12.9 C
Frankfurt am Main

[ANALYSIS] Who benefits geopolitically from the establishment of the Zangezur Corridor?

Must read

Fatih Yurtsever*

The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia lasted 44 days and ended on Nov. 9, 2020, with a nine-point ceasefire agreement signed under Russian mediation. Point 9 of the agreement focuses on unblocking all regional economic and transport links. It stipulates that the Republic of Armenia is responsible for ensuring the security of transport links between the western regions of Azerbaijan and the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, facilitating the unhindered movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions. In addition Russia’s Federal Security Service’s (FSB) Border Guard Service will oversee control of transport communications.

Although not explicitly mentioned in the agreement, the transport route that will connect Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan is expected to be the Zangezur Corridor. This corridor, part of which will pass through Armenian territory, is currently under negotiation among Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia. Once completed, the Zangezur Corridor will also provide a direct railway link between Turkey and Azerbaijan through the Kars-Nakhchivan railway. The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attaches great importance to the Zangezur Corridor, despite the fact that Turkey is not a party to the ceasefire agreement and is not involved in the negotiations. Under these circumstances and considering the geopolitical implications, the question arises: Who benefits geopolitically from the establishment of the Zangezur Corridor?

The Zangezur Corridor, as a proposed transportation route, aims to connect Azerbaijan and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, with a section of the corridor planned to traverse Armenian territory. For Azerbaijan, the establishment of the Zangezur Corridor holds significant geopolitical implications as it will provide a direct connection for Azerbaijan, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Turkey, independent of Iran. Currently, Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan are connected solely through the Iran-Armenia border. Despite Azerbaijan’s energy and transit opportunities benefiting Georgia and Iran, Nakhchivan has been deprived of similar advantages as a part of Azerbaijan.

Iran fears that the opening of the corridor would undermine its “privileged position” in Azerbaijan and Armenian relations, reduce Azerbaijan’s reliance on Iran to reach Nakhchivan and weaken Iran’s economic, political and other ties with Azerbaijan, including Nakhchivan. There is currently no direct land route between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan, so their connection has always relied on transit through Iran. The same holds true for trucks departing from Turkey and heading to Central Asia via land routes. The establishment of the Zangezur Corridor would disrupt this privileged position, diminishing substantial revenues from transit trade and, more importantly, reducing its strategic significance.

Furthermore, Iran sees the corridor as potentially providing Azerbaijan with more aggressive behavior due to reduced reliance on Iran, bolstering Azerbaijan’s economic strength and transforming it into a center of attraction for the Turks, who represent one of Iran’s largest ethnonational groups. All these factors could strengthen the nationalist movement of Azerbaijan Turks in Iran, known as the South Azerbaijan National Movement.

The Zangezur Corridor offers Armenia an opportunity to break free from the geopolitical encirclement it perceives itself to be in. Armenia can benefit from the emerging process in the Caucasus by improving relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan. Freed from this encirclement, Armenia can achieve relative economic prosperity, wealth and security and develop an advanced democracy and good relations with the West. The Zangezur Corridor also allows Armenia to balance its relations with Iran. The Armenian leadership is aware that Armenia’s relations with Iran have damaged its image among Western countries, particularly the United States. One of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s foreign policy goals is to redesign Armenia’s relations with Iran in a way that does not harm its relations with the West. The Zangezur Corridor also offers Armenia this opportunity.

The Zangezur Corridor will undoubtedly reshape the dimensions, nature and quality of Turkey-Azerbaijan relations, transforming Turkey’s Caucasus policy. Cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey in the economic, military, political, energy and transportation fields in the Caucasus will also increase and diversify.

This transit route in the Zangezur Corridor will also provide a new alternative for Turkey’s trucks heading to Central Asia via Iran. Although the economic evaluation of this alternative has yet to be fully conducted, it will reduce Turkey’s dependence on Iran and diminish Iran’s significance in Ankara’s transportation to Baku. The corridor will lead to increased Turkish investments in Nakhchivan, opening up a new phase in Turkey-Nakhchivan relations. The provinces of Turkey along the Caucasus borders will experience economic strengthening. The Zangezur Corridor necessitates normalizing Turkey-Armenia relations or, at the very least, opening the door. The opening of the corridor will serve as a significant testing ground for the improvement of Turkey-Armenia relations.

For Russia, it is essential to activate any transportation corridor in the South Caucasus that enables regional integration and helps alleviate the economic consequences of the sanctions imposed on it due to its invasion of Ukraine. Consequently, the operationalization of the Zangezur Corridor, which would provide Russia with access to Armenia via Azerbaijan, holds great importance. Given that Russia’s Border Guard Service will be in control of the corridor, Russia will wield considerable power and influence over its operations.

Iran is taking a position against the Zangezur Corridor. In a show of military force, Iran conducted large-scale exercises, known as “Mighty Iran,” along its border with Nakhchivan. These exercises were held in October 2022, serving as a warning to deter Azerbaijan and to demonstrate Iran’s opposition to the establishment of the Zangezur Corridor. As tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran continue to escalate, Azerbaijan’s armed forces conducted joint military exercises with Turkey along the border with Iran, sending a clear message to Tehran. The drills, announced in December 2022, were a direct response to Iran’s previous maneuvers on the border. The most significant aspect of the joint exercises was Turkey’s visible support for Azerbaijan, marking the first time Turkey openly stood with Azerbaijan against Iran. The involvement of Turkish troops, including F-16 fighter jets, and high-ranking officials underscored the strong military alliance between the two countries.

In conclusion the geopolitical competition surrounding the Zangezur Corridor has the potential to escalate into unintended military tensions among Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran. The corridor’s strategic significance and the conflicting interests of these countries have heightened geopolitical rivalries, fueling an atmosphere of competition and mistrust. Azerbaijan’s push to establish the corridor as a vital trade route and its growing partnership with Turkey has strained its relations with Iran, which views the corridor as a threat to its own geopolitical interests. The increasing military exercises, warnings and countermeasures among these countries indicate a growing risk of military escalation, even if unintended, as each side seeks to protect its perceived national security and strategic objectives. It is crucial for all parties involved to pursue diplomatic solutions and engage in constructive dialogue to de-escalate tensions and find mutually beneficial resolutions. Failure to do so could have far-reaching consequences for regional stability and the broader geopolitical landscape in the South Caucasus.

* Fatih Yurtsever is a former naval officer in the Turkish Armed Forces. He is using a pseudonym out of security concerns.

Liked it? Take a second to support Turkish Minute on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!
More News
Latest News