Armenian freight yard (Photo: South Caucasus Railway)

INTERNATIONAL: Armenia and Azerbaijan have made progress in talks aimed at reopening the long-closed rail link between the two countries, raising hopes of restoration of a rail corridor that once offered a through route between the Baltic coast and the Gulf.

On January 28, Mher Grigoryan, Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister, told local media that Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia — which brokered peace talks following the Nagorno Karabakh conflict in late 2020 — had reached ‘a mutual understanding at the highest level’ and had made ‘very positive progress’ on the issue.

In mid-January, the Armenian government set up a 10-member task force to consider the next steps, headed by Artashes Tumanyan, a former Armenian ambassador to Iran. The task force will report quarterly to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.

The positive developments followed a meeting in Brussels in mid-December between Pashinyan, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, where they reiterated their commitment to reopening the former Soviet Railways line between the two countries and Iran, which has been closed since the first war between Armenia and Azerbaijan in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The 340 km corridor runs southeast from Yeraskh in Armenia to Julfa in Azerbaijan’s Naxçivan exclave, which is on the border with Iran. From there it runs eastwards to Meghri in Armenia, before crossing back into Azeri territory to reach Horadiz, where it meets ADY’s operational main line to Baku. There is a connection with the Iranian network at the Julfa/Jolfa border crossing, from where trains could in future run to and from Tabriz and Tehran.

The reopening of the disused lines was one of the conditions of the ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia in late 2020.

According to the Armenian government, reconstruction would require around US$200m of investment in 45 km of railway in its territory.