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Democratization in Post-Soviet region: Case of Azerbaijan

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Between 1987 and 1988, democratic movements in the Soviet region had already started, covering mainly the Baltic States, as well as Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. These demonstrations of independence were followed by almost all of the Soviet Republics in the following years, including Azerbaijan.

Like the other oil states created in the ruins of the Soviet Union, post-Communist Azerbaijan faced a complex legacy in the 1990s, which was formed as an outcome of the Soviet inherited trends of economic and political development. These difficulties were intensified not only by the military conflict in Nagorno Karabakh, but also by the harsh actions of the political and economic elites of post-Soviet states.

One point specific to the case of Azerbaijan was the difficulties of transporting oil in order to achieve economic growth. During his research about Azerbaijan in the 19th  century, Russian geographer Pyotr Chikhachev noted the “isolation of Baku from European markets”. In order to provide democratic consolidation to the newly independent Azerbaijan, diversification of transport routes was needed, because that would lead to gain profit and to implement further projects in the country.

This essay will demonstrate that the geopolitical situation of Azerbaijan has had a negative effect on democratization and nation-building processes. A brief history of the first years of independent Azerbaijan will be analyzed in the first section, while the second section will cover post-war period and the projects and reforms implemented on the behalf of democratization. The conclusion will give a brief review of the essay and offer future implications.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF INDEPENDENCE: THE NAGORNO KARABAKH WAR PERIOD

Black January: the enlightenment

On 9 January 1990, neighboring Armenian SSR took advantage of the unrest and voted to include Azerbaijani autonomous oblast of Nagorno  Karabakh in its budget and allowed its inhabitants to vote in Armenian elections. This action caused rage throughout Azerbaijan, thus disregarding Azerbaijani jurisdiction. Demonstrations started against this decision throughout the country – mainly in Baku – led by the newly formed Popular Front of Azerbaijan. On 19 January 1990, a decree issued by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and signed by M. Gorbachev introduced a state of emergency in Baku and some other places in Azerbaijan SSR. Following the curfew, on the night of January 19th, some 26000 Soviet troops entered Baku from several directions, destroyed the central television station as well as radio and phone lines in order to maintain the information blockade. It was already 20 January when the Soviet troops moved inside of city and crushed the civilian population. The death toll was between 131-137, while up to 800 civilians were wounded and 5 people were missing. These actions didn’t stop the people: almost the whole population of Baku flowed to the streets to bury the dead on 22 January.

The violent authoritarian break-down on 20 January 1990 made the re-democratization process stronger – the earlier democratic failure was between 1918-1920, before Soviet troops invaded Azerbaijan Democratic Republic. On 18 October 1991, the Supreme Council of Azerbaijan finally adopted the Declaration of Independence, followed by a nation-wide referendum in December of the same year. Prior to that, Ayaz Mutallibov was elected as the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The Nagorno Karabakh War

The Declaration of Independence did not create a base for democratic consolidation. The clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan that started in 1988 intensified in 1991. On 6 January 1992, a referendum was held in Nagorno Karabakh – which was boycotted by the Azerbaijani community – resulted in the declaration of independence of Nagorno Karabakh from Azerbaijan. Thus, escalated the conflict and eliminated the ability of Azerbaijan to withstand shocks. The war itself roughly lasted 6 years, between 1988-1994, and costed for Azerbaijan 12000 dead, 50000 wounded and 4210 missing soldiers, as well as 167-763 civilian death only in 1992 and 724000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). But the war had other consequences that obstructed the democratization process. This includes fractures within the government itself and a possible military coup.

The political instability and its outcomes

The years 1992-1993 were memorable years in the political history of Azerbaijan because of the power struggle. As a result of Khojaly Massacre – according to official records, 613 civilians murdered by Armenian forces and 366th CIS regiment – in Nagorno Karabakh, Mutallibov had to resign on March 6, 1992. Yagub Mammadov replaced him as executive of presidential powers until Mutallibov regained the power on May 14. But this presidency did not last long either, thus Popular Front of Azerbaijan took control of Parliament of Azerbaijan, thereby deposing Mutallibov, who left for Moscow on May 15, 1992. Moreover, Isa Gambar elected as the chairman of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan and took the duty of acting president until the national elections. Finally, on 7th  of June, Popular Front member Abulfaz Elchibay won the national elections and became the President of Azerbaijan Republic.

As mentioned before, war itself brought other troubles. The retreat of Soviet troops from the region created a weapons vacuum, thus former soldiers traded their weapons for cash to either sides, sometimes even sold tanks and armored personnel carriers.   Taking the advantage of situation, a commander named Surat Huseynov created his own military brigade, purchased many weapons and vehicles, opposed against the Popular Front of Azerbaijan. He was a successful commander in the war since the beginning of 1992. As a result of conflict between him and Popular front, Huseynov orders to disarm the 709th military base in Ganja, which is commanded by himself, then marches towards Baku, the capital on June 1993.

The increasing political tensions in the country and a possible military coup made Elchibay to invite Heydar Aliyev – the head of Supreme Assembly of Nakhchivan during that time – to Baku in order to solve the internal conflict. On June 15, 1993 Elchibay appointed Heydar Aliyev as the chairman of the National Assembly of the Azerbaijani Republic. After this event, Elchibay retreated to his hometown and this action deepened the political crisis in the country. Heydar Aliyev proposed  Surat  Huseynov  as  prime minister and  after the approval  of the National Assembly to the requested office, his supporters backed up. After another coup d’état attempt against Aliyev by Huseynov’s units on 5 October 1994, which was immediately suppressed, Huseynov fled to Russia.   On 1997 Russia extradited Huseynov to Azerbaijan, where he was charged  with  treason  and  attempted  coup,  among  other crimes.  On 1997  Russia extradited Huseynov to Azerbaijan, where he charged with treason and attempted coup, among other crimes.

After Elchibay’s retreat and Aliyev’s assignment by the National Assembly as acting president, he became 3rd  elected president of the Republic of Azerbaijan by a nation-wide presidential election on 3 October 1993. Up until this time Armenian forces already occupied the whole Nagorno Karabakh and 11 surrounding districts. Finally, after long discussions in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a provisional ceasefire agreement was signed by representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and as a mediator, Russia on 5 May 1994. On the one hand Bishkek Protocol, still in effect, ended Nagorno Karabakh War, on the other hand did not solve the conflict once for all. But the ceasefire was a necessary action for a country that gained independence recently, in order to stabilize the government and strengthen democratic roots.

The first years of democratic Azerbaijan were too fragile. There was almost no democratic consolidation to enforce the regime transformation. Several events prevented democratic consolidation, including the war, internal conflicts and absence of democratic roots. Although Burnell and Rakner explain that “just as there can be political transition without transition to democracy, so there can be democratic transition without democratic consolidation”; this scenario was impossible for the case of Azerbaijan because of the above-mentioned issues. Azerbaijan needed strong democratic consolidation in order to withstand shocks, both internal and external, so that the transition period could be completed. A democratic country cannot arise just by declaring independence, it needs stronger motives and hard work.

POST-WAR PERIOD: REFORMS AND ENERGY PROJECTS UNDER THE TWO PRESIDENTS

Azerbaijan and Heydar Aliyev

Finally, in 1994, the war ended and the government was stabilized. But this was not the end, there were further challenges for Azerbaijan. As Nikolay Dobronravin mentioned, Azerbaijan also encountered issues with the transport curse, mainly because of the war with Armenia, that closed the route to Europe by dividing the country in two parts. Azerbaijan also suffered from the ongoing instability in neighboring Georgia and the conflict in Chechnya.

Azerbaijan was a natural resource rich country and during its first years of independence, there was not so much technology and investment for the allocation of resources. War was costly and the country needed investment, so the best option was involving foreign companies for oil extraction.

As a result of this, Aliyev’s government implemented 20 production sharing agreements, which concluded Azerbaijan oil strategy’s integral part. This International Contract was signed by the president and other participants on 20 September 1994 and ratified by the National Assembly on 2 December. In 1995, Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) – a consortium that included BP, Amoco, Lukoil, Pennzoil, UNOCAL, Statoil, McDermott, Ramco, TPAO, Delta Nimir and SOCAR (Azerbaijan) – was formed. Because of the volume and strategic importance for Azerbaijan, this contract was labeled the “Contract of the Century”.

Pipeline diversity was a further strategic objective for Azerbaijan. Firstly, northern route was used for delivering oil to Europe through Novorossiisk, Russia. The oil transport diversion started in 1999, when Baku-Supsa pipeline opened. In 2005 another pipeline – Baku-Tbilisi- Ceyhan (BTC) – was constructed for delivering Azerbaijani oil to Europe and the world. in 2007 Azerbaijan became one of the Europe’s gas exporters by building Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline.

These projects developed Azerbaijan’s hydrocarbon reserves and also brought lots of ‘unearned state income’. In order to manage this money flow and overcome the resource curse, a national resource fund – State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOFAZ) – was founded in 1999. The main objective of SOFAZ was to save financial assets earned from natural resource for current and future generations.

In order to provide democratic consolidation, Aliyev held several reforms, mainly on the agrarian sector, with the privatization of the sector as the primary goal. Several laws and reforms were adopted: “the Basis of Agrarian Reform law” (18 February 1995); “Reform of state and collective farms” (18 February 1995); “Land Reform” (16 July 1996); “State land cadaster, land monitoring and structure law” (22 December 1998), “Land rent decree” (12 March 1999), “land market law” (7 May 1999). Moreover, The Land Code of the Azerbaijani Republic was adopted on 25 June 1999.

The successor: Ilham Aliyev

In 2003, after the death of Heydar Aliyev, his son, Ilham Aliyev succeeded his father. He also continued to develop the economy through energy projects, as economic development is considered one of the best guarantors of durable democracy. He reportedly stressed the importance of the Southern Gas Corridor – consists of several projects, including South Caucasus Pipeline extension (SCPx), Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP), Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) – because of the importance of this project for Azerbaijan to transport natural gas to Europe. At the time, SCPx was already completed and ran alongside BTC oil pipeline. In addition to this, presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey inaugurated TANAP on 12 June 2018. The country’s GDP increased 5 times between 2003-2016, reaching 37.848 billion USD from 7.276 billion USD.

Aliyev, since the start of his presidency in 2003, has adopted 5 anti-corruption plans, including State Programme on Fight Against Corruption (2004-2006),  National Strategy on Strengthening Transparency and Fight Against Corruption (2007-2011), National Action Plan on Fight Against Corruption and Promotion of Open Government (2012-2015) and National Action Plan on Promotion of Open Government (2016-2018). On top of these actions, the Law on Fight against corruption came into force and the Anti-Corruption Directorate under General Prosecutor Office was formed on 3 March 2004. According to Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013, 69% of respondents say that government’s efforts are effective to fight corruption.

CONCLUSION

In general, during Heydar Aliyev’s mandate, the political stability recovered in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan became a part of the GUAM bloc (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova), which presented a counterbalance to Russia in the region. Under the conditions of political stability, several reforms and privatization were implemented and economic growth was observed during this time.

As a result of these democratization efforts, Azerbaijan was elected as a non-permanent member of United Nations Security Council in 2012, thus being the first country in South Caucasus and Central Asia region to take this function. In order to strengthen democratic consolidation, Aliyev implemented several reforms in the recent months, which resulted in the replacement of old ministers and government officials, who were holding office for 20-25 years, by a younger generation. Public opinion towards the president’s actions also seems to be positive as well. According to a survey conducted by Opinionway, a French research center, 85% of the people appreciate President Aliyev’s actions as positive, while 80% of those perceive that stability in the country is due to Aliyev’s positive moves.

Furthermore, one expected outcome is the creation of more democratic institutions. On 5 December 2019, President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree on the dissolution of the parliament and a new parliamentary election. The latter will be held on 9 February 2020 and results are expected to be positive as well.

One negative issue remains: Nagorno Karabakh. Despite more than 20 years of mediations through the OSCE Minsk Group, no political result to this conflict has been found yet. Sometimes escalation can be observed at the border, leading to death for both sides.

Azerbaijan’s way to democratization has been tough and even bloody at times. But lots of progress was made, especially on democratic consolidation, while Azerbaijan continues on the path of nation-building with new reforms and policy perspectives. Democratic widening has been achieved under the corporation of democratic principles in public and private areas. Under the roof of new executive and future legislative bodies, the country will show a more positive image on the basis of democratic consolidation.

Abbas Zeynalli is the MA Student of University of Bologna and the Research Fellow from Topchubashov Center, Azerbaijan. His areas of interest cover Middle East, Chinese foreign policy, South Caucasus and European integration.

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Eastern Europe

Can economic cooperation contribute to sustainable peace in Karabakh?

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A major step has taken towards the Karabakh conflict on November 10, 2020. The century-old conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia has undoubtedly, entered a different phase with the signing of a trilateral statement by Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia. Before this, in late September, Azerbaijan has launched a successful counter-offensive to implement the UN Security Council Resolutions (822, 853, 874, 884) through liberating its territories that were under Armenian occupation for almost 30 years. As a result of the military campaign, Azerbaijan was able to get back the majority of the strategic points in Karabakh including the historic city of Shusha. 

While the protests broke out in the Armenian capital Yerevan, when PM Pashinyan publicly declared that he was obliged to sign the agreement to prevent its army from a total collapse, the Azerbaijani side enjoyed the victory by massive celebrations in Baku. The President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed the statement on a live broadcast, and right after, addressed the nation and familiarized the Azerbaijani public with the context. As the details revealed by President Aliyev, it became obvious that the agreement was the capitulation of the Armenian side.

Afterward, the consequence of the “44-day war” was described as “a defeat both on the battlefield and in the diplomatic arena” by the Armenian President Armen Sarkissian. Namely, the agreement comprised the unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian troops from the occupied territories within a definite schedule, the return of all refugees, and the deployment of the Russian peacekeepers in the several points of Karabakh. Furthermore, the cardinal element of the statement is that there was not a word about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Apparently, the overwhelming military advantage of Azerbaijan induced the Armenian government to come to the negotiation table and finalize its illegal military presence within the boundaries of a neighboring sovereign state.

The agreement further articulates the opening of all communications, restoration of economic and transport links. Due to the stipulated economic notions, the statement possesses a significant role for lasting and sustainable peace. In this context, if Armenia would ensure adherence to the principles of the trilateral statement, the possible economic consequences will encapsulate in two dimensions: regional and global.

The regional dimension or local basis encompasses joint initiatives and shall include Georgia as well. For instance, the “South Caucasus Economic Union” could emerge to build high-quality cross-border infrastructure, to establish intraregional supply chains, and to form stronger financial links. The project rationale derives from the recognition that the development of an integrated South Caucasus, which can guarantee peace and spur growth in all fields, requires multiple, cohesive, and long-term efforts. Thus, the fundamental prerequisite for Armenia is to terminate all the hostilities with neighboring countries.

In the mutually assured peace environment, Azerbaijan and Armenia would strongly benefit from enormous savings on conflict-related fiscal expenditures. Military expenditures could be lessened by 2% of annual GDP in both countries to a reasonable level as in the countries at peace. Besides, Azerbaijan could eventually save expenditures for supporting refugees amounting to 0.4% of annual GDP, thus diminishing total expenditure by 2.4% of GDP yearly. Armenia could save annual expenditures of 0.9% of GDP for supporting the local economy in Nagorno-Karabakh and 0.1% of GDP in interest payments, thus saving 3% of GDP every year. Such massive fiscal savings would enable both countries to avert the budget-related issues and at the same time substantially increase spending in social spheres by eliminating any budgetary pressures.

In the global dimension, South Caucasus is capable of creating opportunities for sustainable growth. The ongoing conflict was generating an elevated extent of risks, which were constituting several constraints for the capital flow to the region. Since an opportunity has emerged to settle the conflict thoroughly regarding the trilateral statement, the effect that it would create in the future on ratings, risk premiums on bonds, loans and equity, investment, and finally, economic growth are likely to be very positive.

The South Caucasus region, acting as a link between the Middle East, China, Russia, and Europe, has immense strategic significance. Previously opened the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, today serves as the shortest way to deliver Chinese goods to Turkey and reduces delivery time to Western Europe. This project was developed within a larger Trans-Caspian International Transit Route, as part of the Belt & Road Initiative.

Within the scope of the agreement, Azerbaijan gained a corridor that links the mainland to the exclave Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic through the Zangazur region of Armenia. The new corridor seems to be a more efficient alternative from distance and timing aspects. Thus, the agreement can be characterized as pivotal since it will not only stimulate the regional development credibly, it will transform the region into a hub of the international supply chain system, as well.

Undoubtedly, the foremost economic issue will be compensation as Armenia officially approved itself as the aggressor state in this conflict with the sign of PM Pashinyan on November 10. According to the United Nations, the overall damage to the Azerbaijani economy has estimated to be around $53.5 billion in 1994. Recently, President Ilham Aliyev stated that foreign experts are going to be invited for the up-to-datecalculations of the total damage as the result of the occupation.

After a longstanding negotiation process, the situation has been exacerbated, and inevitably, processes oriented to the military theatre. This trilateral statement can forestall the risks of resumption of the military operations in this phase. Here, strengthening the capacity to manage the conflict and promote peace through regional economic integration, trade facilitation initiatives, and other policy measures will be on the agenda. There is a plethora of similar practices in the world so that it might lead to a feasible solution.

The Karabakh conflict was making South Caucasus one of the most explosive regions in Eurasia. Nevertheless, from this moment, the focus shall be on the peacemaking process as it yields considerable economic benefits. As mentioned, the flow of investments to the region will tremendously increase, whereby the states in South Caucasus will be able to maximize their economic potentials. For Armenia, it is time to act on facts and realities rather than dreams. So, it should renounce territorial claims and start to rational cooperation with neighbors for a better future.

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The new border geopolitics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Azerbaijan

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Borders are spatial-political phenomena that have a prominent importance and place in the global political sphere because they have divided the world arena into countries and put them together as actors. This importance and prominent position of borders has caused various fields of study such as political science, political geography, international law, etc. to study them from their point of view and continuously to follow and monitor their developments and changes. In the meantime, it seems that after the acceptance of the ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia along the northwestern borders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, some developments have happened that need to examine. So, we examine these developments with a geopolitical perspective. The geopolitical attitude towards the border developments of Iran and Azerbaijan can analyze in the form of the following angles:
Border geopolitics in terms of location is the knowledge, acquisition, exploitation and preservation of geographical sources of power in border areas and related areas in transnational, national, regional and global relations. In other words, designing and reviewing the strategies of actors to achieve benefits and goals based on the geographical resources of power in the border areas called border geopolitics. The developments along the Iran-Azerbaijan border after the ceasefire show these developments cause the geographical sources of Iran's power: alliance with Armenia; severance of Iran's position as Azerbaijan-Nakhchivan communication bridge; reducing Azerbaijan's dependence on Iran for access to the high seas; reducing the possibility of transferring Iranian gas to Europe, etc. that along the borders should significantly reduce. On the other hand, the increase of geographical sources of power: increasing the size of the territory; establishing a connection with the Nakhchivan sector; forming a new opportunity to connect with the high seas through Turkey, etc. has brought about for the country of Azerbaijan. Based on this, it seems that in designing the forthcoming strategies of Iran and Azerbaijan, we will see changes in the geographical sources of power due to these changes.
 
Border geopolitics from a functional point of view is the knowledge, acquisition, exploitation and preservation of geographical sources of power in transnational, national, regional and global relations to achieve protection, control, management, security and other objectives in the length of borders and border areas. In other words, designing and reviewing the strategies of actors to achieve protection, control, management, security and other goals based on the geographical sources of power in the border areas called border geopolitics. If we examine the developments along the Iranian-Azerbaijani border after the ceasefire from this point of view, we will see that the importance and value of Azerbaijan's geographical resources along the border with Iran is increasing compared to Iran's geographical sources of power. It seems to put more effective and successful strategies in front of Azerbaijan to achieve goals such as control, security, etc. along the common borders. On the contrary, it will change the strategies facing Iran to some extent.

Border geopolitics from a player point is the knowledge, acquisition, exploitation and preservation of geographical resources of power in the border areas of the two countries, by Iran and Azerbaijan to achieve their goals and aspirations in transnational, national, regional and global. In other words, the use and exploitation of the geographical sources of power in the common border areas of Iran and Azerbaijan to achieve their goals and aspirations in transnational, national, regional and global relations called geopolitical borders.If we examine the developments along the Iranian-Azerbaijani border after ceasefire from this point of view, we will see that these changes have made Azerbaijan, as a geopolitical player compared to Iran, more powerful than geographical sources. On the other hand, variety of actors such as Turkey, Russia, etc. are present directly along the borders of the two countries.

In general, the changes that have taken place along the borders of Iran and Azerbaijan from a geopolitical point of view of the border seem to have been in favor of Azerbaijan and the geographical sources of power along the border between two countries in favor of this country. It has changed and thus increased the efficiency of the strategies facing Azerbaijan against the strategies of Iran based on the geographical sources of power in the border areas.

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The Emerging Nakhchivan Corridor

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As the details of the Karabakh deal are being fleshed out, the stipulation on the new corridor through Armenian territory has caused great debate. Beyond the signatories of the deal, Iran and Georgia are particularly worried as any meaningful change to the connectivity patterns in the South Caucasus could harm their transit capabilities.

The 2020 Karabakh war ended with major Russian diplomatic success on November 9 when a tripartite agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia was signed. The surrounding seven regions were to be returned to Baku, while Russian peacekeepers would guarantee the security of the truncated Nagorno-Karabakh. Though the exact role is yet to be confirmed, based on the rhetoric from Ankara and Baku, some sort of direct Turkish military involvement on Azeri soil is likely to materialize. 

More importantly, however, Turkey gained a land corridor to Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan. The stipulation in the document reads: “Armenia guarantees the security of transport links … for unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles, and cargo in both directions” between mainland Azerbaijan and the exclave of Nakhchivan, which are separated by Armenian territory. Moreover, “Transport control is exercised by the Border Service of the Federal Security Service of Russia. By agreement of the parties, the construction of new transport communications connecting the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Azerbaijan’s western regions will be provided.”

The stipulation is a major breakthrough for Turkey as it would allow the country to anchor its influence on the Caspian Sea and perhaps, in the longer term, look even further towards its Central Asia kinsmen. 

This would create a major dilemma for Iran and Russia, as Tehran and Moscow have historically perceived the Caspian Sea as a condominium between themselves (plus the littoral states since the end of the Soviet Union). Potential Turkish involvement could disrupt this equilibrium and especially Iran’s standing. However, this is highly hypothetical. After all, it would need years if not decades for this scenario to be realized and even then Turkish influence could not be as large as Chinese or Russian – two major forces in the region.

What bothers Iran is a potentially major shift in the region’s transportation routes. For decades Azerbaijan has been dependent on Iran for transiting energy and other supplies to Nakhchivan. The new Karabakh deal could change it. Armenia will now guarantee the opening up of a corridor through its territory to allow Azerbaijan to transport goods directly to Nakhichevan. Quite naturally, this limits Tehran’s leverage over Baku.

However, Javad Hedayati, who heads transit operations in the Iranian transportation ministry, announced that Iran is likely to stay a favorable route for trade despite the planned opening of the new corridor. “It is likely that this corridor will merely accommodate local traffic between the Republic of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan,” said Hedayati.

Ankara has long been working on using the Nakhchivan corridor for geopolitical purposes. This is proved by the quickness with which the Turkish government announced the plans to build a railway to Nakhchivan following the November agreement. This comes on top of an earlier announcement of a gas pipeline construction to the exclave, and underlines the seriousness behind the Turkish intention, at least regarding the section from the Turkish territory to the exclave itself.

Much, however, remains unclear about the new corridor on the Armenia territory itself. First of all, will the road be used by the Turks and Azerbaijanis only? Considering the level of mistrust in Ankara and Baku towards Moscow, whose forces will be controlling this corridor, it is highly unlikely that Azerbaijan and Turkey will be willing to commit large financial resources to rebuild links on the Armenian land. After all, will the corridor be the Armenian territory, or will it fall under the tripartite administrative regime? These are arguably the defining questions which remain unanswered. One could also imagine constant incidents along the corridor as Armenia will remain unhappy with the stipulation. Transit fees could soften Yerevan’s position, but why should Russia be interested in the operation of the corridor? If the corridor is operational, these troublesome questions will have to be managed between the two sides sharing no trust in the other. These dilemmas were well summed up in the words of the Iranian official Hedayati. He stressed that Armenia could prevent Turkey’s access to the corridor for transfer of freight or passengers through Nakhchivan to Azerbaijan and further to countries to the east of the Caspian Sea.

Georgia is worried

One country which is particularly worried with the potential development of the new corridor is Georgia. Various pipelines, roads and a major railway transit the country from Azerbaijan on to Turkey. This has been a backbone of Georgia’s regional importance since the end of the Soviet Union and indeed served as a major attraction for larger players such as Europe and the US.

Quite naturally many in Tbilisi have begun to think whether this enviable position could be challenged. The consensus thought is that in the short and medium term no reshuffling in the region’s connectivity patterns is likely to take place. Even in the longer term, if the above mentioned uncertainties around the new corridor are resolved, many still believe that Baku and Ankara would not trade the already built and functioning railway and pipeline infrastructure, which runs through Georgia, for the Nakhchivan alternative. Perhaps the corridor will serve for ensuring local connections, perhaps limited trade (though highly unlikely).

After all, Georgia has been officially engaged in the trilateral partnership with Turkey and Azerbaijan for nearly a decade. The endurance of the format has been tested by changes of governments and region-wide geopolitical transformations over the last decade. Each country of the three needs the others. Turkey wants a more stable Georgia with deeper economic and energy relations, while Azerbaijan needs Turkey’s backing. Georgia, under pressure from Russia and, given that it is located between its two fellow members of the cooperation, dependent on transit, in turn needs both Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Georgia also sees its position as straddling between two large regions – Europe and Central Asia. The 826-kilometre Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway unveiled in 2017 enables the delivery of cargo between China and Europe with a haulage duration of approximately two weeks. Up to eight million tons of cargo may be carried via the railway by 2025.

Abandoning this transit corridor would undermine the efficacy of the South Caucasus transportation and energy corridor. This makes the extent of the Nakhchevan corridor quite limited. Perhaps, what the region is likely to see is the growing interconnectedness of the exclave with the Turkish territory. The emergence of a major corridor through the Nakhchivan is likely to happen if, at minimum, a meaningful improvement of Turkey-Armenia relations takes place. 

Author’s note: first published in caucasuswatch.de

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