Staunton, January 22 – The ways in which Azerbaijan and Turkey will gain from the reopening of rail and highways links between Azerbaijan proper and the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichivan are obvious, but another consequence of that development, Tehran’s loss of leverage over Baku, has attracted less attention even though it may be as important.
Since the early 1990s, Azerbaijanis wishing to travel between the two parts of their country have had to get visas to travel through Iranian territory because the generally frozen conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia meant that these routes through the Armenian territory between them were blocked.
Now, under the January accord between Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, these routes are to be reopened, although the exact routes remain in dispute with Yerevan favoring a more northerly one and Azerbaijan the restoration of a more southerly one. Baku may get its way because Russia owns and controls the Armenian railways.
But regardless of that issue which remains in dispute, Iran will be the big loser in this sector because it will lose what has been an important lever on Baku – it has always been able to slow or speed up the visa process – and now face a stronger Turkish-Azerbaijani alliance to its north.
Armenians are already worried about this because Iran has served at a minimum as a counter to Turkic power, be it from Baku or Ankara; and Vardan Voskanyan, an Iranian specialist at Yerevan State University, suggests that unblocking this route could leave his country in a worse position (ru.armeniasputnik.am/politics/20210116/26116562/Turanskiy-koridor-po-Armenii-ekspert-obyasnil-riski-i-ugrozy-dlya-Erevana-i-Tegerana.html).
Indeed, he and other Armenian analysts argue, the re-opening of this corridor will benefit Turkey even more than Azerbaijan, which already has rail and highway connections with all of its neighbors except Armenia and that Armenia is not getting sufficient compensation because the unblocking would not allow it to restore ties with Russia.
Instead, the corridors it has been offered are to Iran and Turkey. There is almost no Armenian trade with or even interest in trade with the latter, and trade with the former is likely to continue through the corridor between the two parts of Azerbaijan rather than across Nakhichevan, despite suggestions by Moscow and Baku that that route will open new prospects (lenta.ru/articles/2021/01/22/transkarabakh/).
To the extent that Yerevan and Tehran agree on that, the Armenian authorities are likely to do everything they can to drag their feet on unblocking the Zengezur corridor, viewing it as one of their last trump cards to demand that Baku move toward its understanding of special status for the Armenians of Qarabagh.