradual removal of sanctions, Iran will feel freer in a financial sense and can continue developing its partnership."

A senior research fellow of the Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Sazhin, also praised the abolition of visas.

"When they lift the visa regime, they remove barriers to human communication. Given the fact that Armenia and Iran have thousands of years of common history [there are more than 150 thousand ethnic Armenians in Iran now], the abolition of visas is a positive thing. Recently, Armenians have visited Iran, and Iranians have visited Armenia, including on vacation. All this, of course, is also a positive thing," Sazhin told Vestnik Kavkaza.

However, according to him, there is the political aspect in this process: "Relations between Tehran and Yerevan are good both economically and politically. Despite the fact that Iran is a Muslim country, while Armenia is a Christian country, there are almost no fundamental contradictions between them. Nevertheless, the Karabakh problem exists. Iran seeks and offers itself as a mediator in resolving the very difficult relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia".

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