Armenia has established a working group to prepare plans for restoring a Soviet-era railroad connecting the country to Azerbaijan, the most concrete step Yerevan has yet taken in restoring transportation ties with the country to which it lost a war in 2020. Within two or three years, trains between the two countries, via Nakhchivan and Meghri, should be running again, Eurasianet writes.
Azerbaijan began construction on its side of the border shortly after the war, in February 2021. As part of the ceasefire deal ending the fighting, both committed to “unblocking communications” across their borders, which had been closed since the first war between the two sides in the 1990s.
While Azerbaijan has been avidly working on its reconstruction of the Soviet-era lines, Armenia has been proceeding more cautiously, leading Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to issue repeated threats to open the route by force if necessary. But toward the end of last year, there were signs of movement on the Armenian side. Pashinyan met with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev twice – in Sochi in November, then in Brussels in December – to work out the details of rebuilding the line connecting the two capitals, Yerevan and Baku, via Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan. “It was agreed to proceed with the restoration of railway lines, with appropriate arrangements for border and customs controls, based on the principle of reciprocity,” EU President Charles Michel said following the Brussels meeting.
Following that, an Armenian working group was appointed by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, the government website announced on January 17. The ten-member group will be coordinated by a former Armenian ambassador to Iran and current Pashinyan advisor, Artashes Tumanyan.
The Armenian section of the railway – from Yersakh to the western border of Nakhchivan, and then from the eastern tip of Nakhchivan, through Meghri and to the border of the Azerbaijani mainland – is projected to cost about $200 million and take three years, said deputy prime minister Mher Grigoryan.
Aliyev has set a tighter deadline, however. "The railroad from liberated territories to the Armenian border must be ready by the end of 2023," he said following the Brussels meeting. “We of course hope that by that time Armenia will complete their part of the homework.”
"The railway will provide Armenia with access to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan will get communication with the Autonomous Republic of Nakhijevan," Pashinyan said on December 14. He added that if Armenia also managed to agree with Turkey to open its long-closed border, the railroad could also connect to Kars, in Turkey, via Gyumri.
Under the Soviet Union, Armenia and Azerbaijan were connected by two railway routes: the one through Nakhchivan, and another further to the north via Ijevan in Armenia and Gazakh in Azerbaijan. Armenians have argued that the Nakhchivan route should be opened only as part of a larger reopening of long-blocked routes around the region, including the Ijevan-Gazakh railway.