By Ruzanna Stepanian
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami ended on Thursday a two-day official visit to Armenia, lavishing more praise on Armenians and their long-standing contribution to the development of his country.
Khatami said the Iranian and Armenian peoples remain part of the same ancient “civilization” despite their cultural and religious differences developed over the centuries.
“Every Iranian seems to again find his identity by coming to Armenia,” he declared in a speech at Yerevan State University (YSU). “The poetry, the art works and the sparkles of kindness of this land are all testimony to the existence of bonds between Iran and Armenia.”
“Since the dawn of history Armenia has had deep and strong links with Iranian culture and civilization,” he went on. “Even religious and ideological differences, which usually create serious divisions in geopolitical regions, have been unable to destroy the civilizational unity of the Iranian world and the Armenian people.”
Khatami also paid tribute to Iran’s ethnic Armenian citizens that currently number more than 100,000. “The role and participation of the Armenians and Armenia in the opening of new horizons and paths of Iran’s development has been significant,” he said in a speech tinged with philosophical passages about the worldwide “dialogue of civilizations” promoted by Tehran.
The Iranian leader began the second day of the trip with a visit to the genocide memorial in Yerevan where he laid a wreath in memory of some 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered in Ottoman Turkey.
He further underscored the Islamic Republic’s strong interest in its sole Christian neighbor by receiving leaders of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential nationalist party which favors close ties with Russia and Iran and a hard line on Turkey and Azerbaijan. It is represented in Armenia’s government and has branches in all major Diaspora communities, including Iran.
A statement by Dashnaktsutyun’s office in Yerevan cited Khatami as praising the party’s “pan-Armenian essence and Armenia’s “important role” in the region. The Dashnaktsutyun leaders, for their part, welcomed his visit as “a new stage” in the Iranian-Armenian relationship.
Khatami and his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian signed on Wednesday a framework treaty on the “principles and bases” of bilateral relations. They also formalized the release of a $30 million Iran loan to Yerevan to be used for the construction of a gas pipeline that will link the two neighboring countries.
Answering questions from YSU students, Khatami was asked to comment on his recent remark that Iran recognizes Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He said Tehran respects the “sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries,” but stopped short of describing Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan.
Khatami’s Thursday schedule also included a visit to an 18th century Persian mosque in Yerevan renovated by the Iranian government and a meeting with the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholicos Garegin II.
(Photolur photo: Khatami praying in the Yerevan mosque.)