On October 26, within the framework of the Silk Road Forum in Tbilisi, Nikol Pashinyan presented the project “Crossroads of Peace”. According to him, unblocking communications in the region will not only lead to the establishment of peace in the South Caucasus, but will also turn Armenia into a crossroads of infrastructure projects.
“Crossroads of Peace”: no peace, no crossroads
STEPANAKERT, NOVEMBER 16, ARTSAKHPRESS: According to these ideas, they include not only rail and road communication, but also energy communications. However, this vision is far from the real configuration in the region.
Will Armenia become the crossroads of the region?
Several transport and logistics projects are on the agenda in the South Caucasus region today. They can be divided into two conditional groups: meridian, which run vertically, and latitudinal, which run horizontally.
The first group includes “North-South” and “Persian Gulf-Black Sea”. The North-South international transport corridor should link Russia with India via Iran. The main communications of this route pass through the territory of Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and the Central Asian states. Armenia actually found itself outside of this project, since there is no railway connection with Iran and Russia, and the road section is not ready. In this context, Azerbaijan has an obvious advantage: after the construction of the Iranian section of Rasht-Astara, the cargo from the port of Bandar Abbas will reach Russia by direct railway through Azerbaijan. The Persian Gulf-Black Sea project is to link India with Europe along the Iran-Armenia-Georgia route. To speed up cargo delivery, India is participating in the modernization of the Iranian port of Chabahar, which should become an important hub in this project. In fact, Armenia has two possible formats of participation in this project: the construction of a high-quality highway from the border with Iran to Georgia or the connection of the Iran-Nakhichevan-Yerevan-Poti railway section. In the first case, Armenia transferred a section of the Goris-Kapan road to Azerbaijan after the 2020 war and is now building an alternative road, which is of rather poor quality. In the second case, Nakhichevan will become the main node.
The second group includes the projects of the “Middle Corridor” and the “Zangezur Corridor”. The first project, also known as the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TRACECA), is designed to connect Europe with Asia along the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan route. Within the framework of this route, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway operates, which, 6 years after commissioning, is loaded at 20% of its capacity. The second project, the Zangezur Corridor, is a key one for Turkey and Azerbaijan: it is primarily a political project, not an economic one. The Turkish leader R. Erdogan back in 2021 In fact openly stated this, there is no economic feasibility, since in this sense it would serve as an addition to the route for the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.
According to the vision of Turkey and Azerbaijan, the “Zangezur Corridor” should run along the Baku-Meghri-Nakhichevan-Kars route: that is, it will pass through Armenia only through the territory of Syunik. In addition to the announced plans of Ankara and Baku, this route is also enshrined in the “Shushi Declaration” of 2021:
“The parties note that the opening of the Zangezur corridor between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, which will connect Azerbaijan and Turkey, and the construction of the Nakhichevan-Kars railway, will make an important contribution to the intensification of transport and communication links between the two countries”.
That is, in the case of unblocking communications, vertical and horizontal routes will intersect in Nakhichevan, which will become a crossroads. This is exactly the scenario that Ankara and Baku are implementing: the Azerbaijani territory, located in the Turkish zone of influence, becomes the main regional crossroads on which the railway communication between Armenia and Iran will depend.
Can the “Crossroads of peace” project bring peace?
The term “crossroads of the world” is based on the creation of mutual economic dependence and the creation of a situation in the future when it is more profitable to cooperate and negotiate than to wage war. In other words, if Azerbaijan and Turkey receive communications through Armenia and lift its blockade, then trade and economic ties will increase, which will become a guarantee of peace.
However, there are a number of fundamental errors in this discourse. Firstly, liberal democracies are guided by such considerations. Neither Azerbaijan nor Turkey can be classified as such. An example of how they prefer a forceful solution to issues is the ethnic cleansing carried out in Nagorno-Karabakh and the events that preceded it: instead of offering attractive conditions for "integration", Azerbaijan cut off electricity and gas supplies in winter. Together with this measure, the subsequent blockade was designed to break the will of the Armenian population to stay in Artsakh and force them to leave their native places of residence.
Secondly, Ankara and Baku do not set themselves the goal of developing cooperation with Armenia. This is evidenced by the updated agenda of the two countries regarding Armenia after the capture of Nagorno-Karabakh: the transfer of so-called “enclaves” to Azerbaijan, the settlement of the regions of Armenia by Azerbaijani citizens, the closure of the nuclear power plant in Metsamor. The list of preconditions for peaceful coexistence will increase as Armenia fulfills its initial requirements. Let me remind you that the main condition for the normalization of relations was the resolution of the “Karabakh issue”. However, now qualitatively new requirements that were not previously the subject of negotiations are on the agenda.
Thirdly, the process of militarization continues in both countries. Turkey will increase the military budget by 150% and bring it to $40 billion, Azerbaijan's military spending will also increase, not decrease. The sides regularly conduct joint large-scale military exercises near the borders of Armenia. This activity correlates with the official discourse emanating from Baku and Ankara: conflicts have a military solution.
Fourth, both countries construct a narrative about “Western Azerbaijan”. According to Baku's ideas, it covers the entire territory of modern Armenia. In this context, the change of Armenian toponyms, hydronyms and other names to the Azerbaijani way continues. At the same time, the community of “Western Azerbaijan” continues to be active, receiving official support from the state. The development of such a socio-political infrastructure testifies to the expansionist intentions of Ankara and Baku.
Taken together these indicators, we can conclude that if Armenia does not accept the agenda of Azerbaijan and Turkey, the latter have enough political will and means to exert forceful pressure on Yerevan's coercion. In other words, peace is possible on the basis of the continuation of unilateral concessions to Armenia, which, of course, does not proceed from its interests.
In this sense, the concept of “Crossroads of Peace” is not relevant: Nakhichevan will become a crossroads, and Turkey and Azerbaijan will continue their expansionist policy using power tools.
Thus, the proposal of Turkey and Azerbaijan to unblock communications does not correspond to the interests of Armenia. Instead of realizing its interests, Armenia may come under influence of Turkey, which seems undesirable. In this context, it seems more profitable to pay attention to vertical communications with Iran and Russia, especially in light of Russia's attempts to resume the negotiation process on railway communication through Georgia with Armenia. This is relevant, given the position of Russia and Iran as key trade and economic partners of Armenia.