1061) Ankara move Turkish-Georgian-Azeri rail project forward

'The three countries, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, are firm on carrying out this project with their own financial resources; they have enough funds to finance the railway’s construction . . in one way or another,’ says a Turkish diplomat

The Turkish capital has clearly shrugged off a decision by the U.S. Senate's Banking Committee with which the committee blocked any funding by the U.S. Export-Import Bank for a proposed rail link that would connect Turkey with Azerbaijan through Georgia, bypassing Armenian territory.

The committee's unanimous approval of the measure introduced by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey late last month has been welcomed by the Armenian lobby in the United States.

The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which has lobbied the U.S. government to block the project, hailed the vote, saying: “We would like to thank Senator Menendez ... and all members of the Senate Banking Committee for ensuring that U.S. taxpayer funds are not wasted in the construction of an ill-advised railway project, initiated by Turkey and Azerbaijan solely to exclude Armenia.”

According to the measure, the Export-Import Bank “shall not guarantee, insure or extend (or participate in the extension of) credit in connection with the export of any good or service relating to the development or promotion of any railway connection or railway-related connection that does not traverse or connect with Armenia, and does traverse or connect Baku, Azerbaijan, Tbilisi, Georgia, and Kars, Turkey.”

However, a Turkish diplomat, speaking with the Turkish Daily News this week, hinted that Turkey didn't even bother to prevent approval of the bill by the Senate committee since Ankara by no means depends on financial resources beyond than those provided by the partner countries.

The U.S. administration has so far voiced no objections to the bill. “The proposed railway would bypass Armenia and thus not be beneficial to regional integration,” Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, was however quoted as saying earlier this year by the Armenian media.

“The three countries, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, are firm on carrying out this project with their own financial resources; they have enough funds to finance the railway's construction in one way or another,” the same diplomat said.

The Kars-Javakheti (Ahılkelek)-Tbilisi-Baku railway project aims to set up a direct rail link between Turkey and Georgia, and between Turkey and Azerbaijan via Georgia. Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of understanding for the project on Dec. 28, 2004. The parties then established a working group. In September, 2005 Turkish, Azerbaijani and Georgian ministers gathered in Istanbul to discuss recent developments concerning the railway project and to devise concrete steps to actually carry out the project.

All three countries view this project as a chance for further development of the Eurasia-Caucasia-Asia transportation corridor and thus, for contributing to efforts for reviving the ancient Silk Road.

Besides linking the transportation networks of Turkey and Georgia and with Europe, the project is also a means for the European Union to increase its influence in the south Caucasus. The EU has already launched talks with Georgia under the European Neighborhood Policy initiative, and similar talks will soon begin with Armenia and Azerbaijan.

ANKARA - Turkish Daily News
October 1, 2006

Trilateral rail project to move forward
Shrugging off a recent decision by the U.S. Senate's Banking Committee with which the committee blocked any funding by the U.S. Export-Import Bank for a proposed rail link that would connect Turkey with Azerbaijan through Georgia, bypassing Armenian territory, Ankara has expressed determination to carry out the project.

A Turkish diplomat hinted that Turkey hadn't even bothered to prevent approval of the bill by the Senate committee since Ankara by no means depends on financial resources beyond those provided by the partner countries.

“The three countries, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, are firm on carrying out this project with their own financial resources,” the same diplomat said.

October 1, 2006
ANKARA - Turkish Daily News

Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project to get launched in 2007 – Turkish Transport Minister
Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad project is a strategic matter for Turkey and it will be launched in 2007 in accordance with the decision of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia, said Binali Yildirim, Minister of Transport of Turkey, while visiting town of Igdir near Azeri-Turkish border, Trend reports with reference to Turkish media.

«$320mln will be allotted for the project», said minister, adding that thanks to the future Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad Turkey will turn into a key player in cargo transportation market between Europe and Asia.

Alongside the minister stated his decision on studying the possibilities of laying another railroad to connect town of Kars to Iran through Nakhchivan. “This issue we will study as well», said minister.

?.??giyev 25.08.2006

China joined Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki Railway Project – Turkish Transport Minister
China joined the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki railway project, Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim told in his interview with “Zaman” Newspaper, Trend reports.

The Minister noted that Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki Railway Project had been drawn up at the beginning of 1960, adding that together with China, Kazakhstan also participates in the project. “In case of realization of the project, each person moving from Kars with railway may reach Shanghai,” the Minister emphasized, saying that on completion of the Marmaray Project, each Chinese citizen may travel to Great Britain.

“The Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki railway will be ready within two years, and approximately 20 million tons of cargo will be transported through the railway annually,” the Minister stressed, spelling out that today the cargo transportation through all rail links of Turkey forms less than 18 million tons annually.

“The Project will change the face of all regions and help its prosperity,” Turkish Minister pointed out.

In addition, the Turkish Transport Minister stressed that in relation to the problems with Armenia, the Eastern regions of the Country have shared closeness for many years. “Because of this, Caucasus and Asian countries were united for the railway transportations to Europe,” Yildirim said, mentioning that from a strategic point of view, the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki railway is very optimistic. The Minister once again mentioned the figure of $250 million that is needed for the completion of the project. “The stretch of 79 km up to the border with Georgia will be constructed at the expense of Turkey, but the 25 km stretch in the territory of Georgia at the expense of allocations by the Georgian Government. At the same time, works will be carried out for the modernization of all stretches from Tbilisi to Baku,” Yildirim stated.

It was further stated that the engineering works within the project started in 2001, and in the first stage, it was announced of the necessity of spending $463 million on the construction of the rail link. “Even China offered low rate credits for the commencement of works. Peking Government particularly voiced its readiness to allocate credit for 13 years, with 5.5% annual rate. However, Turkish government refused to receive the credit, as it did not wish to provide State guarantee for the credit,” Turkish Transport Minister concluded.

Trend 28.08.2006

Earlier this month the European Parliament's Foreign Relations Commission approved a draft report on Turkey calling on Ankara to open the Turkish-Armenian border without preconditions as soon as possible. The matter first of all concerns the restoration of the railway link on the Kars-Gyumri section and switching Yerevan to the regional communication network. Official Yerevan sees this as a minor victory, as it has repeatedly opposed the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi rail route as being unreasonable.

A question has always surrounded the issue: What would Armenia lose if the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway section is operated?

Some experts says that the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi project being lobbied by Ankara objectively cannot be assumed as `anti-Armenian' from the outset. Its bypassing Armenia's territory alone is not enough for such an assessment; especially since even if the Kars-Gyumri section is re-operated Armenia will still remain blockaded. In that case, what main interest is Ankara pursuing?

`Turkey is seeking to become the main player in the region, simultaneously acting as a transit country in the route of Eurasian goods traffic,' an expert of the Atlantic `Caucasis' center, economist Ashot Yeghiazaryan says.

`Tasks of mastering vast spaces of Central Asia and the neighboring South Caucasus make issues of developing railway infrastructure more pressing. Although geographically the region is located close to Turkey, in terms of transport it is practically isolated from it. A direct railway link between Turkey and the region passes through the territory of Armenia; because of the political problems between Azerbaijan and Armenia, since 1993 Turkey has blockaded the railway passage of Akiyak on the border with Armenia. It has one more railway gateway to the east, but this passage (Karykoi, on the border with Iran) is in an area densely populated by Kurds, and the road itself has very limited transportation capacity.'

It is against this background that Turkey began to work over two major transport projects: the construction of a tunnel under the Bosporus straights (the Marmarai project) to establish a railway link between Europe and Asia, and the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway line that will ensure a link between Europe and Central Asian republics via the Caucasus.

`As soon as this project is realized, it is planned to create a link between Tashkent and Istanbul via Ashgabat - Turkmenbashi - Baku - Tbilisi - Kars. This route is 500 kilometers shorter than any other operating alternative route,' Yeghiazaryan says. `At the same time, it should be mentioned that the task of enhancing Turkey's regional transit significance is constantly under the influence of the threat of the development of the TRACECA corridor in the direction of the Balkans - the Black Sea - Georgia - Azerbaijan - the Caspian Sea - Central Asia and back. The development of the corridor in these directions will considerably decrease the scales of transit via Turkey. Apart from this, Ankara takes the development of the North-South and South-North corridor initiated by Russia, Iran and India as a threat. The development of this corridor will also decrease transit movement between Europe and Asia via Turkey. The third threat for Turkey is considered to be conflicts in the Middle East region, because of which the region's transport links with Europe lying through Turkish territory may be severed.'

It is these threats that make Ankara `run ahead of time' and `cut' the potential Eurasian goods traffic through the new Kars-Akhalkalaki railway from Georgian sea-ports. Turkey's sea-ports linked with railway networks may become the gateway not only to the Middle East, but also to the South Caucasus and countries of Central Asia that have no sea ports. Currently, as preliminary steps for a vital general modernization of the transport system, multi-purpose container terminals are added to the existing infrastructure in many ports of Turkey. The main goods traffic of Turkey is served by ten sea ports of the country. In recent years the ports of Trapizon, Haidarpash, Izmir and Mersin were widened for serving container traffic. It is obvious that Turkey intends to devour Georgia's existing potential with the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi railway, and, in particular, its ports, thereby averting the threat from TRACECA.

`It is clear that a powerful competitor for the Georgian section of the Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor will appear that will be able to turn Georgia into a pseudo-transit country,' the expert says. `Although this railway will pass through Georgia, the significance of Georgia as the main link of TRACECA will simply disappear. The thing is that presently Georgia is the only country within the framework of TRACECA that enables a gateway to the Black sea to the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia. After the realization of the project connecting the railway networks of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, the countries of Central Asia that have no access to the sea will have an easier access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean via Turkey, bypassing the Black Sea ports of Georgia.'

It is noteworthy that the Georgian ports of Batumi and Poti located not far from the Turkish Black Sea port of Trapizon are currently its serious competitors, and Turkey is envious of the competition. Thus, it is beyond doubt that Turkey will get the main dividends from the realization of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway construction project. And the transit role of Georgia will gradually reduce and will be subjected to the transit interests of Turkey. Even though it will still be possible to call Georgia a transit country, but no longer a transit country between Europe and Asia, but rather between Turkey and Azerbaijan.

By Aris Ghazinyan ArmeniaNow reporter

Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, a very "political" railway line
The South Caucasus should soon have a railway line linking Baku on the Caspian Sea to Kars in eastern Turkey. Behind this regional project that will strengthen the east-west corridor, governments are busy quarrelling with each other.

Against a background of endless turmoil surrounding the presidential elections in Azerbaijan, the task group for economic co-operation between the United States and Azerbaijan met on 1 December with a view to drafting a plan of action for planned developments. Amongst the priorities put forward was Baku’s application for candidacy of the World Trade Organisation, supported by Washington, the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline and the BTE gas pipeline, as well as the very controversial project of a Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway line.

The construction of a 90-km long section between Akhalkalaki (Georgia) and Kars (Turkey) is planned for this new railway line and will cost an estimated 600 million dollars. There are two issues at hand.

The first of these is economic. Almost 3 million tonnes of goods, primarily oil, is to be carried each year on this railway line. Currently, petrol from Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan is transported by wagons via Azerbaijan as far as Georgian ports on the Black Sea, to Poti and Batumi. Following the example of the BTC, this railway line to Turkey aims to ease congestion in petrol traffic in the Bosporus.

The second issue is political. This new transport artery will result in Turkey and Azerbaijan excluding Armenia slightly more by the regional strategy of opening up the southern Caucasus. This political-economic approach forms part of existing projects in Armenia concerning the major energy transport axes (BTC, BTE), such as roads. Today, Ankara and Baku are choosing to make Yerevan pay for his victory in Nagorno-Karabakh by intentionally isolating the region.

Ignoring Giumri
Armenia also accuses the Azeri, Georgian and Turkish authorities of not taking into account the already existing line linking Giumri in Armenia to Kars in order to reopen the Baku-Tbilisi-Giumri line, currently closed because of the Turkish embargo. At a press conference held on 30 August, the Armenian Foreign Affairs Minister Vartan Oskanian, expressed his opposition to this construction project and declared that he was ready to struggle fiercely against this construction plan. “Once the conflicts are resolved, we would see that such a high level of investment would have been a grave mistake”, he declared.

Kaan Sovak, joint president of the Turkish-Armenian business council and defender of Turkish-Armenian co-operation also stated his opposition to this project, as the Giumri-Kars line will shortly be ready for use once some renovation work has been carried out.

At a recent meeting in Ankara, the Turkish and Azeri Foreign Affairs Ministers reaffirmed the condition requiring the evacuation of Azeri territories by the Armenians in exchange for the lifting of the embargo. Today, it is still necessary to define what the Turkish and Azeri authorities mean by “Azeri territory”. Is it all of Nagorno-Karabakh or the numerous buffer zones that the Armenians occupy surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh? This is a thorny issue that even the Azeri authorities are reticent to deal with.

By François GREMY in Paris
Translated by Geraldine RING



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