Azerbaijan Embarks on Construction of Nakhchivan Railway (Part Two)

first_img*To read part one, please click hereThe unblocking of the Zangezur corridor will have wide-ranging geopolitical reverberations for both the directly concerned states, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and surrounding countries. For Azerbaijan, the reopening of the corridor has geostrategic significance in multiple domains. This route was the most direct land passage between mainland Azerbaijan and its Nakhchivan exclave soon after World War I, when the historical Zangezur (now Syunik) province was granted to Armenia and the autonomous Nakhchivan territory came under Azerbaijani protection under the Treaty of Kars (1921). The termination of the Zangezur land route connection with Nakhchivan following the breakout of the First Karabakh War of the early 1990s, however, seriously isolated the Azerbaijani exclave. Since then, Baku could physically reach Nakhchivan only by air or by circumventing Armenia to the south, via Iranian territory. The latter route came with myriads of security and geopolitical challenges to Azerbaijan, in addition to notable economic consequences.Securing the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic (NAR) has been a particular concern for Azerbaijani leaders against the backdrop of irredentist claims from the Armenian side (see EDM, August 3, 2017;, May 21, 2018). These mounting security threats compelled Baku to, in 2013, establish the Nakhchivan-based Combined Army on the basis of the 5th Army Corps, in order to reinforce the defensive capacity of the exclave. The lack of direct access to the region also pushed Azerbaijan to more energetically promote military ties between Turkey, Azerbaijan’s strategic ally, and the NAR through joint military exercises and consultations (see EDM, October 26, 2017 and June 4, 2018).At the same time, Azerbaijan’s dependence on the Iranian land bridge, coupled with Iran’s supply of energy resources to the Azerbaijani exclave, provided Tehran with significant clout in its relations with Baku (see EDM, July 10, 2018). This situation is expected to be changed in favor of Baku following the opening of the Zangezur corridor. Hence, for some experts, Iran, along with Georgia, can be expected to gain the least from the unblocking of the transportation channels between Armenia and Azerbaijan—although Iran will have other opportunities to benefit from the new situation in the region thanks to the planned opening of a rail route to Armenia (BBC News—Azerbaijani service, November 30, 2020;, March 29, 2021; EurasiaNet, March 31, 2021; see EDM, January 25, 2021 and February 22, 2021).The direct land route with Nakhchivan will additionally shorten transit between Azerbaijan and Turkey. Although the two countries are already linked via the Baku–Tbilisi–Kars Railroad and roads across Georgia, the shorter route through Zangezur has the potential to boost economic and human ties between the two sides. This could also play an important role in the regional integration of the Turkic states, which have been developing an ambitious agenda toward this goal over the last few years (Anadoly Agency, March 30). Addressing the informal summit of the Turkic Council, held online on March 31, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev stated that “transport, communications, [and] infrastructure projects passing through Zangezur will unite the entire Turkic world,” mentioning also opportunities for building cross-border railways with other regional countries, including Armenia (Azertag, April 1).Yet the fact that the Border Guard of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) will exercise control over transport through the Zangezur corridor under the trilateral agreement of November 10, 2020, is likely to prevent, for now at least, the transformation of this passage into a truly uninhibited “geopolitical corridor” between Ankara, Baku and rest of the Turkic world.Taking all these factors into account, it is possible to conclude that the reopening of the Zangezur corridor will likely be profitable for Azerbaijan economically and lessen its geopolitical burden associated with supporting the Nakhchivan exclave. Nevertheless, without genuine peace and reconciliation between Baku and Yerevan, the costs of providing security for the NAR will remain high since the corridor across Armenia (and under the monitoring of the Russian FSB) will expectedly be used only for humanitarian purposes.Still, the fact that the unblocking of the Zangezur corridor is planned to be accompanied by the reestablishment of the rail link between Iran and Armenia through Julfa in Nakhchivan and another rail link between Armenia and Russia through Azerbaijan is a move toward such reconciliation. This new situation is seen in Yerevan as a remedy to relieve Armenia from its isolation of the entire post-Soviet period (, March 20). Not only would the establishment of a stable railway connection to Iran and Russia help Armenia boost its economy, it would additionally strengthen its geopolitical position, which has significantly diminished in the wake of last autumn’s Second Karabakh War (New Geopolitics, March 26).Armenia lacks the estimated $3.5 billion needed to finance the construction of its own railway to Iran via the Syunik region. The only existing land route between Iran and Armenia—the Meghri–Kapan–Goris highway—suffers from seasonal challenges to passage. And the northern route to Russia via Georgia is often unavailable for the same reason. As such, Yerevan has no real immediate alternatives to improving this situation but to unblock the transportation links via Azerbaijani territory (EurasiaNet, July 27, 2018).Many in Yerevan understand this. As a result, some Armenian analysts reacted rather dispassionately to a recent statement of Gaddam Dharmendra, India’s ambassador to Tehran, that his country plans to connect the Indian Ocean with Eurasia across the territory of Armenia, creating a North-South corridor (, March 10). “If we want to play a real role here [in the North-South transportation project], we must first build our own North-South corridor—the road to Iran. Until we build it, whoever says anything, whether the Indian ambassador to Iran, or any other, does not matter,” Mher Sahakyan, an Armenian scholar, told a local news agency (, March 27). The railway path to Iran through Nakhchivan would, thus, relieve Armenia of the financial burden of building its own railway via the Syunik region. Although this passage is not likely to evolve into a larger international transportation route and entirely substitute the Azerbaijani section of the North-South Corridor in the near future (see EDM, February 22).Nonetheless, some Armenian experts predict these projects might be reconsidered by Yerevan should the upcoming June 20 snap parliamentary elections result in the formation of a new government. “Armenia may propose using [the] Ghazakh–Ijevan–Yerevan–Nakhchivan railway and highway to connect Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan and Russia with Turkey instead of using the territory of Syunik,” according to Benyamin Poghosyan (New Geopolitics, March 26). Nevertheless, the likelihood of this scenario is limited since Armenia’s rejection of the Zangezur corridor would jeopardize the entire post-war negotiation process and undermine the Russia-brokered trilateral ceasefire deal, which constitutes the foundation for these negotiations.*To Read Part Three, Please Click Herelast_img read more

Your political Eurovision cheat sheet

first_imgFrance’s song, “Mercy,” by Electro duet Madame Monsieur, takes on the refugee crisis. It tells the story of Mercy, a baby born in March 2017 on board Aquarius, a humanitarian ship operated by NGO SOS Méditerranée. The video features people standing at European landmarks wearing life jackets and emergency foil blankets. Plenty of other countries also have messages to get across.Jean-Karl Lucas and Emilie Satt, the two members of French Electro duet “Madame Monsieur” | Francisco Leong/AFP via Getty Images“The Italian one is about wars and terrorism, but you can also see these themes in the Danish entry, the Icelandic, the Swiss, which all take an anti-war stance,” said Vuletic. “The Danish song is also about resolving conflicts peacefully, it’s inspired by a Viking legend, the legend of chieftain Magnus Erlendsson.” You don’t get to learn about the 12th-century Earl of Orkney watching “X Factor.”There’s a bit of controversy in Ireland, too. And it’s not — as it might have been 30 years ago — about the gay couple dancing through Temple Bar in the video. It’s about the use of a songwriting factory to create “Together,” sung by Ryan O’Shaughnessy over the course of two Eurovision songwriting camps.A total of 43 nations are part of this year’s contest, matching the record set in 2008 and 2011. Of these, 26 feature in the final: host Portugal, the “big five” nations who make the largest financial contributions to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and 20 qualifiers from the semifinals. Bookmakers have Cyprus, Israel and Ireland as the three most likely to win, though favorites rarely go the distance.Belgium was also riding high with the bookies — but didn’t make it out of the semifinals. In true Belgian style, the country alternates between the French and Flemish language broadcasters sending an entry each year. This year, VRT, the Flemish national public broadcaster, sent Sennek, with “A Matter of Time.” She has worked on projects including the 50th anniversary celebrations of the James Bond franchise, “007 In Concert,” and it showed in the song’s big, sexy chord sequences. But they weren’t enough to make the final.Other political points you might want to make at a viewing party full of diplomats: Just as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán repeatedly raises hackles in Brussels with his policies, Hungary is going against the grain by sending in this year’s only metal entry. AWS, who describe themselves as “a modern metal band with attitude,” will perform “Viszlát nyár,” inspired by the death of the singer’s father with lyrics that depict — in Hungarian — the struggle and thoughts of a dying man. LONDON — We are living in the age of soft power. Planting a tree with a golden shovel, hosting a tournament where 22 men kick a ball around, wearing a feathered cape to a royal reception — these events are deconstructed, analyzed and imbued with significance.This weekend, Europe celebrates the most glitter-encrusted of all the soft-power displays: the Eurovision Song Contest. The final takes place this Saturday in Lisbon, following two semifinals during the week. After last year’s politically weighted performances in Ukraine, the focus is expected to be more on the music.But there’s still plenty for the Brussels wags to discuss — from songs tackling big themes like the refugee crisis, #MeToo and terrorism to a controversy about an Estonian e-dress and the English language’s spectacular retreat. Most years are less political than the 2017 edition, when Russia withdrew because their singer, Julia Samoylova, had previously visited occupied Crimea. She’ll compete this year instead. Ukraine were hosting after winning with “1944,” a song about Stalin’s enforced wartime deportation of Tatar people to barren Central Asia.France’s song, “Mercy,” by Electro duet Madame Monsieur takes on the refugee crisis.This time around, the contest has travelled to Lisbon thanks to Salvador Sobral’s “Amar Pelos Dois,” a melancholy jazz waltz about getting over heartbreak, which means the pendulum is swinging back toward a contest that is all about the music.“The Portuguese entries have been the most political entries in the history of Eurovision, from some of the songs that were critical of the dictatorship in the ’60s and ’70s to the song that was the signal for the Carnation Revolution,” explained the University of Vienna’s Dean Vuletic, author of “Postwar Europe and the Eurovision Song Contest.” “But it’s always been about internal Portuguese political issues — I find it quite ironic that the Portuguese edition of Eurovision should be so nonpolitical.”Still, it’s not as if the contest exists in a vacuum: plenty of songs take on political themes. Israel’s song, “Toy,” sung by Netta Barzilai, is currently one of the favorites to win. It includes lyrics like “Wonder Woman don’t you ever forget / You’re divine and he’s about to regret” and “I’m not your toy (Not your toy) / You stupid boy (Stupid boy),” vocal looping, and what sounds an awful lot like a chicken clucking.“It’s a song that expresses female strength, and I’m super proud to sing it because I know how many women feel under pressure to be what society demands,” Barzilai told Tagesspiegel. According to Eurovision blog Wiwibloggs, the song’s (male) writer Doron Medalie said in a recent interview on Israeli radio that the song has a strong connection to the #MeToo movement. More concrete is the Portuguese broadcaster’s choice to have an all-female line-up of presenters this year.center_img Meanwhile, Estonia got embroiled in a row about a dress. No, not sexy milkmaids a la Poland 2014 — this is e-Estonia, land of the blockchain land registry and virtual e-residency. Elina Nayacheva’s performance involves an on-brand, tech-enabled dress covered in projections, lighting displays and lasers.Elina Nechayeva, the Estonia entrant at Eurovison 2018 | Francisco Leong/AFP via Getty ImagesHowever, getting it to Lisbon and running the electronics cost a cool €65,000. The Eurovision team appealed to the government for funding, but were rebuffed: in the end a consortium of private companies came up with the cash. Not that it’s to everyone’s taste: “Big dress, looks like she’s vomiting over it,” concluded Andrew Latto, a British civil servant who also creates an impressively in-depth Eurovision guide for his colleagues, and other enthusiasts, every year.A final point of interest in the Brussels beltway. As the debate continues about the role of English as a language in the post-Brexit EU institutions, this year has a bumper crop of songs in languages other than the global lingua franca. Last year’s winner was sung in Portuguese, showing it can be done. This year, there were 13 songs not in English, compared to just four last year, according to Vuletic. Could it be a sign of the French language-dominated Continent some would like to see?This article has been updated.Frances Robinson is a freelance journalist based in London. Also On POLITICO Eurovision 2017: How it happened By Ryan Heath, Frances Robinson and Gašper Završnik Brits want to quit Eurovision: poll By Saim Saeedlast_img read more