ANKARA: Armenia Misses The Trans-Caucasus Train


Turkish Daily News
July 25 2008

Turkish stretch of a strategic railway project excluding Armenia
inaugurated in Kars at a time when Ankara signals positive moves to
normalize ties with Yerevan. ‘The project is open to all countries
in the region,’ says Gul

ANKARA – Turkish Daily News

Turkey joined with two other regional leaders in a show of power
yesterday in inaugurating the 76-kilometer Turkish section of a
strategic railway that bypasses Armenia, which has long opposed
the project.

The presidents of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan launched the railway
project, which is considered a potential source of isolation and an
economic setback for Armenians, in the eastern Anatolian province of
Kars. The inauguration of the long awaited project comes at a time
when Ankara has gestured positively towards mending fences with
Yerevan through secret diplomatic negotiations, raising questions
about the viability of a rapprochement.

"The project is open to all countries in the region who want to
contribute to good, neighborly relations, peace and prosperity,"
President Abdullah Gul said in Kars, a Turkish city near the Armenian

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad excludes Armenia, which has long
opposed the project. Yerevan has argued that there is already a
railway running from Kars to the northern Armenian city of Gyumri and
that the Kars-Gyumri link, which has stood idle for over a decade,
could be used to build a trans-Caucasus railroad.

But Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia have pressed ahead with plans to
realize the long-awaited project, a move that is expected to cast a
shadow on Turkey’s recent opening toward Armenia.

"The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project will revive the historic
Silk Road," Gul said during yesterday’s ceremony, also attended by
the presidents of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Ilham Aliyev and Mikhail
Saakashvili. He said the railroad, also known as the Iron Silk Road,
would not only link Turkey’s rail network with that of Georgia
and energy-rich Azerbaijan but also connect Central Asia and China
to Europe. The Georgian section of the 180-kilometer project was
completed in 2007. With an estimated cost of $450 million, the project
is expected to be complete in 2010. The railroad will carry one million
passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight annually, while the number
of passengers it will carry will reach three million in 2034, private
NTV television reported. Parallel to the Marmaray Project to link
the European and Asian halves of Istanbul by an undersea rail tunnel
across the Bosporus, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project will pave the way
for transfer of freight from Europe to China, so that the freight
transfer between Europe and Central Asia will shift to the railways.

Railroad creates economic zone, says Gul Gul said the project was
revived in 2004 and after negotiations between the three countries
and strong political will it is becoming a reality. He noted that
Kazakhstan and China have extended strong support for the project. The
relevant ministries of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan will be in charge
of following up on the project and will write periodical reports to
the presidents, informing them of all phases of the railroad work. "The
project somehow created a new economic zone that has not been named,"
said Gul. European Union candidate Turkey sees such infrastructure
projects as boosting its role as a bridge for trade and energy between
the East and the West.