What is the Zangezur corridor project, which aims to connect Azerbaijan with the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and subsequently with Turkey through transportation routes? How do the countries of the region view the project?
Tens of soldiers from both sides lost their lives in the clashes in the border region between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the past few days.
Some experts pointed to the unraveling of the knot in the Zangezur corridor project as one of the reasons for the conflicts.
In a statement regarding the conflicts, the Azerbaijani Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that, in addition to various criticisms, “Armenia is facing new conditions and hindering the process of opening communication and transportation routes”.
So what is the Zangezur corridor project and how do the parties approach the issue?
What is the project?
The state, located in the southernmost part of Armenia, is called Syunik.
In Azerbaijan, the name Zangezur is used for this region.
There is Azerbaijan to the east of this region, Iran to the south, and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan to the west.
The Zangezur corridor project is the name of the project that aims to connect Azerbaijan directly to the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the land and railway transportation to be opened from this region.
In a broader sense, the project aims to connect Azerbaijan directly to Turkey.
Azerbaijan and Armenia approach the project differently.
Do Azerbaijan and Armenia have an agreement on the project?
The 2nd Nagorno-Karabakh War in 2020 ended with a ceasefire agreement signed under the mediation of Russia.
Article 9 of the agreement stipulated the opening of transportation routes between the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Azerbaijan.
In this article, “All economy and transportation links in the region will be opened. Republic of Armenia; guarantees the safety of transport links between the western regions of the Azerbaijan Republic and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, in order to organize the unhindered movement of people, vehicles and goods in both directions.
The text also included the sentence “With the agreement of the parties, the construction of new transport links connecting the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the Western regions of Azerbaijan will be carried out”.
With this article, Azerbaijan claims that the two countries have agreed on the Zangezur corridor.
Armenia, on the other hand, states that it supports the opening of transportation routes, but the name Zangezur is not used in this article, and a corridor project as requested by Baku is not mentioned.
How are the approaches of Yerevan and Baku?
Baku seems to insist on the project.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, in an interview with a state-owned TV channel in 2021, said, “The creation of the Zangezur corridor fully coincides with our national, historical and future interests. Whether Armenia wants it or not, we will implement the Zangezur corridor. If Armenia wants, we will solve this issue more easily, if not, we will solve it by force,” he said.
Speaking to BBC Turkish, Assoc. Dr. Hakan Güneş comments on why Azerbaijan is very enthusiastic about the project, based on several reasons:
“It is important to ensure the exchange of goods and the passage of people between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Region. Secondly, this corridor will not be the territory of Azerbaijan, but Azerbaijan will have a legal basis on which it unites its lands through this corridor. Third, Azerbaijan wants to consolidate its role in transferring both its own energy resources and the energy resources of the region in Central Asia and the Caspian to the West.”
Yerevan criticizes Azerbaijan’s project.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, in an interview with TV channel Al Jazeraa in the past months, said, “The so-called corridor expression is unacceptable for us and it is a red line for us because according to the tripartite agreement, there is only one corridor in our region and that is the Lachin corridor.”
In a statement he made in September, Pashinyan said, “Azerbaijan is talking about a corridor. However, I would like to say clearly that we will not give anyone a corridor through Armenian lands. But we will suggest a way, we will make a way, and we are ready to do it at any time. We have presented these offers to Azerbaijan, as soon as Azerbaijan accepts, we will be able to implement this agreement quickly.”
It is seen that there are differences between the route that Yerevan calculates to establish the connection between Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the route that Azerbaijan wants.
It is also understood that there are differences of opinion on the legal status of this road.
Assoc. Dr. Hakan Güneş states that there are months of negotiations between the parties regarding the ninth article, that there is a need for additional agreement on the issue, and that there are disagreements in the negotiations regarding additional agreements.
Why does Turkey want?
Ankara defends the Zangezur corridor project demanded by Azerbaijan and considers it very important.
The project is seen as an opportunity for Turkey to open directly to Azerbaijan and the Turkic republics in Central Asia.
With the Shusha Declaration signed by Turkey and Azerbaijan on July 15, the approach to the project has also gained a formality.
The relevant part of this agreement included the following statements:
“The parties stated that the opening of the corridor (Zengezur Corridor) between the Western districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan connecting Turkey and Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the construction of the Nakhchivan-Kars railway as a continuation of the said corridor will contribute significantly to the intensification of transport-communication relations between the two countries. they indicate.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a statement during his visit to Azerbaijan last year, “The land and railway lines that will pass through this geography will create economic and commercial opportunities not only for Azerbaijan and Turkey, but also for all countries in the region. One day we will be able to leave Zengezur and go to Istanbul, we will be able to go to Iğdır and Kars, and the region’s position as a transit logistics center will be riveted. All neighbors of Azerbaijan, including Iran, Georgia and Armenia, will benefit from this development,” he said.
Why is Iran worried?
Tehran, on the other hand, is concerned about the Zangezur project, as Azerbaijan has brought to the agenda.
Some experts; He comments that Iran sees the project as a development that will jeopardize its border connection with Armenia. Academic Hakan Güneş, on the other hand, draws attention to the issue of ‘possible rising nationalism’ while commenting on Iran’s concern:
“Iran’s discomfort is basically the further strengthening of Azerbaijan. Iran is very concerned about the nationalist rise of Iranian Azeris, who form a significant population in its north. There is also concern about the increase of Turkey’s power in the Caucasus.
“There is also a lot of economic dependence of Armenia on Iran, albeit not in large numbers, because it is under a blockade. But these are the details, Iran’s main concern is nationalism.”
What is Russia’s position?
Russia is the most important actor in the corridor discussions, apart from Azerbaijan and Armenia.
As the guarantor of the ceasefire agreement, Moscow generally supports the opening of new transport routes between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan.
Article 9 of the agreement also states that “Transport control shall be carried out by the bodies of the Border Guard Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation”.
So any new transportation project will be controlled by Russian forces.
Assoc. Dr. Hakan Güneş interprets this as a diplomatic success for Russia:
“This is already the formulation of Russia. He places Russia at the head of two customs there. This means that Russia is not only present in Nagorno-Karabakh as a peacekeeping mission. It gains a position outside Karabakh and also in the corridor.”