Armenian-Iranian relations originated in the first millennium BC and included military, political, economic, and cultural spheres. New Armenian settlements began to emerge in Iran since the 11th century. As a result of the mass deportations, organized by Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), 150-200 thousand people settled in the capital Isfahan and the surrounding provinces.
Nowadays, there are around 60-80,000 Armenians living in Iran. The Iranian-Armenian community is the largest of Iran’s national minorities. In Iran, Armenians are mainly urban dwellers, living in Tehran, Isfahan, and its surrounding areas, such as Shahin Shahr and Peria (Fereydan), as well as in Tabriz, Urmia, Arak, Bandar-e Anzali (Enzeli), Rasht, Qazvin, Ahvaz, Abadan, and Shiraz. Most Iranian-Armenians are craftsmen, businessmen, and traders. There are also a great number of intellectuals among them: doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, teachers, lecturers, civil servants, etc.
The Armenian Apostolic Church has three dioceses in Iran: The Atrpatakan diocese, the Tehran diocese, and the Isfahan diocese. Each of the three dioceses is an independent unit under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia (Holy See of Cilicia). All three dioceses are recognized by the state as the spiritual and secular authorities of the community.
The dioceses of the community carry out their activities in accordance with the regulations and traditions of the Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as the decisions of the administrative bodies acting on the basis of their charters. Although, according to the Constitution, the legal status of the Armenian community in Iran is defined not by the “citizen of Iran”, but by the formulation of “religious minority”, Armenians in Iran have the right to citizenship and to own property.
The Northern or Atrpatakan diocese is the oldest Iranian-Armenian diocese. It was founded in 1247 upon a kontakion issued by the Catholicos Constantine I of Cilicia (Bardzraberd). The Atrpatakan diocese has a direct border with the Republic of Armenia. The former name of this diocese was the Atrpatakan diocese until 1833, after which it was renamed the Tabriz diocese.
The seat of the Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Atrpatakan is the Holy Mother of God Church (Surp Mariam Asdvadzadzin Church) in Tabriz. Administratively, the diocese is divided into three provinces: Eastern Atrpatakan (with the center of Tabriz), Western Atrpatakan (with the center of Urmia), and Ardebil (with the center of Ardebil). Valuable Armenian architectural monuments, such as the remarkable Monastery of Saint Thaddeus (Tadei Vank) which, along with its surroundings, is protected by the UNESCO Institute of Conservation of Monuments in Tehran, the Monastery of Saint Stepanos (St. Stepanos Nakhavka Vank) and others, are located within the territory of the Northern or Tabriz diocese.
The Tehran or Central diocese is the youngest and the largest diocese in Iran. It was founded in 1944. Since 1973, the seat of the Primate of the Armenian Diocese of Tehran has been the Saint Sarkis Cathedral in Tehran. The Armenian Diocese of Tehran includes the capital of Iran, Tehran, with its surroundings, Arak, Hamadan, Mashhad, Gorgan, Rasht, Sari, Enzeli, Qazvin, Bakhtaran (formerly Kermanshah).
The oldest churches of the diocese are the St. Gevork Church and the St. Thaddeus and Bartholomeus Church. Over the last 35 years, St. Tarkmantchats, St. Sarkis, St. Vartanants, St. Grigor Lusavoritch (Saint Gregory the Illuminator), St. Minas, St. Mariam Asdvadzadzin Churches have been built.
Until 1960, the Armenian Diocese of Isfahan or Southern Iran was called the Irano-Indian diocese, then – the diocese of Isfahan and Southern Iran, and from 1995 – the diocese of Isfahan. The Armenian Diocese of Isfahan was formed in 1606 when Shah Abbas I settled the deported Armenians in Isfahan, where they established the Armenian quarter of New Julfa (Nor Jugha).
The seat of the primate of the diocese is the Holy Savior Cathedral in New Julfa. The current administrative boundaries of the diocese include Isfahan (one district of which is New Julfa), the newly built city of Shahin Shahr, the province of Peria, Shiraz, and Khuzestan.
There are two monasteries built in the 17th century in New Julfa: the Holy Savior Cathedral and St. Catherine’s Nunnery, and 9 churches: St. Asdvadzadzin, St. Hakop, St. Gevork (Georg), St. Grigor Lusavoritch, St. Hovhannes Mgrditch, St. Minas and St. Nikolayos. Not all of the mentioned churches function today. The printing house, established in 1636, and the “Nerses IV the Gracious” library are operating next to the Holy Savior Cathedral.
The supreme national legislative body of the Iranian-Armenian dioceses is the Parliamentary Assembly, the members of which are elected every 4 years and form the highest executive body, i.e. the Diocesan Council (elected for 2 years). The community is led by the Diocesan Council, which is authorized to manage community life. The Diocesan Council, in turn, forms various auxiliary bodies and commissions.
There are also a small number of Armenian Catholic and Evangelical communities in Iran.
The first Armenian social-political organizations and unions in Iran were formed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The current national political organizations are the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and the Armenian People’s Movement (the Armenian People’s Union (APU)).
The Iranian-Armenian community is represented in the IRI Majlis by two deputies. One of them represents Tehran and the northern Iranian-Armenians, the other – Isfahan and the southern Iranian-Armenians. The activity of the Armenian deputies of the Majlis is focused on the rights of the Armenian community as a religious minority.
The branches of the Hamazkayin Cultural Union (Hamazkayin), ARS, AGBU, Homenetmen, the “Ararat” Armenian Cultural Organization, the Armenian Women’s Benevolent Association of Tehran, the “Sipan” Armenian Cultural Association, the “Armenian Woman” Union, the Iranian-Armenian National Union, the Iranian-Armenian National and Cultural Union, the Armenian Women’s Charitable Union, the "Chharmahal" Union of Armenian Scholars, the Iranian-Armenian University Association, etc. carry out educational, cultural and charitable activities throughout the country.
The applicable language in the Armenian communities of the region is Western Armenian, with the exception of the Armenian community in Iran, where Eastern Armenian is used in the classical orthography. Currently, there are around 30 Armenian schools (male, female, mixed, elementary, and secondary) and preschools in Iran. Since 1995, Armenian Studies Chairs were established in faculties of literature at the Islamic Azad University in Tehran, and the University of Isfahan.
The first Armenian periodical in Iran “Shavigh” was published in 1894, in Tehran. At present, the ARF daily “Alik” (1931), the bi-weekly “Hooys” (2007), the literary, cultural and social weekly “Arax” (1987), the social and cultural magazine “Louys”, the Armenian-Iranian cultural and social quarterly journal “Apaga”, the Persian language periodical “Payman”, the official newspaper of the Armenian Diocese of Atrpatakan "Artaz", the community social-cultural periodical of the Prelacy of Isfahan “Nor Jugha Teghekatu” are published. The “Armenian Radio Hour” of the IRI Radio and Television is also on the air.
There are also printing houses, libraries, and publishing houses in Iran. The Armenian Writers Society of Iran has been operating since 1962. There are also theatre, musical and dance groups in the country.
The “Iran-Armenia” Chamber of Commerce, the members of which are both Armenian and Iranian businessmen, has a special place in the Armenian-Iranian economic relations.
The “Iran-Armenia Friendship Association” has been operating since 2007 with the participation of Armenian and Iranian intellectuals and businessmen.