Infrastructure cooperation could be the key to Armenia’s future security

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Yerablur Pantheon Military Cemetery in Yerevan on the eve of a day of Armenian state mourning in memory of those who died in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. December 18, 2020. (REUTERS / Artem Mikryukov)

Since the South Caucasus wants to make further progress after last year’s Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, joint infrastructure projects could help strengthen regional stability and improve the chances of lasting peace. Armenia in particular could benefit from participating in the ambitious international infrastructure initiative Middle Corridor, which envisages a transit route from China via Turkey to Europe.

The planned route of the Middle Corridor, which is almost 9,000 kilometers long, includes sections in Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hopes to convince Beijing that the corridor can serve as one of the main routes for China’s “One Belt, One Road” journey. This would strengthen Turkey’s position as a regional energy, trade and economic center, while deepening the country’s relations with the South Caucasus and Central Asia regions, which Ankara regards as areas of vital national interest.

The “Middle Corridor” initiative could not only help establish Turkey as one of the ten largest economies in the world, but could also significantly shorten the transit time between Chinese and European markets. The corridor offers the possibility of a 12-day freight time frame. This is cheap compared to the 20-day travel time via Russia or more than 30 days with existing maritime options. The Middle Corridor would also benefit from a modern infrastructure and relatively cheap terrain.

The route has significant geopolitical advantages over alternative corridors running through Russia and Iran, both of which currently have strained relations with the western world. There are concerns that a future deterioration in these links could adversely affect the transit of goods through both countries to the west.

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Given the importance of the Middle Corridor Initiative to Turkey, it is not surprising that Erdogan is interested in a lasting peace in the South Caucasus region in order to convince the Chinese that this is the most profitable transit route to Europe.

To back up his argument, Erdogan is reportedly trying to initiate a new branch of the Middile Corridor in the South Caucasus. In addition to the planned Georgian corridor, the Turkish head of state is trying to add an alternative Armenian corridor (Syunik corridor). On a recent visit to Azerbaijan, Erdogan spoke about the need to create a six-country regional cooperation platform with Armenia, Iran, Georgia, Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan. He also pointed out that the tensions between Georgia and Russia were particularly problematic from an infrastructural point of view.

The Turkish leader appears concerned about the potential for a serious crisis in Georgian-Russian relations and the threat this would pose to Georgia’s existing oil, gas and rail infrastructure. This is one of the reasons why there is now an active discussion on the need for an additional Armenian Corridor.

Any Armenian corridor would likely go through the south of the country rather than the north. This would help to integrate the isolated Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan into the infrastructure of the wider region, without however requiring a full normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations.

Armenia’s participation in the Middle Corridor initiative would reinforce the claim that the South Caucasus region is now a reliable transit route. Before the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War, Turkey had struggled to overcome Chinese concerns about the possibility of a new conflict in the South Caucasus. The post-war environment offers potential opportunities to develop the Middle Corridor with renewed vigor.

Turkey’s geopolitical interest in the stability of the South Caucasus is a trump card for Armenia as the country seeks stability and security after last year’s military defeat. It creates the basis for a pragmatic dialogue with Turkey towards mutually beneficial cooperation.

The potential benefits for Armenia of participating in the Middle Corridor are considerable. It would bring welcome additional revenue to the country while creating trade opportunities and helping to diversify energy supplies. It is crucial that the corridor would also dramatically increase the interdependence between the countries in the region and thus reduce the likelihood of a return to open conflicts.

This makes it difficult to argue with recent Turkish declarations that Armenia and the Armenian people will benefit most from deeper international cooperation in the South Caucasus. Armenia remains traumatized by the shocks of military defeat last year, but there is hope that participation in international infrastructure initiatives such as the Middle Corridor could now offer a viable path to greater security and prosperity.

Ani Yeghiazaryan is a research fellow at the Armenian Institute for International and Security Affairs.

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