Armenia should act quickly to avert Turkish-Georgian-Azeri rail link - paper

Hayots Ashkharh, Yerevan
1 Oct 04


Armenia should take a wide range of urgent measures in order to
prevent the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway that will
link Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, the Armenian newspaper Hayots
Ashkharh has said. The railway will strengthen Armenia's dependence on
Georgia and prevent the opening of the Armenian-Turkish border, which
will leave the country in a blockade forever, it said. For this
reason, Armenia should persuade Europe, the USA and Russia that the
Kars-Akhalkalaki railway will allow Turkey to continue the economic
blockade of Armenia and will speed up the withdrawal of Russian troops
from Georgia, the newspaper said. The following is the text of Sarkis
Gevorkyan's report by Armenian newspaper Hayots Ashkharh on 1 October
headlined "Three against one". Subheadings as published:

Kars-Akhalkalaki is challenge to Armenia

As is known, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan are having ongoing
negotiations on the construction of the Kars Turkey -Akhalkalaki
Georgia' Armenian-populated region railway.

The negotiations that are being held by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister
Elmar Mammadyarov in Turkey show that Azerbaijan's and Turkey's
efforts to do everything possible to prevent the Kars-Gyumri railway
from operating and Georgia's desire to have a direct railway link with
Turkey, and in this way, to preserve Armenia's dependence on the
Georgian railway, are a basis for a consensus between the three
sides. Thus, they should receive 800m dollars and the problem may be
regarded as settled to the detriment of Armenia.

We think that Armenia should take systematic steps to stave off the
Turkish-Georgian-Azerbaijani railway deal.

For Turkey, which is waiting for a European Union decision to start
entry negotiations, the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway
will be a challenge not so much to Armenia as to the European family.

Let us recall that President of the European Commission Romano Prodi,
who recently visited Yerevan, diplomatically confirmed that at some
moment during the European Union negotiations with Turkey, the need to
establish relations with Armenia will be raised with Turkey. We think
that Turkey also understands this very well.

For this reason, not waiting for the start of the negotiations, it is
already trying to make the European family speak out against this, by
deepening the communications blockade of our country. Turkey, together
with Georgia and Azerbaijan, will start asking for money from European
and American banks - about 800m dollars - to implement the
Kars-Akhalkalaki project.

Such a deal is a blow not only to the EU, but also to the regional
interests of the USA, which demands that the Armenian-Turkish border
be opened. Moreover, this "three-sided plot" also runs counter to the
interests of Russia, which is urged to withdraw its troops from
Akhalkalaki.

Therefore, the "political excesses" of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway,
which seem to be the "sovereign rights" of the three countries of the
region, could turn into a very peculiar point of comparison between
the interests of superpowers and fail this project, if Armenian
diplomacy takes intensive steps in different directions
simultaneously.

European direction

At present, when the EU is specifying the terms of the negotiations
with Turkey, Armenia should demand that the European family discuss
the political consequences of the Turkish initiative to make the
Armenian blockade continue endlessly with the help of European money,
and also the consequences of bypassing the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi
communications system because of the construction of the
Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi railway. This would mean another obstacle,
instead of opening the Armenian-Turkish border as published . Seeing
the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway as a way of opening Armenia will open an
opportunity to prevent this project from being financed by European
banks, as it will be a blow to the opening of the Armenian-Turkish
border, as well as to the European programmes regarding the unity of
the South Caucasus.

American direction

The USA has always tried to open the Armenian-Turkish border. But how
is it going to implement it, if the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway may
become a trump card in the hands of Turkey for substantiating the
existence of the unnecessary Kars-Gyumri link, if not for political
but at least for economic purposes? So the USA's Armenian lobby should
also try to raise this problem with the US Department of State to
ensure that America does not finance the project.

Russian direction

Russia seems to be indifferent to the route of the railway that will
connect Turkey with the South Caucasus, but in fact, it is not.

If the existing Kars-Gyumri railway starts operating, the formation of
an anti-Russian vector in economic integration between Turkey, Georgia
and Azerbaijan in the West-East direction, that is, the Baku-Ceyhan's
"railway option", will be ruled out.

Moreover, the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway will speed
up the withdrawal of the Russian troops from Akhalkalaki as there will
be no obstacle to the economic integration of the countries of the
region. Also, the Russian base deployed in Gyumri will find itself in
a communications blockade if Russia withdraws its troops from
Akhalkalaki and Batumi. The preservation of Armenia's dependence on
Georgia through creating a railway link with Turkey may also provide
opportunities for the free movement of the Russian forces in Gyumri
via the Georgian railway.

Thus, Armenian diplomacy should draw up a wide range of urgent
measures in all three directions - European, American and Russian - in
order to prevent the construction of the Kars-Akhalkalaki railway,
which will leave Armenia in a blockade forever.