Sunday, November 19, 2023

Could an Arax Corridor Put an End to the Zengezur Corridor Controversy? Despite the Odds, Some Now Think So

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 17 – Even before the Karabakh crisis exploded more than 30 years ago, Azerbaijanis were angry that Moscow had so carved up the map of the South Caucasus that Azerbaijan proper was separated from Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Republic by Armenian territory. That anger only intensified after the conflict began and the borders between the two closed

            (For background on Zengezur as a source of conflict, see,, and

            The situation appeared to have been at least partially resolved when Armenia and Azerbaijan both agreed in the tripartite declaration ending the 44-day war that they would reopen transportation routes that had been blocked by the conflict, a step that would have allowed Azerbaijanis to travel between the two parts of their country without passing through Iran.

            But while Azerbaijan pushed ahead, Armenia did not both because a shortage of resources and because of its belief that control of these routes represented one of its best means of forcing Baku to make concessions to Yerevan’s position. However that may have been, Azerbaijan’s military action earlier this year doing away with an Armenian Karabakh ended that.

            Yervan’s foot dragging prompted Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to warn that Baku was ready to use force to open the corridor, exacerbating both Yerevan’s fear that in such a situation, it would not have any allies ( and concern around the world that Zengezur could be the Danzig corridor of the 21st century (

            This combination of fears prompted various countries to warn against the use of force there and also to encourage Azerbaijan and its Turkish ally to consider developing what is now being called “the Arax corridor” through Iranian territory instead of the “Zengezur” one via Armenia's. The two would be roughly similar in length, but the former would pass through Iran instead of Armenia.

            Azerbaijan and Turkey have turned to Iran, and now some commentators in Moscow are treating this as a done deal, the successful avoidance of what could have been a bloody conflict ( But such conclusions may be at the very least premature.

            On the one hand, Azerbaijanis still view the corridor through what is now Armenia historically Azerbaijani territory and almost certainly would like to reclaim it when conditions allow. And on the other, despite recent suggestions of a readiness to cooperation, both Azerbaijan and Turkey and Iran have a long history of being at odds.

            If an Arax transportation corridor were to take off and become a real land route between Azerbaijan and Nakchivan, it is possible that this by itself could lesson tensions between the Turkic countries and Iran. But Iran almost certainly would be tempted to use its physical control of the route to pressure both Baku and Ankara.

            And if that happened – and the odds that it will are great – then a new conflict over Zengezur could easily break out, especially given Armenia’s isolation and Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s interest in direct land routes and reversing what both countries see as an historical injustice. 

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