Presidents of Azerbaijan and Turkey agreed to team up for improving the transport infrastructure and energy security of Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic by constructing a railway and a natural gas pipeline between Turkey and Nakhchivan.
President Ilham Aliyev and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on building a railroad that will connect Nakhchivan with the Kars border city in Turkey.
“This is of particular importance. Because of Armenia’s aggressive policy, Nakhchivan has been living in a blockade, that is, under siege for many years,” said President Aliyev at a joint press conference with President Erdogan in Baku on Tuesday, according to a statement published to the president’s official website.
“It is a big problem for Nakhchivan to export its products to foreign markets. Construction of the Kars-Igdir-Nakhchivan railway will eliminate this problem and thus improve the welfare and prosperity of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, the only land border between Azerbaijan and Turkey.”
The new railway is expected to grow out from the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, which came online in October 2017 and now carries cargo and passengers between Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey, in an 826-kilometer route. Nakhchivan has a 15-kilometer border with the far eastern Kars region of Turkey.
Nakhchivan is an exclave of Azerbaijan located in the country’s southwest corner, surrounded by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey. Currently, the region has no direct road and railway connection with mainland Azerbaijan. Nakhchivan was separated from Azerbaijan and became an exclave in the wake of the Soviet occupation of the South Caucasus region in 1920. Following the region’s incorporation, Soviet rulers inked a decision to transfer some of Azerbaijan's territories, including its historic region of Zangezur, which borders Nakhchivan, to the newly-created Armenian state.
Nakhchivan’s isolation aggravated in the early 1990s during Armenia’s invasion against Azerbaijan to seize the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan. The full-blown war between the two countries lasted from 1991 until a ceasefire deal in 1994. Armenia occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized territory – the Nagorno-Karabakh region and seven surrounding districts, as well as killed 30,000 Azerbaijanis and expelled one million more from their homeland as a result of the war.
Today, Nakhchivan is totally out of direct road and railway connection with the Azerbaijani mainland due to Armenia's continuing occupation of Azerbaijan’s internationally recognized lands, some of which are the closest regions to Nakhchivan. Armenia halted all kind of transport connections, including car and railway, to and from Nakhchivan. Currently, overland and air connection with Nakhchivan is available either via Iran in the south or through Turkey on the west.
“A particularly important step [by Azerbaijan and Turkey] in the political field is the railway between Nakhchivan and Turkey. This is very important for the development of Nakhchivan,” President Erdogan said in a joint press conference with President Aliyev, adding necessary preliminary work for creating the railway’s infrastructure will be launched before long.
Meanwhile, the Turkish president said the railroad is not the only solution achieved for Nakhchivan, and the natural gas pipeline is also on agenda. The pipe measuring 160 kilometers will stretch from the eastern Igdir province in Turkey to Nakhchivan, according to President Erdogan.
“Nakhchivan will have more access to natural gas. In other words, it will get stronger with the support of both Iran and Turkey,” he said.
The State Oil Company of Azerbaijan, better known as SOCAR, currently transports natural gas to Nakhchivan in a swap operation with Iran. Iran gets gas from Baku and sells it to Nakhchivan in return to a 15 percent fee.