Staunton, August 14 – The November 2020 and January 2021 declarations of the presidents of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia called for the unfreezing of transportation routes including most importantly the one between Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan’s non-contiguous autonomy, Nakhichevan, and between Armenia and Iran.
But in the months since, there has not been any progress toward a real agreement on even these routes, in part because of an asymmetry: Azerbaijan can afford to pay for the route across Armenian territory to Nakhichevan, but Armenia can’t do so for the route across Nakhichivan or through Syunik-Zengezur with the assistance of international bodies or third countries.
Now, sides appear tired of waiting any longer. That is suggested by regional expert Anton Chablin in a discussion of Yerevan’s position (akcent.site/mneniya/15393) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s view on what Baku hope for (apa.az/en/xeber/official-news/president-ilham-aliyev-zangazur-corridor-can-become-a-new-transport-project-for-eurasia-355803).
“Armenian politicians have declared,” Chablin says, “that the Nakhichevan (Zengezur) corridor must be included as part of the transportation link between Armenia and Iran.” Both Akop Arkshakyan, deputy parliamentary speaker, and Aram Sarkisyan, head of the Democratic Party, have stressed that.
According to Sarkisyan, “Turkey and Azerbaijan want a unilateral unblocking” of the transport network “in order to drive Armenia into “a Turkish trap.’” Yerevan can’t permit this and must itself have direct transportation links with Iran, not so much for political as for economic reasons. Unfortunately, Yerevan doesn’t have the money to pay for it.
Talk about the construction of a rail line began in earnest in 2012 when such a route was conceived as part of the North-South Corridor, Sarkisyan says. And an investor, Rasia FZA of the United Arab Emirates, was found. But that deal which was set to cost three billion US dollars subsequently collapsed.
Today, Chablin says, “it is difficult even to estimate what the cost would be now.” But for the Armenian route to take place, there will need to be the involvement of either international banks or major powers. Yerevan would prefer the former as otherwise it would become dependent on the latter.
Meanwhile, President Aliyev stressed how central the opening of both a railway and a highway between Azerbaijan proper and Nakhichevan. In addition to revamping the railway, he said, “we demand that a highway be built” because it is absolutely necessary. But “unfortunately,” Yerevan is opposed.
But in saying this, the Azerbaijani leader suggested that there may be some movement. “Until recently,” he said, Armenia had been “opposed to the opening of the Zengezur corridor.” But in recent days, there are signs they won’t object to that as far as a railway is concerned. But “the full operation of the corridor requires both a railway and a highway.”
Once this corridor opens, Aliyev said, it will offer “a new opportunity for Turkey, Azerbaijan, the region and Armenia.”
On another aspect of this problem, the Azerbaijani leader said it was unclear where Yerevan would get the money for a new rail route through Syunik-Zengezur to link up with Iran but that Azerbaijan was quite prepared to have Armenia use the existing rail route through Zengezur, something that would cost far less.
Obviously, although the Azerbaijani president did not say so, Armenia’s access to that route would be contingent on Baku’s gaining what it wants in the Zengezur corridor. The problem, of course, is that many Armenians wouldn’t see this as completely symmetrical and would fear that Baku might block Armenian trains crossing its autonomy.