By Rustam Taghizade
On November 10, 2020, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia ended with a ceasefire agreement. This tripartite ceasefire agreement, mediated by Russia, changed the map of the South Caucasus. It should be noted that there are also unresolved issues.
- The presence of separatist soldiers in the territories controlled by Russian peacekeepers. The use of this situation by separatist soldiers to commit provocations.
- The issue of defining the borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia
3. Failure to provide maps of mined areas to Azerbaijan. The maps are only 15-20 percent accurate.
Now let’s look at the ninth and final clause of the November 10, 2020 agreement.
All economic and transport connections in the region will be unblocked. The Republic of Armenia shall ensure the security of transport links between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in order to organize the unimpeded movement of people, vehicles and cargo in both directions. Transport links are monitored by the Border Service of the Russian Federal Security Service.
According to the agreement, new transport links will be established between the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the western regions of Azerbaijan.
We are talking about a number of transport routes that have been closed since the early 1990s and cut off from the international access of the Nakhchivan enclave of Armenia and Azerbaijan. If all these closed routes are “independent” as specified in the agreement, the most noticeable effect will be the reactivated north-south route from Russia to Armenia and through Azerbaijan to Iran. Economic support for Azerbaijan and Armenia may be significant. The rehabilitation of the railways between Armenia and Azerbaijan will make the 7,200-kilometer International North-South Transport Corridor more efficient, and the projected railway route from Finland through Russia to the Persian Gulf and from there to India. In the South Caucasus, an east-west route through Georgia has been established since the 1990s. It should be noted that China has not invested in major projects in the South Caucasus. The China-Central Asia-South Caucasus economic corridor looks very attractive.
Interests and disputes over the Zangazur corridor:
Since the beginning of the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in 1989-1990, the border with Armenia has been closed, and the only direct connection between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan is by air, and the land connection is via Iran or Georgia and Turkey. One of the main goals of Azerbaijan after the Second Karabakh War is to isolate Nakhchivan. This can be achieved by restoring the road from the territory of Armenia. It requires the construction of a major new transport route from the 43-kilometer (26-mile) section of the Mehri region in Armenia’s southernmost region bordering Iran. This potential route has long been a source of controversy between the two countries. In the 1970s, when Armenia and Azerbaijan were Soviet republics, Karen Demirchyan, the leader of the Armenian Communist Party, lobbied against the project of the Maghreb highway in Moscow. The reason is that with the construction of this railway, Armenia will become dependent on Azerbaijan.
As an alternative to the railway route through the city of Mehri , Armenia has also proposed the restoration of the railway through the north of Armenia, which connects the city of Ijevan with the Azerbaijani city of Gazakh and has been closed for thirty years. However, this will require Azerbaijan to agree to take its preferred route through Megri out of priority, which it is unlikely to be able to do. Moreover, the Ijevan-Kazakhstan route passes through more mountainous areas and has many tunnels: its repair will be a long and expensive job.
Iran’s position is to support Armenia. He expressed concern that the “sovereign corridor” connecting Western Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan and extending to Turkey would threaten its north-south transit routes through Armenia.
Will Georgia use the Zangazur corridor? If the Zangazur corridor is opened, Georgia will face new problems. Due to the closure of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, Georgia has acted as a first-class transit hub in the South Caucasus. Over the past two decades, the default transit route for oil, gas and other goods transported from the Caspian Sea to Europe and the Mediterranean has passed through Azerbaijan and Georgia via Turkey, bypassing Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Infrastructure has already been built, in particular the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan and Baku-Erzurum oil and gas pipelines, as well as the BTK, which in 2017 was worth more than $ 2 billion distributed between the three countries. Azerbaijan has helped Georgia pay for rail travel by providing a $ 775 million loan. The opening of the Zangazur corridor will lead to new competition. Georgia will lose a lot of revenue if a new southern route is opened along the Araxes River through Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. The changing transport map of the South Caucasus and the risk of Georgia relying on a single mountain road as its only commercial link with Russia are additional reasons for Tbilisi to take a fresh look at the Abkhazian railway and see how it can shape its reopening plan.
As noted in the ceasefire agreement signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan in November 2020, the economic benefits of opening closed transport routes in the South Caucasus can be extended to all countries in the region, as well as Russia, Turkey and Iran. But the important thing here is that states should trust each other. Once a political compromise is reached, the Zangazur corridor will be possible. Armenia, in turn, insists that it does not want a “corridor” without control over its territory, and in this position is supported by Iran. Since these are political issues, Azerbaijan and Armenia must come to a common denominator on this issue.