THE NEW TRANSCAUCASIAN RAILWAY
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February 13, 2007, 04:38 PM
AN IRON SILK ROAD
Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan have signed an agreement to build a
rail corridor that they hope will eventually link Europe with Asia.
However, one country in the region — Armenia — is being left out.
The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan travelled to the
Georgian capital Tbilisi last Wednesday, Feb. 7, to sign the three-way
agreement with his counterparts, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev
and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. The three agreed that
construction on the railroad would start this year and should be
finished by 2009. It will consist of a new 100-kilometer railway
line connecting the eastern Turkish city of Kars with Georgia, while
another 300 kilometers of existing track will be renovated.
The governments hope this railway will connect eventually to the
proposed Trans-Asian Rail Network, which is being supported by the
United Nations. Transport ministers from Turkey, China, Georgia,
Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan met last year to discuss the project,
which could one day see passengers taking a train from London to China.
Peace and conflict in the Caucasus
The Ankara government has already forged closer ties with Georgia
and Azerbaijan — particularly for oil and gas delivery from the
Caspian Sea — with a pipeline connecting the Azerbaijani capital of
Baku with Georgia and the Mediterranean Turkish port of Ceyhan. The
former Soviet republics used to be connected by a Communist-era
Transcaucasian Railroad, which once moved millions of tons of cargo
every year; but traffic was suspended after the Iron Curtain fell.
Not everyone in the region welcomes the planned new Transcaucasian
route. The government in Armenia has criticized the decision by its
three neighbors to develop a corridor that avoids Armenia altogether.
Leaders in Yerevan say the plan deliberately ignores the old rail
link between Armenia and Turkey, which has been idle since the the
two countries cut off diplomatic ties in 1993.
Relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan are not much better: The two
countries bitterly disagree over the enclave of Nagoro- Karabakh. The
mountainous territory inside Azerbaijan has been controlled by ethnic
Armenian forces since a 1994 cease-fire ended six years of fighting,
during which over 30,000 people died.