By Tatoul Hakobian

AZG Armenian Daily #155, 01/09/2005


Yerevan Concerned With Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi Railway Construction

Official Yerevan is concerned with another project that bypasses
Armenia - constriction of Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi railway. If only
a few weeks ago Armenian authorities considered the construction of
the railroad the inner affair of three neighboring states - Georgia,
Azerbaijan and Turkey - (PM Andranik Margarian said so during his
Javakhk visit) then today they have obviously shifted the accent.

Foreign affairs minister stated in his last press conference that
Georgia and Azerbaijan have no moral right to build that railway,
even if it is subsidized not by donor organizations but by the
state budgets themselves. "We have Kars-Gyumri railway which does
not function because of Turkey's wrong policy. We think that every
investment in the construction of the railway that is bypassing the
already existing railway is pointless. We will struggle against it",
Vartan Oskanian said emphasizing that Armenia will try to prove all
interested states that Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi railway is meaningless.

Construction of the railway is apparently highly probable otherwise
Armenian minister would not express concern. The new railway will in
fact throw old Kars-Gyumri railway into oblivion, which is hardly to
function as long as Turkey's blockade of Armenia continues.

Official Tbilisi's views on would-be Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi railway
differ from those of Armenia, which sees it as an unfriendly step from
Georgia contributing to longer isolation of Armenia. For instance,
Davit Bakradze, chairman of a committee on Euro-Atlantic integration,
expressed an opinion that the new railway will not isolate Armenia
but instead will bring economic benefits. "If Georgia helps Armenia
connect with Turkey and Europe via its territory then it's a successful
venture for Armenia itself", he said.

Georgian foreign minister, Salome Zurabishvili, told journalists
recently that Armenia disapproves of the project, and Tbilisi is
ready to discuss other routes but, on the other hand, Georgian
authorities will not tolerate other states, including Armenia, to
stymie the project, more so if it is done through the USA. In July,
co-chairs Frank Pallone, Joe Knollenberg and George Radanovich of US
Congressional Caucus on Armenian issues submitted a bill to the House
of Representatives banning the US assistance to Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi
railway. The congressmen underscored that depriving Armenia of economic
and commercial rights will harm US long-term regional interests.

But no lobbyism is powerful enough to keep US away from realizing
important projects if it is in best interests of the only super power
of the world. The US government keeps silent so far as to Washington's
political and financial support to the railway construction. It's
worth reminding of the Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act denying
US aid to Azerbaijan as long as it maintains blockade on Armenia and
Nagorno Karabakh. But the Section 907 was called off once US needed
Baku's assistance in anti-terror fight.

Armenia and Russia were slow to believe in mid-1990s that the project
of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum gas
pipeline will come into existence some day. But the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan
pipeline is already piping oil to Turkey today and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzrum
gas pipeline will be functioning in a couple of years. Those projects
were directed against Russia's oil interests.

America's decision to support or not in Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi
railway construction will help us understand US policy in regard to
Armenia. This project cannot be pointed against Russia, as it does
not limit its influence in Caucasus in essence. Therefore, the United
State's assistance to Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi railway construction will
mean, as in case of the Caspian oil pipeline, that Armenia's isolation
does not bother the Americans by the highest standards. Moreover,
cut off Armenia will have no other choice but remain stuck to Russia,
something that the US seemed not to approve.

Kars-Akhalkalak-Tbilisi railway connecting Turkey with Azerbaijan
will stretch 98 kms (Akhalkalak is already linked with Tbilisi with
rails and Tbilisi is linked with Azerbaijan, so they need only build
Kars-Akhalkalak section and repair separate parts of Akhalkalak-Tbilisi
section). 68 kms of rails will lie in Turkey, 30 in Georgia. The
price of the project fluctuates between $500 to $800 million.