YEREVAN (RFE/RL) —The Armenian government moved on Thursday to lift visa requirements for Iranian nationals, saying that the measure will strengthen Armenia’s relations with Iran and attract more Iranian tourists to the country.
The government formally approved a draft on visa-free travel between the two neighboring states. It did not specify when the deal will be signed.
A government statement said that visa liberalization “stems from the need to boost mutually beneficial commercial and other links between Armenia and Iran.” In particular, it will create “more favorable conditions” for tourism, added the statement.
The number of Iranians visiting Armenia has increased sharply over the past decade. According to data from the Armenian government, it reached to 144,000 visitors in 2015, up by 24 percent from 2014.
Many Iranians travel to Armenia during annual celebrations in March of Nowruz, the ancient Persian New Year that has long been their country’s most popular and longest holiday. The number of visitors more than doubled this year.
Iranian citizens are currently able to receive Armenian visas at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport and the sole Armenian-Iranian overland border crossing. They are charged 3,000 drams ($6.30) for a single-entry short-term visa.
The planned Armenian-Iranian deal would allow Iranians to stay in Armenia visa-free for up to 90 days. The same arrangement will also apply to Armenians visiting the Islamic Republic.
Mekhak Apresian, the head of a tourism department at the Armenian Ministry of Economy, insisted that the scrapping of visa requirements will give a further significant boost to the influx of Iranian tourists. “It’s not just about money; it’s also a matter of treatment. It takes time to get a visa at the border,” he said.
Some Iranian tourists visiting Armenia agreed. “The visa price doesn’t really matter, but if the visas are abolished Iranians will feel at home in Armenia,” an Iranian tourist named Hossein said.
“We won’t waste time at the border,” said one of Hossein’s friends, Amir. “Besides, I view visa liberalization as a sign of closeness between the two countries.”
But another Iranian tourist disagreed, saying that he needed only 5 minutes to get his Armenian visa.
Armenia has maintained close political and economic relations with Iran ever since it gained independence. The two states agreed to expand bilateral commercial ties following last year’s lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.