Today.Az » Analytics » Armenia’s transport expectations shattered again
14 December 2009 [14:06] - Today.Az
Russia and Iran are deepening cooperation, including in the transport sector.

Day.Az writer

Iranian Railways International Department Director Abbas Nazari recently told reporters about new arrangements between Iran and Russia. The two countries plan to jointly produce railroad tracks at the Isfahan Steel Plant. Nazari added that the parties have approved previous agreements on the joint financing of the Astara-Rasht-Astara [or Astara-Rasht-Qazvin] Railway's construction by three countries – Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan.

The railway is a project which can rightly be referred to “win-win.” Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan are interested in end-to-end rail traffic with a possible outlet to the Persian Gulf.

However, the Astara-Rasht-Qazvin project while involving Russia frustrates Armenia’s “transport and communication” hopes. Armenia regarded an Iran-Armenia railway branch as its most important "infrastructure", especially after Armenian Railways were handed over to the Russian Railways management during a tender in which Russia was the only participant.

Now it is more expedient to look at recent “past infrastructure” from the Soviet times when rail links between the Soviet Union and Iran passed through Baku and onwards through the now-blocked branch of the Baku-Ijevan-Megri-Julfa Railway.

The Moscow-Tehran passenger route operated well on this railroad. Similarly, a railroad link with Turkey crossed via Armenia, namely Gumri, which was called Leninakan at that time. One could get into the Middle East on the famous Baghdad Railway right from there.

In short, one could only dream about such logistics in the years of independence – as the rail links between Azerbaijan and Turkey have been blocked as a result of Armenia’s aggressive policy. Unfortunately, transport cannot be resumed without large-scale political concessions.

Complaints about the "blockade" are still at their height in Armenia. But Armenian leaders and the media under their control still decline to admit that the blockade resulted from their own aggressive policy. In the meantime, Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR) is in a more rigid blockade than Armenia. The NAR has been fully cut off from the rest of Azerbaijani territory.

It is clear that in the early days of the Karabakh conflict Armenia's policy of pulling down the railroad tracks in Megri and filling them with concrete, not to mention numerous acts of sabotage and subversion, have been a source of pressure on Azerbaijan. But the situation today has changed. The economy of the South Caucasus is developing giving rise to new links and new regional communications on the backdrop of current political realities. Export pipelines are bypassing Armenia. Yerevan understands that no one would change foundation of the Baku-Ceyhan, the Baku-Erzurum, or future Nabucco pipelines for the sake of the idea of a “peace pipeline project.”

In recent years, Armenia has faced a serious risk factor. Bypassing railway branches like Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Astara-Rasht-Astara-Qazvin are designed to replace the Kars-Gumri and Ijevan-Megri-Julfa railways, which were blocked as a result of Armenian aggression. It will not only deprive Armenia of a lever of pressure on neighboring states in the region. The fact is that if the "Armenian" branches are not unblocked until the construction of bypassing railways is completed, it will be hard for Armenia to obtain financial support to overhaul old roads. Simply put, Yerevan suddenly realized that it has missed the train both in the literal and figurative sense.

Anyway, since 2005 Yerevan has worked to block the construction of “bypassing branches” by political means. Firstly, the “Armenian lobby" was mobilized banning U.S. banks to issue loans for the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi Railway, which in no way slowed down its construction.

Armenia actually hoped that the question of the Astara-Rasht-Qazvin Railway will be closed finally.

Incumbent Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Armenia in February 2005. He made his first tour of the South Caucasus (the very trip during which the Russian FM provoked "protocol scandal” in Tbilisi, which was insulting to Russia's diplomacy, refusing to lay a wreath at the monument to those who fell fighting for Georgia’s territorial integrity).

During the talks with the Russian FM in Yerevan, late Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan expressed his concerns over the construction of the Qazvin-Rasht-Astara Railway.

“Why is it necessary on the backdrop of the already existing railway network in the region?” he asked, referring to a "branch” passing through Armenia.

In response, Lavrov promised to convey the Armenian PM’s concerns to Russian Transport Minister Russia Igor Levitin and then-head of Russian Railways Gennady Fadeyev. The Russian FM's promise puzzled analysts. Was the Russian FM not good at geography, or international law, or did he have a poor understanding of Russian jurisdiction? What significance did Moscow place on the North-South corridor and how it was seeking to involve Azerbaijan?

But Yerevan took these guarantees seriously. Armenia handed over the management of its railways to Russian Railways in the winter of 2007-2008 not for economic benefit, but with a hope that Russia by using its political weight would unblock almost "its" own roads passing through friendly Armenia, and also address the question of constructing bypassing branches.

Armenia could not even in its worst nightmare guess that Russia would eventually finance the construction of Astara-Rasht-Qazvin "bypassing" roads and pay absolutely no attention to the Iran-Armenia railway construction, which Yerevan intends to include in the North-South project.

Armenia would never have believed that Russia would primarily think about its own, not Armenia’s, interests in its railway policy. In fact, Armenia and Iran could establish rail links, but where to go further by “Armenian locomotive?"

There is no railway communication between Russia and Armenia. The path through Azerbaijan is closed, and railway from Russia to Georgia passing through Sukhumi is blocked as a result of the Abkhazian conflict (where two Armenian battalions – "Krunk" and "Bagramian,” well-known for their monstrous cruelty against the Georgian population, fought side-by-side with the Abkhazian separatists).

In this case, the construction of the Astara-Rasht-Qazvin roads has quite a clear sense for Armenia. The country has once again missed the train – this time an Iranian one.

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