Iranian Citizens in Armenia Feel Strain of US Sanctions

The new sanctions have placed Armenia, which maintains good relations with Iran and depends on it for trade, in an awkward position. This picture, from 2015 shows Iranian tourists in Armenia, who often venture there to celebrate Norwuz, Iranian New Year’s. (Photo: Aypoupen)

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.

Raffi Elliott

Raffi Elliott

Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-Armenian political risk analyst and journalist based in Yerevan, Armenia. A former correspondent and columnist for the Armenian Weekly, his focus is socioeconomic, political, business and diplomatic issues in Armenia.


  1. The reason why this problem exists is because the leadership in Armenia calling itself the “government” are a bunch of incompetent political weaklings. Armenia having a 100 percent exemption even permanently, would have a marginal effect on what the USA wants to achieve. Yet, Turkey has always had exemptions and perks, because unlike Armenia Turkish politicians are competent and know that they are doing, and if it had been Turkey not getting an exemption, Iran would have been hurt significantly, yet the USA bullied a little country into submission instead when that country was so small, it wouldn’t have mattered. Now could Armenia have resisted USA and shown them the light? Of course, the USA is no an unreasonable country, it just needs to be approached the right way. But Armenia’s pathetic leaders have no means of effective communication with the most powerful nation of earth, could be because Mother Russia has either “taught” them, or threatened them into keeping their distance, “or else”.

    • Zartir, you are pulling at strings and doing your best to blame everything on Russia even if it has nothing to do with it. Your Russian hatred is obvious to anyone that reads through your comments and its blinding your judgements. Armenia’s new government is indeed incompetent but the reason that the US feels empowered to dictate how Armenia should behave towards Iran is because the new government, and indeed the whole revolution has been funded by the US. They are merely collecting their dividends. But I guess that’s Russia’s fault isnt it.

    • your partially right … big countries always bully smaller countries, the biggest reason why Turkey has a more favorable position is because the U.S. has MANY military bases in Turkey and wants to keep it that way !!

    • @Zartir Lao, of course USA is an unreasonable country. Where were you the past 20 years?
      Which “reasonable country” pretending to be the first global economic power would require tiny Armenia to enforce those measures against Iran, while having 80% of boarders under blocus from the two major US allies in the region, Turkey and Azerbaijan.
      Meanwhile your reasonable country will continue to do business with Iran : US agro giants such as Cargill, ADM, Bunge etc… will continue to sell for hundreds of millions of cargoes each year to Iran since only US cies get exempted from the sanctions, and ordinary Armenians citizens unfortunate enough just to be born in Iran have their account blocked. Dont see what Russia has to do with it.

      Otherwise, I fully agree with you : Nikol and his team are clowns. A bunch of incompetents. But anyone who followed the opposition the past 10y hopping to see a real alternative to HHK knew it already.

    • So Gurgen, ask yourself this. If the USA had not existed, would Turkey exist? It is not likely, it wouldn’t have existed as the large country that it is. Most likely, it’s northern Syria region would be part of some kind of mix maybe Armenia or Russia, but for sure Russia would have its foot in the mediterranean regardless of Syria. So what does this mean? It means that the Turkey-Armenia border is where USA and Russia are faced off in that region. The USA “saved” Turkey, and Russia “saved” Armenia. Turkey and Armenia are also going to be the first to go in case Russia and NATO go to war. The USA has rewarded Turkey with many benefits. What Russia has done to Armenia in the face of that is the biggest joke of the century. By putting its base in Armenia, and for free, thus in the south Caucasus, Russia made Russia great again and made Armenia pay for it. Turkey never shamelessly kisses USA’s ass in public fort that, so I have no clue why some of you Russia-first Armenians out there are so eager to do it to Russia. Yeah Russia is currently keeping Turkey out of Armenia. But who’s fault is it that Turkey is a powerful nation in the first place? USA’s? That’s only half the story. Russia is every bit at fault. Here is my main point regarding Russia. The USA created the Turkish monster as the first line of defense against Russia, giving Turkey many benefits in return. Russia in turn has been using Armenia as its first line of defense against USA (Turksih NATO), yet, in the past century, Russia has stepped all over Armenia like a rag. And people like you make excuses like “the early Russians were Zionists not Russians”, or “Russia is trying to heal itself how can it help Armenia” etc. Excuse after excuse.

      Yeah I know how Russia-first works. When it comes to benefits for Armenia’s future, the excuses are at the ready. When it comes to benefits for Russia’s future, all those “excuses” are suddenly thrown out the window. Right? I have asked a million times already. Why didn’t the post-Stalin ethnic Russians do something to alleviate some of the damage caused to Armenia for the 50 years they were ruling the Soviet Union? And to make it even worse, all when Azerbaijan did nothing and Armenia did a lot? I mean not even a small corridor from Armenia to Karabakh?? Are you too scared to admit that Russians cherish their relations with Turks and Azeris as much as with Armenians? Maybe even more? If your thesis about that mythical Russia-Armenia friendship had any merit, today Armenia would have ALL its eastern territories liberated, and also shared a border with Russia. Not only is this not the case, Russia’s government has not uttered a single word, nor shown it where by way of its relations with Russia, Armenia is “headed in the right direction” by what the worldwide Armenian community wants, and what Armenia NEEDS. In fact April 2016 showed us the opposite. Sorry, my patience about the “Wonders of Mother Russia” ran out on that date when I heard the Russian government proclaim “both sides must stop”. For me, an “ally” could not make a more insulting remark. From now it is “show me” mode regarding Russia. You can continue your fantasy with your friendship theories if you like, but for me, I only go by tangible results now, not theoretical ones.

    • Gurgen
      The whole revolution was funded by diaspora Armenians. I personally donated a 100 bucks and I know that during only a few days they raised more than 700 thousand dollars. Donors name and their donations was on Pashinians FB page. But if you prefer to live with your conspiracy theories, it is your choice!

    • @Zartir
      By 1988 Armenia was responsible for both designing AND manufacturing one third of the entire soviet high tech military arsenal. We had a scientific technical potential that had no competition within a 2000km radius. Can you fathom what that means? Compare that to a small state in the US producing a third of the Pentagon’s high tech. This is what Armenia inherited from your so-called “Russian oppression”. It was us Armenians that destroyed this legacy by our own hands under the guidance of Levon Ter Petrosyan followed by the other 2 presidents. There was no Russian involvement in Armenia’s destruction. If want someone to blame look to where Levon gets his spiritual inspiration from.

      How wonderful that you think you can cause a revolution with your $100 while ignoring the 10’s millions that institutions like NED, USAID, and a whole slew of Soros affiliated funds have been pouring into Armenia over the last 15 years, funding NGOs and providing training on color revolutions to hundreds of Armenian youth. Many of those youths are now in Nikol’s cabinet. Having not held a real job in their lives, many are as incompetent as they are dangerous to the country’s future. The Armenian govt today is a real Soros freak show. This is not conspiracy its fact. Look up their biographies.

  2. Good we don’t need muslims in our beautiful country. Iranians Arabs all come here to do things they can’t their home countries, they come to Armenia and act like wild animals. Muslims are dangerous.

    • Hakop, apparently you didn’t fully read the article. Armenian citizens born in Iran will be the first impacted.
      Second, I have plenty of non-hay Iranian friends leaving in Yerevan, They are charming.
      Third, if you leave in Yerevan, it is easy to see that the majority of Iranian tourism in Armenia is a family tourism. They come with kids, sometimes even the whole family, dadik babik included.
      Fourth : they come in Yerevan to enjoy the calm, cafes and restaurants. Some women keep a light hijab but most dont. Teheran is crowded, polluted and gigantic. Yerevan is small, calm and cute. They feel safe. This is why most keep coming and lets hope it will continue that way.
      Last, but not least, if you refer to sexual tourism, well you will be surprised that Iranians prefer Azerbaijan for that. There is a brothel city on their boarder. You want to solve the issue of prostitution? Ask the gvt to help the girls, close the brothels and put the pimps in jail. Otherwise you ll just block 99% of normal tourists for 1% punter. Bad idea.

  3. is Armenia under Nikol a country, why Bolton should decide for Armenians of Iran. Nikol say come to Armenia then he steals their money. Armenians of Iran should file a complain with government of Iran.
    Armenia under hhk was 1 million times better

  4. There you have it. Nikol ‘ Armenia’s Ghandi’ Pashinyan, has announced a second , Tuxov yev Tetoum Keloukhov, velvet revolution Part Deux, this coming Nov the 24th, in Yerevan, and it’s paid by the Hungarian- American philanthropist, George Soros. During the first revolution, Soros pumped $ 175,000 into Pashinyan’s bank account, and this particular time it is estimated that over$ 450,000 will be funded to this event. Pashinyan and el al need to get the @#$k out of Armenia and let the Republican Party of Armenia handle politics. Enough of this fricking Tuxov BS.

    • Jay
      I have seen you writing all kind of garbage about Pashinian but this one is taking it too far! Looks to me your lies have no limits. There is zero evidence suggesting any connection between Pashinian and Soros yet you are presenting numbers! Not sure if you work for the Russian troll army or simply a delusional who believes in all sorts of conspiracy theories but the names and donations of diaspora Armenians are all on Pashinians fb page and I am so proud to see my name on the list. I only regret that I only gave 100 dollars. If he asks for donations this time I will donate more!

  5. So if privately owned banks which don’t want problems with US financial system freeze bank accounts of those who are born in Iran Nikol are to be blamed for this?!! It’s amazing to what extent some diaspora Armenians will go to justify their reluctance to invest in or move to Armenia! I had an Iranian Armenian friend in Germany who years ago had problems opening a bank account there. That was before the introduction of the first Obama nuclear sanctions on Iran. Was That also Nikols fault? Banks are independent privately owned inteties. If they have to choose between a few thousand iranian born customers and the massive US financial market, it is obvious who they are going to choose and the government can’t do anything to force them to do the opposite.

  6. Get real all of you. Why the hell America should tell Armenia how to treat it’s citizens regardless of where they are born. As for Iranians (non Armenians) Serj & Robert plus Baku Levon did not care who got a citizenship & entered Armenia as long as they enjoyed the profit. So the hell with Trump & rest of USA. They cannot deal with Iran so they push Armenia. Nicole is doing his best to put our country back on her feet & I suggest instead of rubbishing the new Government get behind our country & people & tell bloody America where to go.

  7. This “policy” was implemented only by the private Armenian financial institutions, because they’re obviously scared of that gigantic, vicious predator (USA). On the other hand, for those Armenians (who were born in Iran and regardless of whether they are citizens of Armenia or not) who happen to have accounts in the public Armenian banks, everything continues as usual.

  8. Ritooli,
    According to a member of Armenian Parliament,just last year alone, George Soros, had funded $1,750,000 to the velvet revolution. Google and do the search, it’s there. Also, go to YouTube and type in,—-> and look for Soros involvement in Pashinyan’s revolution. And for the rest of your comments you can haul it off to the dump.

  9. It’s a well established fact that Nikolik and his gaggle of liberal globalists were directly funded by the CIA run NED based in Washington DC and Goerge Soros’ Open Society Foundation. This is not speculation. This is fact. More worrying, Nikol’s Western funded incompetent government is saturated with Russophobes. The south Caucasus is facing a major calamity. We may most likely have a war in Iran and Artsakh. Despite it all, the hopelessly ignorant, restless, tribal and arrogant “Armenian Street” put into power Western-leaning, Globalist, Liberal and Pacifistic ideologues with absolutely no experience in international relations, geopolitics and warfare. Worst, Armenia, a country that lives because of its ties with Russia, now has Russophobes in government. It’s all a very dangerous combination. If this very toxic political climate in the country does not change soon, we will at the very least lose Artsakh and set Armenia back another 10 or 20 years. All in all, the “Armenian Street” (including the worthless Diaspora) is oblivious to all this because of its Western fetish, political illiteracy, shortsightedness, jealousy and hate. Armenians therefore deserve all that’s waiting them.

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