Russian border guards arrived in the Tavush region of Armenia. They will soon appear in Azerbaijan, but they will not protect the borders of the republics, but the road. The trade route may allow the region to finally end the conflict. The RIA Novosti correspondent visited there and watched the construction progress.
Zangelan region on the map – located between Armenia and Iran. The abandoned Mindjevan station is like a monument to the fact that once there was a functioning railway here. Will it be possible to revive life in the places where the war has recently thundered, will the trade route pass where the armored vehicles went – to find out, the journalists went to the South Caucasus. Soon, Russian border guards will arrive in the area where the main transport artery – the Zangezur corridor – will pass. They will become the guarantor of the safety of the new road.
“The sappers have cleared seventeen kilometers in Zangelan. The other day, the Armenians handed over a map of the minefields. Now construction will go faster. They worked blindly, ”says railway worker Fizuli Kuliyev. Mingjevan was not only a transport hub. Local grapes, apples, pears were sent to the neighboring Agdam region, where they made port wine known throughout the Union.
“Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Iranians, Russians – whoever did not work at the station! – Fizuli recalls. – There was even a series of postcards and stamps with the image of the station in Mindjevan and the inscription: “Friendship of peoples.” I can’t believe there were times like this. “
Yes, in the region they still cannot agree not only about friendship, but at least about the beginning of trade. However, Minjivan is not in the center of attention. Azerbaijan is concentrated on the Zangezur corridor, which should connect Baku with the exclave of Nakhichevan through Arm-enian territory. However, Yerevan has many concerns.
The Zangezur Corridor is an ambitious project, but so far only on paper. There is no clear understanding of what the infrastructure of the Transcaucasus will look like. “In fact, we are talking about the old Nakhichevan land road. It goes from Armenia to Azerbaijan and further to Russia, ”explains Fizuli Aliyev.
Today the surrounding area is scorched fields, broken pavements and destroyed houses. The road from Baku to Nakhichevan along the Azerbaijani section seems insurmountable. The southern regions of the republic from the early nineties to the second Karabakh were controlled by the Armenians. Solid ruins. The bus with journalists shakes on bumps, but there is no other route. The driver presses on the gas and flies into the hole. Saves the seat belt. So far, all this does not look very much like a busy trade route.
“Heck! Roads haven’t been repaired for thirty years! – the driver is indignant. – We’ll kill the car if we go this way. Through the fields – it is impossible. There are mines. ” The driver’s curses remind us that despite the peaceful, dormant landscape, there has recently been a war here. The recent conflict has not been forgotten or eliminated. It takes time for a lasting peace to be established, so the road that will link Armenia and Azerbaijan will be guarded by Russian border guards.
We turn onto an uneven path along the Araks river. This is the natural border between Azerbaijan and Iran. Mobile communications get confused in signals. An SMS message notifies that we are in Azerbaijan. After a hundred meters: “Welcome to Iran.” We pass the cities of Fizuli, Jebrail, Zangelan, Gubadli. Outside the window are the same minefields, ruins, abandoned cemeteries. On the border with the Syunik region there is a new text message: “Sunny Armenia welcomes you!” Everything is nearby. Zangelan seems to unite three countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran. “Forty kilometers of the Zangezur corridor will pass through Syunik. This is the shortest way to Nakhichevan, and there it is a stone’s throw to Turkey, ”says the engineer of communications Gasim Aliyev, pointing in the direction of Armenia. The Nakhichevan land road also operated during the Soviet period. But in the late eighties, the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh escalated and it became dangerous to use this route. Stones were thrown at the trains.
The military tried to take control of the section from the Armenian Meghri to the Azerbaijani Horadiz. But the Fizuli region went to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The trains stopped. The rails were dismantled as unnecessary. Communication between Baku and Nakhichevan along the shortest route was interrupted.
They also cut the path from the Nakhichevan city of Sharur to the Armenian Yeraskh, which provided Armenia’s direct access to Russia. Moreover, there was a branch from Yeraskh station to Iran. The railway link between the Armenian Ijevan and the Azeri section of the road to Baku also disconnected. Preserved communication with Iran and Georgia. Through these two countries, Armenia entered foreign markets. But the Georgian Military Road was often closed due to snowfalls in winter, and the path through Tehran is not the closest.
Demonstration of strength
The Armenian side admits that overcoming transport isolation will stimulate the economy. But the distrust of the neighbors, who, after the second Karabakh conflict, are stirring up militant rhetoric, outweighs. “What roads can we talk about when the Azerbaijani military invades our lands, taking men prisoner. This is explained by the demarcation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani borders. There are maps of the USSR General Staff, you can sit down at the negotiating table and discuss everything. But Baku prefers to act by force, ”the director of the Caucasus Institute Alexander Iskandaryan is outraged. Interlocutors of RIA Novosti in Armenia are perplexed why Azerbaijan is fixated on the Zangezur corridor. Unblocking of all transport communications in the South Caucasus seems to them the most reasonable.
Baku looks at the development of the region’s infrastructure differently. Armenia.’s fears that trains to Nakhichevan will pass by are called groundless there. We were shown a plan of roads that are going to be built or rebuilt in addition to Zangezur. Most of the routes include Nakhichevan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
“The opening of the Zangezur corridor has been discussed for a long time. Armenia recognized that the route was beneficial to it, – said Kuliyev. – We are not fixated on Zangezur, we are talking about the restoration of all communications, but we have to start somewhere. If in Yerevan they want to do other routes, we are for”. Orkhan Bagirov, a transport communications specialist in the South Caucasus, emphasizes: The Zangezur corridor is a matter of principle. Primarily for Yerevan.
“Firstly, this is the shortest and most economically profitable way from Baku to Nakhichevan. Communication with the exclave via Iran is costly. Secondly, Armenia is also separated from Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Lachin corridor, although it has an extraterritorial status, runs through Azerbaijani territory. So we want to get direct access to Nakhichevan through Armenia ”.
Azerbaijanis also explain their attention to the Zangezur corridor by the fact that its restoration is stipulated in a trilateral agreement of November 9, 2020. In the returned districts – Jebrail, Kelbyadzhar, Gubadli, Lachin and Zangelan – the Azerbaijani authorities are forming the East Zangezur economic region. A transport artery will be laid through these territories.
“Armenia supplies apricots, cognac, metals to foreign markets. Breaking out of isolation will expand opportunities. Investors are not interested in countries with poor logistics, says Russian Caucasian expert Nurlan Gasimov. – During the Soviet period, Armenia had a strong industrial production. The automotive industry, medicine, and metallurgy developed. Even a nuclear power plant was built – Metsamor. The factories are standing still, but the personnel potential has been preserved. If we establish transport links, there is a chance to restore all this ”.
The interlocutor of RIA Novosti also draws attention to the advantageous geographical location of Armenia – between Europe, Russia and Asia. He does not exclude that in due course Yerevan will join the project of the international transport corridor “North-South”. The route will connect the Baltic States with India via Iran. Armenia can become a member of the Trans-Caspian international transport corridor “West-East”, which provides cargo traffic from China to Turkey and Europe.
“Now everyone is being transported through Georgia, although it is shorter through Armenia. Yerevan could become a transit hub. China’s Belt and Road is another promising option. All this will increase the investment attractiveness of the country, ”says Gasimov. He draws attention to neighboring Georgia. The republic is not richer than Armenia. But the authorities skillfully took advantage of the Karabakh conflict and reoriented international corridors and oil pipelines to themselves. With a reasonable policy,, Armenia can also make up a lot and create all conditions for economic growth in the country.