By Orkhan Amashov
The idea of the Zangazur corridor, once contemplated purely in hypothetical terms as an idealistic surmise, is assuredly evolving into an inexorable inevitability. Subsequent to a series of legal and practical measures put into practice by Azerbaijan since the end of last year's Second Karabakh War, the establishment of a transport corridor connecting “Azerbaijan proper” with its Nakhchivan exclave, through the southern portion of Armenia, is closer to fruition than has ever previously been the case.
Logic of Article 9
The Second Karabakh War and the ceasefire agreement, signed by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia on 10 November 2020, created a new reality in the South Caucasus, of which the plans as to the Zangazur corridor are an integral element. Azerbaijan, as a victor, was successful in including a special provision, namely Article 9, within the trilateral statement on “unblocking of all economic and transport connections in the region” and obligating Armenia to “guarantee the security of transport connections between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic to arrange unobstructed movement of persons, vehicles and cargo in both directions”. This provision is, at present, an international legal foundation of Azerbaijan’s claim as to an overland passage connecting mainland Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan.
Although Article 9 does not mention the Zangazur corridor as a term, it clearly states that the communication routes connecting the western territories of Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan are to be unblocked. If to interpret the meaning of the provision, “unblocking” here could mean both the reestablishment of the routes that once existed and the building of new ones. There had been two routes connecting Azerbaijan with its exclave prior to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The first and shortest one was alongside the Zangazur corridor proposed by Azerbaijan, the second was a long and circuitous route, connecting Ijevan with Gazakh. Although there is nothing in Article 9 precluding the second route from reopening, if to focus on the purported meaning entrenched in it, the considerations of ‘efficiency’ and the importance of ascribing due importance to the impact of reconnecting Azerbaijan’s main territory with the autonomous republic, the route alongside the Zangezur passage emerges as the answer to the question as to what was meant by Article 9.
Article 9 has been a point of contention between Baku and Yerevan since the time of the signing of the November deal. Throughout 2021, Armenia was compelled to retract and readjust its official stance twice. Initially, Yerevan insisted that the route connecting Ijevan to Gazakh is to be on the agenda. Then the Armenian government agreed to the route alongside the Zangazur corridor but declared that it should entail a railway route only.
Such a view was utterly incompatible with Baku’s vision of the corridor, which, as President Ilham Aliyev made abundantly clear in his interview with the CNN Turk TV channel earlier in August, in order to be fully operational, had to comprise both railway and highway routes. “We should be able to get in a car in Baku and comfortably go to Nakhchivan and Turkey,” the Azerbaijani President declared most emphatically.
Armenia was forced to concede again. On 15 October, Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan, in an online CIS summit, confirmed Armenia’s readiness to provide both railway and highway connections to Azerbaijan, via southern Armenian territories, which would link mainland Azerbaijan with its exclave of Nakhchivan.
Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Caucasus Institute in Yerevan, believes the establishment of the corridor is a foregone conclusion, as Baku and Yerevan have already agreed on the principal issues pertaining to the opening of a route via Syunik. Whether there will be a discussion as to the corridor within the forthcoming days, whether it will be included within a larger peace treaty or there will be a separate statement as to it, one thing is very clear – the facts on the ground and rumoured developments suggest Azerbaijan and Armenia are close to a common understanding on the subject of the corridor.
First of all, Armenian leaders are generally cognisant of and excited about the positive impact that the reopening of the country's closed borders and the unblocking of transportation routes would bring. For instance, Armenian Economy Minister Vahan Kerobyan anticipates that Armenia’s GDP will be increased by 30 percent in the course of two years if Article 9 of the November deal is implemented.
Secondly, there have recently been some dynamic developments on the Turkish-Armenian front, as some positive messages have been exchanged as to the possible normalisation of relations. However, while Armenia demands that this process begins without preconditions, Turkey has tied the normalisation of relations between the two countries to Armenia’s consent to the opening of transportation corridors in the region.
Thirdly, in a move toward reconciliation, Azerbaijan and Armenia agreed to use each other’s airspace for civilian flights. On 6 October, Azerbaijani Airlines started flying through the airspace over the territory of Armenia for its connections between Baku and Nakhchivan.
On 13 October, the religious leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia met for the first time since the end of the war and delivered messages of peace. There are some reports that the two South Caucasus countries also plan to re-activate the work of the trilateral working group, which was established early in January this year and tasked with presenting action plans to their governments regarding regional rail and highway projects.
The idea of the Zangazur corridor is, in terms of its origins, an Azerbaijani plan. Armenia may express its disdain toward the ‘corridor’ term and insist on referring to the prospective route with a different word. But the gist of the present state of developments is unmistakably clear: Azerbaijan is destined to secure an overland passage to its Nakhchivan exclave and that corridor is to be at the heart of the regional development in which Baku and Ankara are to set the tempo, together with the Kremlin.
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