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Regional Communications Project Delayed Over Armenian Inaction

By Nargiz Mammadli April 22, 2022

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The test train has been operated on the first section of the Horadiz-Aghband railway, an integral part of the Zangazur Corridor, January 25, 2022, Fuzuli-Jabrayil, Azerbaijan / Azerbaijan Railways

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said the issue of unblocking regional communications should be clarified with Armenia, given Yerevan's reluctance to begin work from its side.

The remarks were made by the president in a meeting with a delegation led by EU Special Representative for South Caucasus Toivo Klaar, in Baku on Tuesday.

“One of the issues that needs to be clarified with the Armenian side is the issue of communications with Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. I mean both railway and highway. As for the railway, I informed President Michel that we have built more than 60 kilometers of the railway in Azerbaijan and will complete the construction next year,” President Aliyev said, according to his official website.

“Unfortunately, they [Armenian authorities] have not yet started working on the feasibility study in Armenia, which indicates that the process can be delayed.”

Azerbaijan’s mainland should be connected with the southwestern exclave of Nakhchivan through the multi-modal Zangazur corridor according to agreement reached in November 2020. To realize the project, both Baku and Yerevan should create necessary infrastructure, including the restoration of railways forming part of the corridor.

Armenia and Azerbaijan had been at odds for nearly 30 years over the latter’s Karabakh (Garabagh) region, which fell under Armenia’s control in the wake of a full-blown war from 1991 to 1994. The bloody war saw Armenia occupying 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territories. Over 30,000 Azerbaijanis were killed, and one million were expelled from those lands in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign conducted by Armenia. As a result of the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, Nakhchivan became fully isolated from the Azerbaijani mainland after Armenia closed energy, electricity, and transport connections, including highways and railways to and from the region.

On September 27, 2020, the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict took a violent turn when Armenia’s forces deployed in occupied Azerbaijani lands shelled military positions and civilian settlements of Azerbaijan. During counter-attack operations that lasted 44 days, Azerbaijani forces liberated over 300 settlements, including the cities of Jabrayil, Fuzuli, Zangilan, Gubadli, and Shusha, from nearly 30-year-long illegal Armenian occupation. The war ended with a tripartite statement signed by Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia on November 10, 2020. Under the agreement, Armenia also returned the occupied Aghdam, Kalbajar, and Lachin districts to Azerbaijan.

The trilateral agreement also addressed the unblocking of regional communications after decades of stagnation. Before the First Karabakh War in 1991-1994, there was a railway connection between Azerbaijan’s capital Baku and Nakhchivan. However, it was destroyed and looted by Armenians during the years of occupation of Azerbaijan’s Fuzuli, Jabrayil and Zangilan districts.

Azerbaijan has been restoring the Horadiz-Aghband railroad that stretches to the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border in the country’s Zangilan district as an integral part of the Zangazur corridor. The project is being implemented in three stages totaling 110.4 kilometers in length. The railway is expected to go online some time in 2023.

Government officials in Azerbaijan are convinced that such regional transportation projects, including the Zangazur Corridor, could foster peace and cooperation and create new opportunities. According to some analysts, the corridor would add a new artery to the East-West and North-South intercontinental transport corridors. The launch of the multi-modal Zangazur Corridor is expected to benefit all regional countries and contribute to Eurasian trade and transport communications that incorporate the regional economies with a nominal GDP of $1.1 trillion.

Armenian authorities have also agreed to the restoration of regional communication links, including the segment of the Zangazur corridor in its territory. The process would reportedly cost $200 million and take three years to complete. However, Yerevan has yet to take any practical steps to begin the construction of the 45-kilometer railway. The probability of commencing the project remains obscure, given that no practical steps have been taken since 2021.