With U.S. sanctions on Iran going into effect this month, Iranians in Armenia are beginning to feel the pinch. Iranian citizens discovered their bank accounts are being frozen, and banks across the country have implemented similar policies affecting all clients who list Iran as their place of birth regardless of ethnicity or current citizenship. As such, even ethnic Armenians living in Armenia with Armenian citizenship (i.e. repatriates), who happen to be born in Iran, are being affected. Other repatriates complained that banks forbade them from holding Dollar or Euro accounts, despite holding Armenian Citizenship.
Avnik Melikian, a repatriate from Iran living in Armenia since 2006, who holds Armenian citizenship told the Weekly: “Obviously, the Trump sanctions are ridiculous, they are not affecting the regime in anyway, it’s the regular people who are affected. And really, they’re discriminated against and being rejected worldwide.” She went on to say that though she’s proud of the country she was born, as an Armenian citizen, she feels her government should protect her rights.
Repat Armenia, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Diaspora Armenians relocate to Armenia, estimates that up to 10,000 Iranian-Armenians have chosen to make Armenia home since Independence. A more significant number still have business interests or maintain residences here. Several thousand Iranian expats also live in Armenia. Most are involved in business or study at the local universities. In short, the contributions of this demographic of Iranian-Armenian Diasporans are strategic. This makes banks’ blindness to them worrisome.
The Central Bank, for its part, announced it had not instructed Armenian banks to take such a measure, meaning that the policy has been implemented independently by the country’s private financial institutions.
Iranian nationals in other countries have reported similar asset freezes. Despite the European Union refusing to back Washington’s trade embargo, some European banks have already begun refusing to process payments made by Iranian-registered companies doing business in the EU.
The sanctions come after the Trump administration unilaterally pulled out of the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (known colloquially as the Iran Nuclear Deal) citing its perceived failure. The leaders of Great Britain, France and Germany, all of whom are signatories to the deal have expressed “regret and concern” at the decision to reimpose sanctions in a joint statement.
The new sanctions have placed Armenia, which maintains good relations with Iran and depends on it for trade, in an awkward position.
The new sanctions have placed Armenia, which maintains good relations with Iran and depends on it for trade, in an awkward position. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan made clear to U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, during a working visit to Yerevan, that his government respects the foreign policy priorities of other nations, “but the Republic of Armenia has its own national and state interests which do not always coincide with the interests and ideas of other countries.”
Eight countries, including Turkey, have secured temporary exemptions from sanctions due to their high dependence on Iranian oil. U.S. expectations of Armenia remain unclear with no information about any agreement being available to the public. Although a delegation from the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury met with the Armenian Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Economic Affairs and Energy last week for “outlining areas for cooperation,” no official statements have been released.
Previous administrations traditionally turned a blind eye to Armenia’s continued trade relationship with Iran. Armenian officials quietly complied American requests to closely monitor Iranian financial transactions going through Armenian banks to alleviate money laundering concerns. Bolton’s recent comments that the Trump administration would administer the Iran sanctions “very vigorously” has put this long-standing gentleman’s agreement into question.
Bolton’s short visit last month caused a stir in Armenia. His insistence that Armenia comply with US sanctions was criticized as imperialistic in tone. The National Security Advisor appeared satisfied with his trip though, tweeting “Yesterday I had a nice visit to Armenia, an important friend in the region. I enjoyed productive conversations with the Prime Minister and his national security team.” He also acknowledged Armenia’s particular need for trade with Iran, explaining to an RFE/RL reporter “Obviously, we don’t want to cause damage to our friends in the process.”
With the uncertainty over the sanctions continuing, Iranian-Armenians living in Yerevan brace for more difficulties.