Do we have visions or plans to become a part of the region’s economic development?
Important events of regional significance took place within last week. Official opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, a major infrastructure project bypassing Armenia, took place on October 30 in Baku: a very pretentious project, constructed within 10 years, in terms of regional economic development.
The principal agreement on the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was reached by the leaders of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in 2005. In 2007 the parties reached concrete agreements on the start of the railway construction. For example, in the course of several years, Azerbaijan has provided Tbilisi with a 700 million dollars loan to build the Georgian section of the railway. Construction companies of three countries have built about 105 kilometers of new railroads in Turkey and Georgia during these years, as well as have modernized the existing railways of Baku-Tbilisi section, and Akhalkalaki-Marabda section running through Armenian populated Javakhk.
It is planned that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway annually will transport 17 million tons of cargo and up to one million passengers. The three countries involved in the railroad construction project state that the project is an important component of the “Silk Road”, which unites more than 60 countries around the world with a population of about 4.5 billion. Let us remind, that the construction of the railway, known as the “Silk Road”, also known as “One zone-one way” is aimed at extending China’s cooperation with the Eurasian continent from Shanghai to Berlin.
“Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Georgia have successfully completed this project, while others did not believe we would”, speaking at the solemn ceremony, said Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, adding that particularly the central Asian countries are interested in the project. The Georgian Prime Minister expressed the conviction that the project will change the economic reality. “Eurasian new bridge is put into operation, which will strengthen transport and trade status of the region”, Giorgi Kvirikashvili said. “Thus, we declare the establishment of a direct rail link from London to China”, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said in an interview with Azerbaijani media before arriving in Baku. According to him, currently transporting cargoes from China to Great Britain, France, Germany and other European countries via the North and South corridors, including the sea road, lasts 45-62 days. According to Erdogan, with the exploitation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, this period will be reduced to 12-15 days.
The significance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad is obviously not only economic but also political. In fact, our neighbor and friendly country, Georgia took part in the policy isolating Armenia from possible communications. It should be noted that the US and the EU have not financed the project because of bypassing Armenia.
Now the question is being discussed whether using the railroad would create technical problems for Armenians, not only in Armenia but also the Armenians of Javakhk. If Azerbaijan wants Armenia to join the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, it must recognize Artsakh’s independence as a de jure independent state, as Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Eduard Sharmazanov has mentioned several days ago in the talk with “Armenpress”, touching upon the statement of Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov that Armenia may join the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway only when it withdraws its troops from the “occupied territories of Azerbaijan”.
It is clear that Baku should use the additional occasion to address its traditional messages to Armenia. But, on the other hand, it is also obvious that real bridges are being built around Armenia, which has been striving for the “Eurasian bridge” for a long time.
Let’s remind that in his message addressed to the public and the National Assembly in October 2008, Serzh Sargsyan declared: “The construction of the Iran-Armenia railway will start in the upcoming years”. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the year, the issue of dissolving the “Railway Construction Directorate” Closed Joint-Stock Company was included in the agenda of the government session. This was the company founded by the former prime minister Tigran Sargsyan’s government in 2009 to carry out the construction of the Armenia-Iran railroad. And in June 2015 Vladimir Yakunin, president of the “Russian Railways”, said that Iran-Armenia railway has no prospect: “It’s the same as to open a hole on the wall bringing to nowhere, to the wall of the neighboring house”. In 2014, Yakunin had a different opinion, and he had noted that the construction of the Iran-Armenia railway was “quite actual”.
We have no right to complain of our immediate neighbors – Georgia and Iran, they have their own political and economic interests and are successfully implementing those. We also have had, and still, have opportunities to deepen relations with these two important neighbors of Armenia and to implement regional projects in the context of those relations. Another question is whether how much consistent and purposeful we are in initiating and implementing such significant projects. And in general, do we have visions or plans to become a part of the region’s economic development or not?