Experts from Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia participated in the discussion
On 26 June, the South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation hosted JAMnews media platform’s organized discussion: ‘Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway – the importance and possible outcome of the project for Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan’.
The silk & steel road through the Caucasus: Baku-Tbilisi-Kars trans-express railway – what are its pros and cons for Georgia and Azerbaijan, and why is Armenia not included
Paata Tsagareishvili, a Georgian expert, noted that ‘the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project ideally reflected a geopolitical situation in the region, given that this railway section is located in the European continent and represents an alternative corridor for rail communication with Asia’.
However, in his words, the project could only be economically profitable in the long-term perspective, since the volume transported via railway will not exceed 3-5 million tons in the next 2-3 years.
Tsagareishvili didn’t exclude the possible drop in freight turnover at the Georgian Poti and Batumi sea ports as a result of commencement of the aforesaid project. The ports can compensate those losses through implementation of the joint infrastructure projects.
As Toghrul Mashalli, an Azerbaijani exper pointed out during the discussion, the project first of all aimed at strengthening Azerbaijan’s ties with Turkey and Georgia. However, he noted that economic realities had changed since 2007, namely, there was a decline in the freight transit from Central Asia through Azerbaijan.
According to Mashalli, development of freight transit from Iran to the Black Sea ports via Azerbaijan can contribute to the successful implementation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project. However, the aforesaid development is hampered by Azerbaijan’s tariff policy, which is disadvantageous for Iran.
As Johnny Melikyan, an Armenian expert, stated during the discussion, in the period of activation of the Armenian-Turkish talks several years ago, there was certain hope that the existing Kars-Gyumri railway branch would be put into operation, but that didn’t happen. Melikyan also noted that the prospects of a Baku-Kars project seemed very vague for him. If the project had been implemented immediately upon the launch of construction, it could have brought substantial economic dividends to countries participating in the project. However, the situation has changed now – said Melikyan.
Agunik Ayvazyan, a JAMnews correspondent in Akhalkalaki, also participated in the discussion. She touched upon the project’s possible outcome for the local population. According to her, the local residents had pinned their hopes on being employed in the railway’s construction, but their hopes had not come true. Approximately 5 000 people, willing to be employed in the construction, had submitted their applications to the local administration. However, only about 100 people were employed.
She also noted that only part of the local population received state compensation for laying the new railroad through their land. Many locals are facing land registration problems, but they can’t either finalize the process or appeal to court due to the lack of money or poor knowledge of the Georgian language.
The construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars railway project was launched in 2007. The project provides for the reconstruction and restoration of the 160km Marabda-Akhalkalaki section, as well as construction of a new, 27km Akhalkalaki-Kartsakh section (near the border with Turkey) and a 68km section in the territory of Turkey.
The completion of the construction was postponed several times for different reasons. At present, the project is expected to be completed in 2018.