Armenia: Did President Sargsyan Blaze A Trail To The Sea Via Iran?

Haroutiun Khachatrian


April 15, 2009

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan’s two-day visit to Iran produced
a potential breakthrough deal that could ease Armenia’s economic

Sargsyan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signed eight
agreements during the Armenian leader’s two-day stay in Tehran on
April 13-14. Two of those pacts stand to give a big boost to Armenian
foreign trade. The first provides a blueprint for the construction
of a 470-kilometer railroad between the two countries and the second
would lower Iranian trade barriers to Armenian exports.

At present, Armenia’s only viable overland routes to the outside world
run through Georgia. That conduit has proven unreliable for Yerevan in
recent years, though, given the long-running tension between Russia and
Georgia. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Turkey and
Azerbaijan currently maintain an economic blockade against Armenia,
and although there has been much talk lately of a re-opening of the
Turkish-Armenian frontier, the normalization of Turkish-Armenian ties,
as well as a political settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, do
not appear imminent. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].

The proposed outlet to Iran would not bring immediate economic
benefits to Armenia. Under terms of an agreement finalized April
15 by the transport ministers of Armenia and Iran, construction of
the railway would take an estimated five years, and cost upwards of
$1.8 billion. The first stage of the construction process involves
a feasibility study, which is due to be completed by the end of
the summer.

Almost seven-eighths of the railway would lie on Armenian territory,
stretching from the northern city of Sevan to Meghri on the Iranian
border. The question of financing evidently was not addressed during
Sargsyan’s Iran visit.

In another potentially significant deal, the two countries agreed
to cooperation on the construction of a hydropower station on the
Arax River.

One political analyst, Garnik Asatrian, an Iranian studies expert
at the Yerevan State University, characterized President Sargsyan’s
visit as a "historic step" for Armenia. But other experts were more
circumspect. The global economic downturn, they emphasized, makes
it impossible to say whether promises made today can be fulfilled
tomorrow. Alexander Iskandarian, the director of the Caucasus
Institute in Yerevan, pointed out that already some erstwhile
financial heavyweights in the Caucasus, especially Russia, are now
finding it difficult to come up with the cash to meet assistance
obligations. "Some previously adopted programs are now short of money,"
he told EurasiaNet.

Sevak Sarykhanan, an expert with the Noravank Foundation, a
Yerevan-based think tank, suggested that the Iranian rail project is,
in effect, an insurance policy for Yerevan. If the Turkish-Armenian
border reopens in the near future, then Yerevan would have rail access
to the Middle East and Gulf regions via the existing Gyumri-Kars rail
link. In that case, the Sevan-Meghri-Iran rail route would not make
financial sense.

Editor’s Note: Haroutiun Khachatrian is a freelance writer based
in Yerevan.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS