By Turan Gafarli
Russia & FSU Analyst
The November 10 ceasefire agreement ended the bloody war which lasted 44 days between Armenia and Azerbaijan. The armistice certified Karabakh to Azerbaijan while creating a new geopolitical reality in the South Caucasus. Aside from the return of Russia and Turkey to the region, the 9th clause of the agreement stated the formation of a new transport link between Azerbaijan and its autonomous republic Nakhchivan which was the most surprising outcome of the war.
The corridor will not only connect mainland Azerbaijan to its enclave but also link Ankara to Baku directly considering Azerbaijan shares its only 11 km border with Turkey through Nakhchivan . The Turkic World celebrated this development since the corridor has the potential to host the continuous transit from Central Asia to Turkey and Europe. However, not all regional powers are satisfied with this development.
Trade between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan has been conducted through Iran for the last 30 years. Iran was not only benefitting from the trade but was using this logistic power to have a political projection over Baku. Furthermore, on December 15 Azerbaijan and Turkey signed a deal to supply all of the natural gas need of Nakhchivan from Iğdır. Previously, Baku was paying Tehran 15 per cent of the gas that it sent to Nakhchivan as a transit fee. On the other hand, if the corridor is to host a natural gas pipeline to Turkey it may help Ankara to stop paying 490 USD for a cubic meter of Iranian gas and prefer the 335 USD Azerbaijani natural gas. The opportunity will arise for Turkmen gas that can be transferred via the Caspian and linked to both old and potential pipelines. While these developments have the potential to further unite the Turkic states and increase Europe’s energy security, it will likely decrease the importance of Iran and its relations with Armenia.
The corridor can be revolutionary for trade and freight transport too. Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on trade this year, about 12,000 Turkish trucks cross the Iranian-Turkish border every month, with a significant portion going to the Turkic republics and Afghanistan. Each truck entering the territory of Iran from the Turkish border pays $ 700-800 for a 1,800-km journey through Iran to the border with Turkmenistan. While Iran can lose the income from the trucks, it may gain a significant advantage from the reopening of the old railroad that connects Azerbaijan and Armenia through the corridor. The railroad can boost the local economy on both sides of the Aras river and can create new jobs. As the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated, the railroad can also connect Armenia to Russia via Azerbaijan, helping Yerevan to get out of the blockade.
Turkey will build a new railroad connecting the border city of Kars to Nakhichevan. The corridor can also be an alternative to the recently built Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and further boost Turkish influence in the region. The Turkic Council could be a potential organisation in developing this through planning the roadmap and connecting the dots between various projects. On the other hand, both Russian and Iranian experts are concerned about the Turkish access to the region and the Caspian, claiming Ankara for a long hand of NATO reaching to the further East. It will be interesting to monitor these developments in 2021.