07 July 2006

833) Akhalkalaki Or Gyumri?

Armenia is irked by a proposal for a new cross-Caucasus railroad that would bypass the landlocked and blockaded country. From EurasiaNet. Plans for the construction of a major railway linking Turkey to Azerbaijan via Georgia are prompting mounting concern in Armenia. Officials in Yerevan, fearing the completion of the railway would further isolate Armenia, have pressured Georgia to pull out of the multimillion-dollar project. The railway also is facing objections from the United States and the European Union.

Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey revealed their intention to pursue the railway project in May 2005 during the ceremonial opening of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline. The presidents of the three nations said the rail link, estimated to cost roughly $400 million, would promote regional economic integration and create a new transport corridor between Europe and Central Asia.

The project essentially boils down to laying an almost 100-kilometer-long rail track between the eastern Turkish city of Kars and the southern Georgian town of Akhalkalaki. Armenian officials insist that the project makes no economic sense, pointing to the existing railroad running from Kars to the northern Armenian city of Gyumri and on to the two other South Caucasus countries. The Kars-Gyumri link has stood idle for over a decade due to the continuing Turkish economic blockade of Armenia.

The Armenian government argues that that Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan should make use of this Gyumri hub instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on building a new one. As an incentive, Yerevan has indicated that it would make the Gyumri hub available without insisting that Turkey lift its economic blockade. "Armenia is ready to let Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan use the existing railway line on Armenian territory without Armenia’s participation," Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian reiterated during an official visit to Tbilisi on 27 June.

The issue was high on the agenda of Oskanian’s talks with Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili and Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili. A statement issued by the Armenian Foreign Ministry said Oskanian "stressed the economic and political importance of the operation of the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi rail line." Armenian officials took little comfort in Bezhuashvili’s public assurances that the Turkish-Georgian-Azeri project is "purely commercial." They fear that the new railway would deepen Armenia’s economic isolation. Aggressive statements made recently by Azeri officials, including President Ilham Aliev, have helped fuel worries in Armenia.

The landlocked country has already been left out of regional energy projects such as the BTC pipeline, due to the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
07 July 2006,
Resource : TOL CZ
IKSAREN

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