Since the end of the 44-Day Karabakh War, Azerbaijan has actively used its economic potential for the realization of the Zangezur Corridor project and, in a short time, was able to achieve noticeable results. According to information from the Working Group on Transport, Communications, and High Technologies under the Interdepartmental Center created by the government of Azerbaijan for the supervision of the restoration works in Karabakh, as of January 1, 2022, 70% of the first phase of the Horadiz-Agband railway project has already been completed. Rails have been installed in the 23 km section of the project up to Mahmudlu station in the Jabrayil region, and road adjustment works has begun. 90% of the land works that serve to form the ground for the railroad, as well as 40 culverts, 9 bridges, 2 animal crossings, and 52 emergency crossings, have already been completed during the first phase of construction. Thus, the necessary conditions are created for the movement of working trains from Fizuli’s Horadiz station to Mahmudlu station.
With a total length of 110.4 km, the foundation of the Horadiz-Agband railway was laid by the President of Azerbaijan in February 2021. The construction work of the railway is planned to be carried out in three stages. In the first stage, it is envisaged to construct a 30 km section that includes Horadiz, Marjanli, and Mahmudlu stations; in the second stage, it is planned to construct a 30 km section that includes Soltanli and Gumlag stations; and in the third stage, a 25.4 km section of the road that includes Minjivan, Bartaz, and Agband stations will be constructed. Design works has been completed on the 50 km section of the road. Generally, the project envisages the construction of eight stations, three tunnels, 41 bridges, four overpasses and a total of about 300 artificial engineering facilities. All construction works within the project are scheduled for completion in 2023.
The Horadiz-Agband railway is the main part of the Zangezur Corridor and is part of the process of putting in practice the provisions of article 9 of the Trilateral Declaration that was signed between the Presidents of the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia on November 10, 2020, which states:
“All economic and transport connections in the region shall be unblocked. The Republic of Armenia shall guarantee the security of transport connections between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic in order to arrange unobstructed movement of persons, vehicles and cargo in both directions. The Border Guard Service of the Russian Federal Security Service shall be responsible for overseeing the transport connections. As agreed by the Parties, new transport links shall be built to connect the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and the western regions of Azerbaijan.”
The Zangezur Corridor, which will allow to establish a direct land connection between Azerbaijan and Turkey, consists of three parts in general. The first part (Horadiz-Agband railway) is located in the Jabrayil and Zangilan regions in the southern part of Azerbaijan. The second part passes through the Meghri region of Armenia, and the third part includes the stations of Orduabd, Culfa in the territory of Nakhchivan AR, and Arazdeyen in the territory of Armenia.
The main impediment to the construction of the Horadiz-Agband railway, as well as other construction projects in liberated territories, is the presence of tens of thousands of landmines in and around Karabakh that were laid by Armenian militants during the 27-year occupation. Previously occupied areas currently have the highest rate of accidents from mine explosions in the world. Therefore, before the start of the construction of the Horadiz-Agband railway, demining works were carried out in areas that were included in the first construction stage. More than 60 km of land have been cleared of mines so far. Currently, construction works are continuing in parallel with the demining process on other parts of the road.
It is also worth noting that it is envisaged that the Zangezur Corridor will not only include the railway but also a highway through the territory of Armenia. Thus, Azerbaijan started the construction of the highway in its territory as well. In October of 2021, the foundation of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway was laid down. The highway is 124 kilometers long and starts from the village of Ahmadbeyli in the Fuzuli region. Recently, Azerbaijan and Armenia also agreed on the construction of a highway in Armenian territory, but the exact route has not been determined yet.
Despite the fact that active construction works on the Azerbaijani part of the Zangezur Corridor are continuing, works on Armenian territory has yet to begin. After the signing of the Trilateral Declaration, the Zangezur Corridor project was met with criticism in Armenia. Some nationalist groups in Armenia consider the new corridor a threat to the sovereignty of Armenia, and they were able to spread this idea widely in Armenian society. However, given that Nikol Pashinyan was re-elected as prime minister even after the loss in the war, it appears that the population gradually accepted the new reality, thus strengthening the government’s position regarding the implementation of the project. Besides the internal political processes, significant pressure from the Azerbaijan side and the obligation of the government to fulfill the requirements of the Trilateral Declaration compel them to start the construction of the new corridor.
At a Cabinet meeting in early February, Pashinyan said that they are very close to reporting the first practical results of the Armenia-Russia-Azerbaijan deputy prime ministerial working group dealing with the unblocking of regional communications. He added that the last meeting of the working group had been very practical and dedicated to the work of building the Arazdeyen-Ordubad-Meghri-Horadiz railway. He informed that issues relating to the launch of the construction and the funding are already being discussed, and if this dynamic continues, implementing this opportunity will soon become a reality.
These positive signals from Armenia regarding the start of the construction of the new corridor on Armenian territory and the active construction works on the Azerbaijani side, demonstrate that the corridor is going to be opened in the near future. The opening of the corridor will mark the start of an important period in post-war cooperation in the region. Because the Zangezur Corridor will not only contribute to the growth of bilateral trade between regional countries, but it will also open up regional development opportunities and strengthen the region’s position as a transportation hub.
Orkhan Baghirov, is Leading advisor at the Center of Analysis of International Relations in Baku, Azerbaijan