Trouble in the Neighborhood: Armenia’s neighbor, the “key” to the Middle East

In the late 1940s when the Soviet Union was in the zenith of its might, a prominent figure of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Ruben, who had emigrated abroad after the sovetization of Armenia, began his research of a seemingly absurd statement: “When the USSR collapses and old national states revive and new national states appear on its ruins, independent Armenia will face difficult problems connected with its vulnerable transport and communication situation; it will be necessary to develop the Russia-Armenia-Iran axis, however for this axis to work really, it will be necessary to return western lands to Armenia.”

Ruben stated the fact of the long-term significance of the Middle East; after the end of World War II he tried to draw the attention of the Soviet leadership to the necessity of alienating the territories of Western Armenia from Turkey, as it is a key region by force of its geographic location. “The Armenian plateau overlooking the Middle East is a natural crown of the region – the concentration of water, communication and strategic resources. Wars of the past and conflicts of the future will be prompted by the need to control, first of all Erzerum – a major regional key linking the parts of the world.”

The joining of these lands to the Soviet Union – a real opportunity emerged after the war –would allow Moscow to establish control over heights dominating the region thereby strengthening its own positions in world politics. “After the breakup of the USSR, Russia can strengthen its positions in the Caucasus and the Middle East only if the Armenian state exists in its historical borders. It is through this territory that major railroad communications run and apart from other things, it is in the territory of the Armenian plateau that pipeline transports join together and the rivers Tiger and Euphrates feeding the Middle East take their sources in. A prospective strategic axis objectively has a direction along the Russia-Armenia-Iran vector.”

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Iran has always been a key Middle East state. Renowned Armenian spy Ivan Aghayants was sent as a resident to Iran in August 1941 to secure strategic supplies – arms, ammunition, food, medicines, raw materials, fuel to the Soviet Union; railroad communications and unfreezing ports of Iran objectively promoted the development of this plan. It is here that Aghayants confronted a wide network of agents created by Germany that controlled German intelligence in the USSR carrying out spying and sabotaging activities to disorganize the southern borders of the country and even periodically dispatched “visitors” to the Caucasus. It was his reports to the Headquarters of the Supreme Command that conditioned the entrance of a Soviet group of two armies into the northern provinces of Iran in September 1941; a little later British and American troops would cross the Iranian border from the south.

What is Iran today? Iran is the heard of Eurasia, an immediate gateway to China and India, offering a possibility of establishing full control over the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus. It is the North-South transit corridor, it is a vector of Russian influence in the region alternatively perpendicular to the “New Great Silk Road” project. It is the eastern border of the Arab world, and after all, Iran is a fuel el Dorado and oil Klondike: today, Iran extracts 4 million barrels of crude oil a day.

The economic development of China which in the visible future is capable of shattering the political hegemony of the United States in the world is also conditioned by its partnership with Iran. The most considerable component of Iranian-Chinese ties is oil cooperation, whose share in the Iranian exports to China is 98 percent. Thereby official Beijing ensures 20 percent of its demand in crude oil. Tehran continues to remain the main supplier of fuel to China (followed by Saudi Arabia and Oman), and the rate of supplies grows. According to Iran’s Ministry of Oil, only in the first six months of 2002, 5.5 million tons of crude oil were exported to China, which was 3.27 percent more than during the same period of 2001. Chinese oil companies show interest in the development of hydrocarbon deposits in the Iranian sector of the Persian Gulf. In early 2001, a large oil and gas corporation of China, SINOPEC Engineering Inc., signed a contract with the Iranian national oil company INOK on the joint development of the oil deposit of Zavarekh-Kanshane 205 kilometers from Tehran.

It gives grounds to many political analysts to believe that one of the major strategic tasks of the United States in Iran is control over the oil and gas deposits that ensure 20 percent of China’s fuel infrastructure and territories where Russian influence is growing increasingly. This circumstance is also realized by Russia and China – two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council having the right of veto.