This article aims at
evaluating the geopolitical impact of the construction of the
Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad in the South Caucasus. Indeed,
after the implementation of the East-West energy corridor, it
will contribute to further regional cooperation between
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. On this matter, it reflects the
very specificity of this regionalization that is essentially
based on economic issues and develops despite opportunistic
interests. Furthermore, the BTK railroad will constitute a new
stage in the further marginalization of Armenia within the South
Caucasus. Not only it will bypass this country but it will also
undermine its ethno-political leverages, notably in Georgia.
Finally, in spite of the recent political events in the South
Caucasus, the BTK railroad could be a new step in the incoming
showdown between, on the one hand Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey
and, on the other hand, Armenia, Iran and Russia.
Caucasus, Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, Railroad, Geopolitics,
On November 21, 2007, in
Marabda (southern Georgia), the Presidents of Azerbaijan,
Georgia and Turkey inaugurated the construction of a new
railroad between Kars and Baku, via Tbilisi. This new railroad
is supposed to increase the transportation capacity in the South
Caucasus and to diversify the nature of the goods that are
transported through these three countries. Indeed, after the
implementation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline and
of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum (BTE) gas pipeline, the
Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, also known as the
Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku railroad, should be another step
in the definition of the South Caucasus, and especially of
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, as a major transit corridor
between Europe and Asia.
The project of a
railroad between Azerbaijan and Turkey through Georgia was first
discussed in July 1993, after the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad,
which goes through Armenia, was closed. Because of a lack of
funding at this time, this project was more or less abandoned.
However, during the inauguration of the BTC pipeline on May
2005, the Presidents of Azerbaijan, of Georgia and of Turkey
evoked once again the possibility of building a railroad between
their three countries.
And 2007 was a crucial year in the implementation of this
project: on February in Tbilisi, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey
signed a trilateral agreement to launch the construction of the
railroad in 2007. It finally started in Marabda in November 2007
for the Georgian part and in Kars in July 2008 for the Turkish
part. The railroad is expected to open in late 2011. Its length
will be 826 km and it will be able to transport 1 million
passengers and 6.5 million tons of freight at the first stage.
This capacity will then reach 3 million passengers and over 15
million tons of freight. The total cost of the project will be
around $600 million, including $422 million dedicated to the
construction of a railroad between Kars and Akhalkalaki and to
the rehabilitation of the railroad between Akhalkalaki and
construction of the Turkish part of BTK railroad by Presidents
of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in
Kars, Turkey, on July
During the signature
of the trilateral agreement on the BTK railroad on February
2007, the Georgian President M. Saakashvili presented the BTK
railroad as a “geopolitical revolution”.
After the implementation of the East-West energy corridor,
the BTK railroad seems to be another step in the considerable
political evolution of the South Caucasus. Thus, this paper aims
at evaluating the geopolitical impact of this railroad on the
South Caucasian region and at analyzing to what extent it
contributes to the emergence of what I may call an informally
integrated AGT (Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey) region, and to the
further marginalization of Armenia in the South Caucasus.
Indeed, the construction of the BTK railroad constitutes a new
step in the development of particular political ties between
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. It also participates in the
further marginalization of Armenia in the South Caucasus. It may
finally contribute to the formation of a geopolitical axis in
the region, opposing the AGT countries, potentially encompassing
Russia, Armenia and Iran.
A New Step in the
Development of an Informally Integrated AGT Region
The implementation of
the East-West energy corridor has laid the foundations for
increased economic and political ties between Azerbaijan,
Georgia and Turkey. At the economic level, since the beginning
of the 2000s, the trade volume between these three countries has
been constantly increasing: between Georgia and Turkey, it
increased from $241 million in 2002 to more than $830 million in
between Azerbaijan and Turkey, it increased from $296 million in
2003 to $1.2 billion in September 2007;
and between Azerbaijan and Georgia, it increased from $76
million in 2000 to $411 million in 2006.
Obviously, the energy corridor has highly contributed to the
increase of the trade volume and there is no doubt that the BTK
railroad will further contribute to such an increase. At the
political level, the signatures of an Intergovernmental
Agreement for the BTC pipeline in November 1999, and of a
Security Protocol related to the East-West energy corridor in
July 2003 between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey show how the
necessary political management of these transnational projects
has led to increased political ties between these states. Thus,
the need to collaborate at the economic level has repercussions
on their political relations, leading them to more and more
The construction of
the BTK railroad represents a new step in the further
development of an integrated region involving Azerbaijan,
Georgia and Turkey in the South Caucasus. Indeed, when the
presidents of these states met in Marabda on November 2007 to
inaugurate the construction of the BTK railroad, they signed at
the same time a declaration on a “Common Vision for Regional
Cooperation”. The Turkish President Abdullah Gül also mentioned
during his visit to Azerbaijan in November 2007 the opportunity
of setting up a special economic zone between Azerbaijan,
Georgia and Turkey.
The implementation of transportation infrastructure in the AGT
is highly linked to the further integration of these three
states, highlighting how AGT transit states perceive
transportation projects as tools for regional integration. Thus,
even if it remains largely informal (no regional organization
implementing norms and rules of cooperation exists between
Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey), a regionalization process seems
to be on course in the South Caucasus, leading to the emergence
of an informally integrated AGT region.
Furthermore, the BTK
railroad may also contribute to change the nature of the
regional integration between AGT states. Until recently, such an
integration has been essentially based on energy transportation
and what is related to it (securitization of pipelines, for
instance). The construction of the BTK railroad may enable AGT
states to vary the basis of their political cooperation,
orientating it towards goods transportation, but also towards
higher circulation of people between the three states. In that
perspective, the BTK railroad represents a new step in the
definition of the AGT territory as a major bridge between Europe
and Asia. The BTK railroad falls within the scope of the revival
of the Ancient Silk Road. As the BTC and the BTE pipelines have
been described as the “new Silk Road”,
the BTK railroad is now presented as the “Iron Silk Road”.
The transit states have used such an image to deepen the
integration of the AGT region into the Western community.
For instance, the Azerbaijani Minister of Foreign Affairs Elmar
Mammadyarov assumed in January 2007 that the BTK railroad would
“create conditions for the revival of the historical Silk Road
and [would] develop the Europe-Caucasus-Asia corridor,
[deepening] the region’s integration into Europe”.
Therefore, the presentation of the BTK railroad as a new Silk
Road may both enable transit states to attract foreign investors
in the South Caucasus, and to encourage external states and
international institutions to invest in such a project.
However, both the
United States and the European Union have refused to fund the
BTK railroad. Transit states have expected that these two
political bodies would have accepted to finance the project, as
it offers alternative routes to those that go through Iran and
Russia and as they have in the past funded both the BTC and the
Indeed, the United States has played a huge role in the funding
of the BTC pipeline, mobilizing on this occasion its financial
government agencies such as the Export-Import Bank or the
Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
The European Union-backed program INOGATE has also funded the
BTE pipeline. Thus, as these two pipelines bypass Armenia, the
transit states believed that the fact that the BTK railroad also
bypasses this country would not be a problem for obtaining
European and U.S. funding. On the contrary, the European
Commission firmly refused, in October 2005, to finance such a
project through the TRACECA program, supporting the reopening of
the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad rather than the construction of
a new railroad bypassing Armenia.
Regarding the U.S. administration, Armenia used its strong
lobbies in Washington like ARMENPAC or the Armenia National
Committee in America to pressure the US Congress on the funding
of the BTK railroad. Thus, in July 2005, Rep. Frank Pallone and
Rep. Joe Knollenberg, both co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus
on Armenian Issues, introduced at the Congress the “South
Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act”.
The Act was finally voted as an amendment to the Ex-Im
Reauthorization Act of 2006 with the support of the U.S.
administration, prohibiting the Export-Import Bank to finance
the BTK railroad. Such bans have constrained transit states to
assume on their own the funding of this railroad.
On this occasion,
Azerbaijan demonstrated its role of leader in the development of
the AGT region. Because of the refusal of the European Union and
of the United States to finance the BTK railroad, Azerbaijan has
used its important energy revenues to fund on its own the
project. While Ankara and Baku were able to finance the
construction and the modernization of their railroads, it was
not the case for Georgia. Thus, in January 2007, Azerbaijan
provided a $220 million loan to Tbilisi, repayable in 25 years,
with an annual interest rate of only 1%.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, a
transnational project in the South Caucasus is being carried out
without any involvement from international organizations or
The implementation of the BTK railroad may be presented as the
act of independence of the informally integrated AGT region from
external tutors. Indeed, while the United States and the
European Union are at the source of the emergence of the AGT
region, thanks to their role in the implementation of the BTC
and BTE pipelines,
the funding of the BTK railroad shed light into the transit
states’ capacity to assume the development of the AGT
regionalization. Moreover, Azerbaijan now seems to be able to
play a leading role in the goal-setting of the integration
process of the region. For instance, Baku has insisted that
Georgia and Turkey gave up discussions on the construction of a
railroad between Kars and Batumi to consider the implementation
of the BTK railroad.
After the Azerbaijani national oil company SOCAR bought the
Kulevi oil terminal in Georgia and Azerbaijan delivered gas to
this very same country during the Russian blockade of winter
2006, this highlights that Baku is really emerging as a new
leader in the informally integrated AGT region.
This new position of
Azerbaijan within the AGT region may explain its capacity to
convince both Georgia and Turkey not to consider any reopening
of the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad, increasing the isolation of
Armenia within the South Caucasus.
Marginalization of Armenia in the South Caucasus
Since 1992, Armenian
forces continue to occupy Azerbaijani territories.
In 1993, the
adopted four resolutions, calling on an immediate and
unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from all
occupied regions of Azerbaijan..
To express its solidarity with Azerbaijan, Turkey closed its
borders with Armenia in April 1993, leading to the almost
complete isolation of Armenia within the South Caucasus. Indeed,
the only way for Armenian imports and exports towards Europe and
Russia goes through Georgia. The implementation of the East-West
energy corridor has further increased the isolation of Armenia,
as both pipelines bypass this country. Transnational oil
companies in charge of the exploitation and the exporting of
Azerbaijani oil found difficult to accept that valuable
resources would pass through the very uncertain territory of
Nagorno-Karabakh. Moreover, Azerbaijan has taken advantage of
its position of producer country to refuse any export route that
could go through Armenia. Therefore, Georgia enjoys a kind of
monopoly in the economic exchanges between Armenia and Russia or
Europe. In these conditions, Tbilisi has also taken advantage of
the situation to implement high custom tariffs with Armenia.
For instance, it costs over $800 to send a shipment from Europe
to the Georgian port of Poti and over $2,000 to transport the
same shipment from Poti to Yerevan.
Finally, the Russian-Georgian war of August 2008 has definitely
highlighted the Armenia’s dependency vis-à-vis Georgia.
The Armenian economy suffered from the bombing of the Gori-Tbilisi
railroad, which then joins Armenia, and from the blockade of the
Georgian ports on the Black Sea, as Armenian imports and exports
could not reach Yerevan.
Consequently, Georgia enjoys a situation of monopoly in the
external trade of Armenia, insofar as Yerevan has no choice to
trade with Russia or Europe but to pay high customs tariffs to
Tbilisi and to suffer from any political turmoil in Georgia.
The isolation of
Armenia in the South Caucasus benefits Georgia, which is against
the reopening of the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad.
Indeed, such a reopening would undermine its status of major
transit country for Armenian imports and exports. But Tbilisi is
not the only country to be against the reopening of this
railroad. As for the construction of the East-West energy
corridor, Azerbaijan stands firmly against any railroad that
would go through Armenia until the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh is
resolved, stating that “until Armenia liberates the occupied
Azerbaijani territories, all transportation projects will bypass
Turkey adopts the same posture as Baku, even if local Turkish
entrepreneurs in the Kars region argue for a reopening of the
former Soviet railroad. For instance, the Turkish-Armenian
Business Development Council has lobbied Ankara to accept the
reopening of the Kars-Gyumri railroad.
Such a reopening may have made official all the informal trade
that exists at the Turkish-Armenian border, making goods
transportation cheaper and safer between these two countries.
However, as Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia,
such lobbying has not been effective. Therefore, the
construction of the BTK railroad highly contributes to the
further economic marginalization of Armenia in the South
Caucasus, deepening the asymmetry of relations in the region
between AGT states and Armenia.
If the BTK railroad
plays a role in the further economic marginalization of Armenia,
it also constitutes a new step in undermining the Armenian
ethno-political leverages in the South Caucasus. The East-West
energy corridor has been important in the limitation of
ethno-political tensions in the region, especially in Georgia.
Indeed, the BTC and BTE pipelines cross both Kvemo-Kartli and
Samtskhe-Javakheti – Ethnic Azeris represent 45.5% of the
population of the former while Armenians constitute 55% of the
population of the latter.
Such transportation infrastructure is supposed to bring wealth
to these people, who have for a long time complained that
Tbilisi had abandoned and marginalised them.
But, while pipelines cross parts of the region where
ethno-political tensions are rather weak (the district of
Borjomi in Samtskhe-Javakheti for instance), the BTK railroad
will go through districts that are ethnically dominated by
Armenians and Azeris. Even if ethno-political tensions exist in
Kvemo-Kartli, it may not be a problem for the railroad, as Baku
has on several times encouraged ethnic Azeris not to complain
against Tbilisi because of the important cooperation between
Azerbaijan and Georgia.
But the situation could be more difficult in Samtskhe-Javakheti.
Indeed, the BTK railroad will stop in Akhalkalaki where
Armenians constitute 94.3% of the population. At the time of the
implementation of the BTC pipeline, Georgia labelled this
district as a “no go area” for security reasons.
Some ethnic Armenians, mainly from local nationalist
organizations such as Virk or United Javakhk, have
already expressed their concerns against a railroad that will
increase Armenia’s isolation in the South Caucasus.
Moreover, the construction of the BTK railroad follows the
announcement of the future closure in 2009 of Russia’s 62nd
military base in Akhalkalaki.
This closure has generated huge protests among ethnic Armenians
of the region, since many local jobs depended on the base, and
the BTK railroad is supposed to counterbalance the economic
losses due to this closure. Consequently, the BTK railroad
should bring economic wealth to these regions, attaching them
definitely, at least at the economic level, to Georgian central
At the political
level, the construction of the BTK railroad is supposed to
undermine Armenian influence in Samtskhe-Javakheti and, in some
ways, in the Kars region. Indeed, until recently, Armenia and
Georgia have managed issues in Samtskhe-Javakheti like an
For instance, in March 2006, some Georgians killed an ethnic
Armenian, which provoked huge protests in Akhalkalaki. At this
juncture, Tbilisi turned to Armenia to diminish the tensions in
The construction of the BTK railroad is aiming to avoid the
repetition of this kind of situation, insofar as it would
increase political links between Tbilisi and Samtskhe-Javakheti.
And this already seems to be working, as most of the Armenian
population of the region has welcomed the construction of the
BTK railroad, even if it contributes to the further
marginalization of Armenia in the South Caucasus.
Consequently, Armenia is losing its leverage on Georgian
politics, as ethnic Armenians of Samtskhe-Javakheti seem ready
to take part in the economic development of their region within
Georgia. Furthermore, at the military level, thanks to the BTK
railroad, Tbilisi would be more efficient to deal with
ethno-political tensions in the region. Indeed, the railroad may
facilitate the sending of troops from Tbilisi to this
mountainous region. This constitutes a new stage in the
integration of these regions ethnically dominated by Armenians
and Azeris within Georgia after the construction of a military
airport in Marneuli in Kvemo-Kartli and the settling of special
Georgian security forces in the district of Borjomi during the
constructions of the BTC and BTE pipelines. Finally, the Kars
region in Turkey is one of the areas that Armenia claims to be
part of its historical territory. Symbolically, with the
construction of the BTK railroad, Turkey assumes that the Kars
region now belongs to the AGT region and is not anymore part of
Armenia. Therefore, the BTK railroad further marginalizes
Armenia in the South Caucasus: it establishes asymmetric
relations between Armenia and the AGT countries and it greatly
diminishes economic and security leverages in ethnically
Armenian-dominated regions. Moreover, it undermines, in the long
term, potential economic gains for Armenia, as, after the BTK
railroad brings into service, the Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railroad
would not make sense at the economic level.
The BTK railroad seems to
contribute to the further division of the South Caucasus
between, on the one hand, the AGT states, and, on the other
hand, Armenia. However, Yerevan does not stand alone on the
international scene and benefits from the support of both Iran
and Russia. This may lead to the formation of new geopolitical
axes in the South Caucasian region.
A New Contribution to
the Formation of Geopolitical Axes in the South Caucasus?
While the AGT region
and Armenia seem to be face to face, the recent political
developments in the South Caucasus could challenge the
construction of the BTK railroad or, at least, its future
success. Since the beginning of the project, Georgia has
hesitated to take part in the BTK railroad. Indeed, the latter
will compete with the Georgian ports on the Black Sea on the
transportation of goods from Asia to Europe.
Both Azerbaijan and Turkey strongly lobbied Tbilisi to accept
the construction of the railroad: the former provided a very
interesting loan to Georgia, discussed above, and reminded
Tbilisi of its help during the Russian gas blockade in 2006,
while the latter has proposed part of its share in the gas
exports from the Shah Deniz field.
This lobbying was effective and Georgia finally accepted the
construction of the new railroad. But, with the recent political
developments in the South Caucasus in summer 2008, hesitation
seems now to side with Azerbaijan and Turkey. Since the
Russian-Georgian war of August 2008, the Azerbaijani oil company
SOCAR has been negotiating with Russia to increase the capacity
of the Baku-Novorossiysk oil pipeline in order to prevent any
shut down of the pipelines that cross Georgia. Furthermore, even
though talks between Armenia and Turkey have existed for a long
time, the recent visit of the Turkish President Abdullah Gül to
Yerevan on September 6, 2008 may fall within the scope of
diminishing Turkish transportation dependency on Georgia. For
instance, the Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yildirim has
claimed that “the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad is by no means a
project excluding Armenia”, considering Yerevan may one day take
part in the project.
Even if the construction of the BTK railroad may not be
challenged, these two examples show that both Azerbaijan and
Turkey seem to have lost confidence in their Georgian neighbour.
In this perspective, the August 2008 events have had important
consequences on the AGT regionalization, and thus on the BTK
railroad’s potential geopolitical impact.
However, even if the
Russian-Georgian war has had consequences on the confidence
between the AGT states, notably among economic actors such as
SOCAR, the mutual interests between these three states are too
important to undermine regionalization in the AGT region.
Actually, this lack of confidence highlights one of the main
characteristic of the AGT regionalization: it is based on very
The dimension of a common identity between AGT states is rather
weak; what leads the AGT regionalization is the necessity to
cooperate, so that AGT states will reach their own personal
national interests. Thus, regarding the implementation of the
BTK railroad, rather than the symbolism of a railroad that may
enable citizens from the three states to go from one country to
another, the most important aspect is the economic and political
effect of the railroad on each state. For Azerbaijan, the BTK
railroad may limit dependency on Iran to transport goods through
this country to Europe. Moreover, Azerbaijan wants to stand as a
major transit hub in trade transportation between Europe and
Central Asia. Azerbaijan is also the country that will benefit
the most from the BTK railroad since, the railroad being the
longest on Azerbaijani territory, it will make greater profit on
For Georgia, the BTK railroad is a huge necessity to access
Europe more or less independently. Indeed, the only railroad
that exists going from Tbilisi to Europe crosses Abkhazia and
Since the so-called independence of Abkhazia in August 2008, the
BTK railroad would represent the only rail link between Europe
and Georgia. For Turkey, the BTK railroad constitutes a new step
in the definition of the country as a hub between Europe and
Asia. Turkey also seeks to gain access more easily to Central
Asia, in order to increase the Turkish balance of trade. For
instance, Turkey has planned to increase trade with Azerbaijan
from $1.2 billion to $3 billion.
interests seem to be rather opportunistic, insofar as the AGT
countries may be in competition with each other to reach them.
For example, all the three countries are looking to become major
transit hubs between Europe and Asia. But it is not sure that
there is enough room in the South Caucasus for three important
transit countries. Furthermore, the construction of the BTK
railroad may increase competition between Georgian and Turkish
ports on the Black Sea, such an infrastructure being likely to
diminish the amount of shipments in the Black Sea ports.
However, in spite of this opportunistic behaviour, AGT states
know that the only way to achieve their goals passes through the
deepening of the AGT regionalization.
This is why the BTK railroad will exist and why it will increase
cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
Despite the recent
political developments in the South Caucasus and despite the
particularity of the AGT regionalization, the BTK is highly
contributing to the development of an informally integrated AGT
region. It also increases the independence of this region
vis-à-vis both Iran and Russia. Indeed, the BTK railroad
will compete with the Iranian Razi-Sarakhs railroad to link
Europe and Asia. It will be a shorter way, and also a safer way
if the Georgian political situation is stabilized.
Azerbaijan and Central Asian countries will not depend on Iran
to export and to import goods to and from Europe. The BTK
railroad will also be an alternative to the Trans-Siberian
railroad that goes from Russia to China, bypassing both the
South Caucasus and Central Asia.
With the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which plans to transport
Central Asian gas to Europe bypassing Russia, the BTK railroad
seems to be another attempt to diminish the Russian influence in
In this perspective,
the BTK railroad will offer Turkey unimpeded access to this
It will also offer the opportunity for Central Asian countries
to decrease their dependency on Russia to export and import
goods to and from Europe. For instance, Kazakhstan has already
expressed its deep interest in the BTK railroad, planning to
transport over 5 million tons of grain a year to Europe through
Therefore, the BTK railroad is not only contributing to the
further integration of the AGT region, it also participates in
bringing Central Asia closer to Europe, and therefore undermines
the position of Russia in Eurasia as the main transit country
between Europe and China. During the inauguration of the
construction of the BTK railroad in Kars, Turkish President
Abdullah Gül asserted that the latter will be the missing link
between London and China.
In the end, thanks to this railroad, the AGT region may appear
as the main transportation corridor between Europe and Asia,
decreasing importance of Russia in Eurasian trade. However, in
addition to the marginalization of Armenia in the South
Caucasus, this competition with both Iran and Russia may
increase tensions between these countries and the AGT states.
Armenia, Iran and
Russia may feel that the BTK railroad is planned to undermine
their influence in Eurasia. This may increase the perception
among these actors that geopolitical axes are emerging in the
South Caucasus. The BTC pipeline has been the first step in the
perception of the emergence of potentially rival geopolitical
At the time of its implementation, Russia felt the main goal of
this project was to undermine its influence in the South
Caucasus and in the Caspian region. Iran may also have suffered
from this implementation insofar as, according to most of the
transnational oil companies, Iran was the shortest and the
safest route to export Caspian energy resources.
Thus, Armenia, Iran and Russia consider themselves as victims of
the AGT regionalization. As the United States has supported the
AGT regionalization, the implementation of the AGT
transportation corridor lays the foundation for the division of
the South Caucasus into two geopolitical axes: on the one hand
an axis uniting the AGT states, supported by the United States,
and, on the other hand, an axis comprising Armenia, Russia and
Iran. The existence of different regional security systems in
the South Caucasus and in Central Asia increases such a
perception. Indeed, while Turkey is part of NATO and Georgia
plans to join this organization, Armenia and Russia are members
of the Collective Security Treaty Organization of the CIS.
Furthermore, Azerbaijan and Georgia are sometimes presented as
the “Caucasian Tandem” of GUAM, which is a regional organization
that seeks to contest Russian hegemony in the post-Soviet space.
Therefore, competition between these actors in the South
Caucasus exists not only at the economic level but also at the
political and at the security ones. Under these conditions, the
construction of the BTK railroad may deepen the formation of
geopolitical axes within the South Caucasus. For instance,
Armenia, which already enjoys deep ties with Russia, is seeking
to increase its already strong cooperation with Iran.
However, for the moment, this competition has not turned into
rivalry and the actors of the region do not look at each other
as enemies, except Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is up to them to
avoid a scenario in which such competition transforms into
dramatic rivalry, leading to more and more conflicts in the
If the BTK railroad is
likely to diminish the influence of Armenia, Iran and Russia in
the South Caucasus, and more generally in Eurasia, this does not
mean that it will lead to a dramatic confrontation between these
states and the AGT ones in the South Caucasus. The recent
tripartite peace talks on the Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Turkey shows that there is still room for
peaceful dialogue in this region.
The geopolitical future of the BTK railroad will depend on the
capacity of these states to resolve their issues.
The BTK railroad is likely
to have an important geopolitical impact on the South Caucasian
region. Along with the East-West energy corridor, it will
contribute to the further integration of the AGT region. It
reflects the very specificity of this regionalization that is
essentially based on economic issues and develops despite
opportunistic interests. Furthermore, the BTK railroad will
constitute a new stage in the further marginalization of Armenia
within the South Caucasus. Not only it will bypass this country
but it will also undermine its ethno-political leverages,
notably in Georgia. Finally, in spite of the recent political
events in the South Caucasus, the BTK railroad is likely to
accelerate the emergence of potentially rival geopolitical axes
in this region, although this may not transform into rivalry.
Therefore, the South
Caucasus is now coming to a turning point. For more than 15
years, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey implemented transportation
projects that have increased their cooperation. At the same
time, such projects isolated Armenia within the South Caucasus
and undermined Russian, and also Iranian, positions in the
region. The BTK railroad represents a new step in this process,
pushing for more diversity in the cooperation between AGT states
that was until now limited to energy issues. However, the strong
Russian reaction to the Georgian attack on South Ossetia in
August 2008 shows that Russia will no longer accept any
undermining of its influence in the post-Soviet space. The AGT
region now faces two options: it can continue to isolate Armenia
and undermine Russian influence but prepare for stronger
reactions, or it can pursue its regionalization, trying at the
same time to involve Armenia in the resolution of regional
issues. The visit of the Turkish President Abdullah Gül to
Yerevan, as Turkey called for the creation of a Caucasus
Stability and Cooperation Platform, seems to mean that the AGT
region is opting for the second solution.
This is the only way if the AGT states do not want to sow the
seeds of future conflicts in the South Caucasus. At the same
time, Armenia also needs to soften its position on the
Nagorno-Karabakh question. Recently, Armenian President
Sarkisian has offered Turkey’s mediation in the settlement of
This is an important progress, as Yerevan has refused for a long
time to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh question with Ankara that it
considered a biased actor, due to its friendship with Baku.
Therefore, such a change is a good point in the resolution of
this long-standing issue. If Armenia continues in this way, the
highly sensitive Nagorno-Karabakh issue could be solved and the
South Caucasian region could finally experience peace.