Armenia will open a consulate in Iraqi Kurdistan and launch direct flights to its capital Erbil this year as part of efforts to forge closer ties with the semi-autonomous region, official Yerevan confirmed over the weekend.
Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian underlined those efforts on Saturday when he met with the region’s President Massoud Barzani on the sidelines of an international security conference in Munich.
In a statement on the meeting, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Barzani welcomed Yerevan’s decision to open a consulate general in Erbil and expressed confidence that the move “will help to expand cooperation” between Armenia and Iraqi Kurdistan.
“The interlocutors discussed joint steps to be taken with the aim of deepening bilateral trade,” said the statement. “President Barzani and Minister Nalbandian agreed that the imminent launch of flights between Yerevan and Erbil will give new impetus to commercial ties.”
Armenia’s trade with the Kurdish region and other parts of Iraq has already grown considerably in recent years. According to Armenian government data, it was up by almost 39 percent at $106 million last year. Significantly, Armenian exports to Iraq jumped by 66.5 percent to around $81 million.
The official figures do not specify the volume of export and import operations with Iraqi Kurdistan. The region is likely to account for a large part of Armenian-Iraqi commerce, having been the most stable and peaceful part of Iraq ever since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
The Armenian ambassador in Baghdad, Karen Grigorian, reportedly announced the upcoming Yerevan-Erbil flights when he visited the Iraqi Kurdish city on February 3. Local media also quoted him as saying that the Armenian consulate in Erbil will likely start functioning in June.
According to the Foreign Ministry statement, Barzani briefed Nalbandian on ongoing military operations conducted by his Kurdish Peshmerga forces against Islamic State (ISIS) militants that control much of central and western Iraq. Nalbandian “reaffirmed Armenia’s solidarity” with the Western-backed campaign, it said.
The Kurdish autonomy is thought to be home to several thousand Iraqi Armenians. Some of them are former residents of Mosul who were forced to flee their homes when the city was captured by the ISIS in June 2014.
In December, Barzani’s administration reportedly enacted a law giving an official status to the Armenian and several other minority languages.