Connecting Georgia with Turkey

The Georgian Messenger
Wednesday, June 23, 2004, #115 (0639)

Connecting Georgia with Turkey
By M. Alkhazashvili

The possible construction of a railway connecting Georgia and Turkey
creates new prospects for the two countries as well as for the transit
function of the South Caucasus as a whole. If the project goals of an
inexpensive, efficient, international transit route are achieved, the
turnover of goods on Georgia’s railways will sharply increase. But
before any of this can happen, Georgia needs to mobilize a vast sum of

President Mikheil Saakashvili discussed the issue of constructing a
Georgia-Turkey railway during his May visit to Turkey. When he
traveled to Tbilisi on June 14-15, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev
also expressed his support for the project.

Two possible routes for the Georgia-Turkey railway are under
discussion: Kars-Akhalkalaki, which has been on the drawing board
since the Shevardnadze administration, and Rize-Batumi, which
Saakashvili was able to propose following the fall of Aslan
Abashidze’s regime in Adjara. Although the Kars-Akhalkalaki plan is
more familiar and well studied, its construction faces numerous
challenges due to the jagged mountainous terrain of the region. This
project requires not only the construction of a 35km stretch from
Akhalkalaki to Kurtkale on the Georgian-Turkish border and a further
92km line from there to Kars, but also the upgrade of the existing 160
km single line branch from Akhalkalaki to Tbilisi. The Rize-Batumi
option may thus prove the more viable.

If a railway connecting Georgia and Turkey is created, the South
Caucasus’ role as a transit corridor between Europe and Asia will
greatly increase and bring tremendous profits. But given the $700-800
million cost of the project, finding the financing necessary for this
project will be a stiff challenge for the government, even if
Azerbaijan and Turkey allot significant sums towards the project.

The idea of constructing a Georgia-Turkey railway has caused great
concern in Armenia, which feels itself even further isolated from
regional transit projects. It should be pointed out that in the Soviet
period, there existed a railway connecting Turkey with the South
Caucasus – the Kars Gyumri line – but owing to the Karabakh conflict
and the less than cordial relations between Armenia and Turkey, it has
been out of operation for more than a decade. A few days ago reports
surfaced that Turkey may open its border with Armenia and restore
Kars-Gyumri. Clearly, if this is true, the issue of constructing a
Georgia-Turkey line will all but be removed from the agenda. But it
remains to be seen whether there is any real prospect for the
restoration of Kars-Gyumri or whether this report was merely a
reaction to the Georgia-Turkey railway idea.