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Is Armenia a Weak Link in Iran Sanctions?

Yesterday, I testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Europe and Eurasian Subcommittee, which was investigating Iranian strategy, influence, and interests in the Caucasus. As always, there’s good news and bad news from the region. Azerbaijan remains a stalwart U.S. ally intolerant of Iranian approaches. Georgia is as well, but after its October election remains very much in play. Turkey’s efforts to subvert sanctions are well known. The greater problem today is Armenia:

  • According to a State Department cable released by Wikileaks, in 2008, U.S. diplomats concluded that Armenia shipped Iran weaponry, which Iran then used to kill Americans.
  • Bank Mellat, a sanctioned Iranian bank, operates in Yerevan, and Iranian businesses dot the city.
  • In October 2011, a member of Armenia’s Nuclear Energy Organization told the Iranian press that Tehran had enticed several Armenian nuclear scientists to work in Iran’s nuclear program.

The Armenian community in the United States is fortunate to be both vibrant and organized. It is unfortunate that organizations representing the Armenian Diaspora in the United States and the congressmen who partner with them do not do more to encourage change in the Armenian government’s geopolitical behavior. Certainly, Armenia is between a rock and a hard place. Russia looms large, both culturally and politically, and Armenians are loathe to unravel that relationship in an age when no one believes U.S. guarantees of continued commitment.

Cultural links are also strong to Iran; when I first studied in the Islamic Republic in the mid-1990s, my apartment was in Julfa, Isfahan’s chief Armenian neighborhood. The Armenian community need not drop its advocacy for recognition of the Armenian genocide, but by ignoring Armenia’s pro-Iranian orientation, the Armenian-American community squanders an opportunity to build a true strategic partnership between Washington and Yerevan, a partnership which would certainly be to both countries’ benefit.