Zangazur Corridor: Armenia's extraterritoriality angst, two platforms, three neighbours
By Orkhan Amashov
In defeat and partial, however superficial, renunciation of its grandiose ambitions, Armenia has gained a valuable chance to reshape its selfhood. Despite some half-hearted meanderings aimed at self-analysis, within the year and a half that has elapsed since the 10 November ceasefire deal, Yerevan has achieved absolutely nothing in the department of "soul-cleansing". What is now clear is that the vanquished nation has stumbled upon the thorny path of maladjustment, somewhat rendering itself irreconcilably at odds with its own self-interest.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have yet to forge a common understanding on how to proceed in relation to what is either called the Zangazur Corridor or the Nakhichevan route - viewed as the central segment of the post-conflict connectivity agenda by Baku.
Yerevan accepts that Azerbaijan should have access to Nakhchivan via the Syunik Province, but it remains worried that if Article 9 of the ceasefire agreement is implemented and the Border Guard Service of the Russian Federal Security Service is responsible for overseeing the transport connection, Armenia’s de facto sovereignty over its own territory will be curbed.
This is the essence of Yerevan’s extraterritoriality angst. Feigned, semi-genuine, or half-cultivated, it appears to constitute a major stumbling block on the way to implementing Article 9 of the 10 November deal.
The cumulative impact of the recent developments under the aegis of the EU and Russia, namely the third trilateral convocation mediated by Brussels and the 3 June meeting of the trilateral commission on the unblocking of communications in Moscow, has reinforced, albeit undramatically and with some reservations, the centrality of the overland passage connecting western Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan within the larger connectivity agenda.
The 22 May post-meeting statement of European Commission President Charles Michel touched upon the "principles governing" the route commensurate with the geographical reality of the Zangazur Corridor. On 31 May, the spokesperson for the EC President issued a written document, specifying that "no extraterritorial claims with regard to future transport infrastructure exists", and "any speculation to the contrary is regrettable''.
On 3 June, the tenth meeting of the trilateral commission on the opening of regional transport communications took place, and a whole range of issues, falling within the scope of connectivity, including "possible routes for a highway linking mainland Azerbaijan with its Nakhchivan exclave", were discussed.
For Armenia, if denuded of its “corridor part”, the project is acceptable and potentially appreciable. Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan reiterated there was a common perception that “all transportation infrastructure and roads to be unblocked must operate under the sovereignty and legislation of those countries through which they pass”.
Whilst Armenia continues to flaunt its misgivings, Baku, both on a rhetorical and practical level, must act decisively. Azerbaijan expects the Horadiz-Agband railway segment of the Zangazur project to be fully operational next year. Despite this, there is no indication that Yerevan has taken any steps towards building the 43-km segment running through its southern portion.
In addition to the aforementioned two platforms dealing with the full spectrum of the Azerbaijani-Armenian interstate normalisation, the individual lines maintained by three big neighbours of the South Caucasus – Turkey, Russia, and Iran – are unquestionably of significance.
Ankara fully backs Baku and has a strong interest in achieving unrestricted access to Azerbaijan via Armenia. The current transit route via Georgia, which allows Turkey to connect both with its first-rate ally and the Caspian Sea, is good, yet it is undeniably true that a new link via Nakhchivan will be faster and traverse lowland topography, rendering it far more attractive and efficient.
Russia’s position is unique, as it also a mediator within the trilateral format originated in the ceasefire agreement. On the whole, the Kremlin is interested in reconnecting with Armenia via Azerbaijan, thereby avoiding Georgia, and Article 9 means it will have an element of control over the proposed route.
Iran, however, begs to differ. The fear preying on the minds of those in Tehran is that a new link will undermine its access to fraternal Armenia, as the implementation of the letter and spirit of Article 9, will amount to a “change of borders”.
This concern was pacified, to some degree, in March of this year, when Azerbaijan and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding envisaging the establishment of a new communications route connecting the East Zangazur Economic Region with Nakhchivan, via Iran.
However, first things first. Both Baku and Yerevan have to move on. Many in Armenia are acutely conscious of the insipid vacuity of staying enmeshed in a lugubrious imbroglio. Deaf and blind to reason, the revenge-driven opposition prefers running amok and going berserk. Pashinyan's government is not aimless, but impotent in achieving its objectives. Baku is unmoved and resolute, but there are constraints within which its vim and vigour could operate.
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