Rail traffic along the Zangezur corridor and Iran-Georgia transit growth

09.06.23 13:50

It seems that Russia has finally launched the process of unblocking the railway component of the Zangezur corridor, namely the Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz railway. It is reported that on June 2, 2023 Deputy Prime Ministers of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia Shahin Mustafayev, Mher Grigoryan and Alexey Overchuk during the 12th meeting of the trilateral working group in Moscow reached an understanding on the steps to restore the Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz railway connection.


"The meeting was held in a constructive atmosphere. Significant progress was registered in the agreement on the modalities to organize the unblocking of transport communications between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan. Particularly, the parties reached a common understanding on the implementation of the concrete steps to restore and organize the railway communication on Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz route," the statement reads. The parties agreed to continue the work within the tripartite working group.


Why Russia critically needs the restoration of the Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz railway right now is obvious. Russia is being strangled by Western sanctions and the EU transport blockade. Transit through Turkey and Iran is the way out of this blockade, and a direct railway link with these countries is needed. Russia has none.


 The Resht-Astara railway linking Russia with Iran through Azerbaijan and then with Turkey is just being built. Russia has already allotted money for its construction, Caucasus Plus wrote about it in article "Transit from India to go through Azerbaijan: Russia urgently invests in Resht-Astara railway" (https://kavkazplus.com/news.php?id=40042). But the Resht-Astara railway will take at least 3 years to build, and Russia needs rail transit to Iran now.


Here the only way out for Russia is to launch the Zangezur corridor, or more precisely its railway component Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz, which, firstly, will completely unblock the Azerbaijani Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, and secondly, will enable unhindered railway transit to Iran via Julfa, where a railway crossing is still in operation.


The Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz railway, which ran through Nakhichevan and Zangezur, ceased to operate after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since a significant section of it passed through Armenian-occupied Azerbaijani territory until November 2020. Armenia occupied the territory of Karabakh in Azerbaijan until November 2020. At that time there was no question of restoring it before de-occupation. Only with the de-occupation of Karabakh after the 44-day war was it possible. The reopening of the railway through Zangezur should take place in accordance with the trilateral agreement of November 2020.


For its part, Azerbaijan will do everything to launch the railway as soon as possible and the railway infrastructure within the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is functioning. The sections of the railway in Azerbaijan, which have not been working until recently, are quickly being rehabilitated.  The problem is in the state of the railway in the section of Zangezur, controlled by the Republic of Armenia. To be more precise, there is no railway at all.


The entire 45-kilometre stretch through Armenian-controlled Zangezur has been dismantled and sold as scrap to Iran, and the entire track infrastructure has also been destroyed. In fact, the entire 45-km stretch near Meghri must be rebuilt. The same applies to the railway line from Yeraskh to the Armenian-Azerbaijani border. It too has been dismantled and must be built from scratch.


The Armenian railways are known to be owned by the Russian company JSC Russian Railways, and the company has money, including for projects that are vital for Russia. This is why there is no doubt that construction of the railway through Zangezur will be launched with Russian money.


The European Union is also interested in the railway via Zangezur corridor. EU's interest in this route is the shortest direct railway connection through Azerbaijan to Central Asia and China. In fact, the new rail link will make overland rail transit between Asia and Europe even more attractive and time efficient than overland transport by sea.


It is no coincidence that EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar met with Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigoryan in Yerevan after a trilateral meeting in Moscow. The issues of organizing and resumption of railway communication on the Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz route were discussed first of all during the meeting. And if in other issues the opinions of EU and Russia about Armenia may not coincide or even be opposite, then in case of the railway communication via Zangezur corridor both Europe and Russia are unequivocal - it is needed, and as soon as possible.


Georgia also benefits from opening of Yeraskh-Julfa-Meghri-Goradiz railway, since it will provide a direct railway connection between Iran and Georgia via Azerbaijan. Iranian cargoes already transit through Georgia and its Black Sea ports to the West. With the launch of the railway connection through the Zangezur corridor, the transit of goods from Iran through Georgia will increase dramatically. This route, via Iran and Georgia, is also promising for transit from India to Europe.


Since transit through the Zangezur corridor is beneficial to all countries, the Armenian revanchists who have obstructed its organisation have been silenced, although until recently they had strongly opposed such transit. The mechanism for unblocking communications in the region is becoming clear - first the de-occupation (which took place during the 44-day war), then the opening of transit routes and rail links. The same scheme should be applied to railway transit through Abkhazia. First there should be a complete deoccupation of this Georgian territory, restoration of territorial integrity of Georgia (including Samachablo), and only then the rail transit. And not vice versa, as Armenian nationalists want.



Aleksandre Zakhariadze

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