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After Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan eyes a strategic strip of Armenia Lalrp


A Soviet statue stands earlier than a crumbling constructing on the deserted prepare station in Meghri, Armenia. The station has not operated for the reason that collapse of the Soviet Union. (Anush Babajanyan/VII)

MEGHRI, Armenia — Outdoors the previous Meghri prepare station in southern Armenia, a rusting locomotive, emblazoned with a fading emblem of the Soviet Union, sits on the tracks, as if nonetheless ready for the passengers who stopped coming way back.

The station’s overgrown courtyard and dilapidated ready rooms have been as soon as full of Armenians, Azerbaijanis and guests from throughout the Soviet Union, touring between Baku and Yerevan, or Moscow and Tehran. A modest cafeteria bought tea and snacks, and in summer time, fruit sellers on the platform hawked persimmons and pomegranates, grown domestically within the orchards that hug the valley.

Meghri sits at a strategic crossroads that regional powers, together with Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkey and Russia, are competing to entry — prompting fears it may quickly be on the heart of a brand new battle.

Positioned simply north of the Aras River and the Iranian border, Meghri is flanked on both sides by Azerbaijani territory. To the east lies Azerbaijan correct, whose border with Armenia has been shut since 1991. Roughly six miles to the west lies Nakhchivan, a landlocked Azerbaijani exclave that Baku has lengthy dreamed of connecting to its mainland. A sliver of Nakhchivan borders Turkey.

Azerbaijan calls Meghri, and the remainder of Armenia’s Syunik province, the Zangezur hall. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and different officers have described opening this hall as a high goal — one that’s now in direct focus following Baku’s recapture of the long-disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Zangezur hall is a damaged hyperlink in an extended, doubtlessly extremely profitable east-west route referred to as the “Middle Corridor” that might join China and Central Asian nations to Turkey through Azerbaijan.


Map view from

this attitude

The river Aras, defines the border between

Azerbaijan and Iran and is comparatively flat

alongside each side. Nonetheless, the portion of the

river in Armenia is surrounded by mountains.


Map view from

this attitude

The river Aras, defines the border

between Azerbaijan and Iran and is comparatively flat

alongside each side. Nonetheless, the portion of the river

in Armenia is surrounded by mountains.

Zangezur medium

Map view from

this attitude

The river Aras, defines the border between

Azerbaijan and Iran and is comparatively flat alongside each side.

Nonetheless, the portion of the river in Armenia is surrounded by mountains.


Map view from

this attitude

The river Aras, defines the border

between Azerbaijan and Iran and is comparatively flat

alongside each side. Nonetheless, the portion of the river

in Armenia is surrounded by mountains.

Yerevan pledged to open transport routes to Baku as a part of a 2020 cease-fire after a short battle in Nagorno-Karabakh. However since then, Armenian officers have balked, saying that any such association would successfully be the occupation of Armenian territory.

Betrayed by Moscow, which didn’t stop Azerbaijan’s army operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia now needs full management of the route. And it not needs Moscow’s safety forces, who’ve guarded Meghri’s borders for the reason that Nineteen Seventies, concerned.

Azerbaijan, in the meantime, is pressuring Yerevan for unfettered entry to the hall, aiming to reopen the previous Soviet railroad from Baku to Nakhchivan, in addition to a freeway for vehicles. It has already begun establishing infrastructure in preparation for the route.

Russia didn’t maintain peace in Nagorno-Karabakh, pivoting away from Armenia

Aliyev has signaled that Baku would use power to grab the hall if the 2020 deal shouldn’t be upheld. “We are going to implement the Zangezur hall, whether or not Armenia needs it or not,” he stated in 2021.

“I believe the specter of a flare-up could be very actual,” stated Stefan Meister, a South Caucasus skilled on the German Council on Overseas Relations. “The Azerbaijanis have a maximalist strategy. … If they will take it, they’ll do it.”

Thomas de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe who specializes within the area, stated there are “two competing visions for a similar east-west route,” with Armenia backed by the West, and Azerbaijan, Russia and Turkey aligned collectively.

“It’s extra possible that Baku and Moscow will collectively use all their stress factors on the Armenian authorities to coerce them to simply accept their plan,” de Waal stated. “So that is shaping up into an actual contest.”

Turkey and Russia, which might profit from increasing transport hyperlinks crossing Armenian territory, have backed Aliyev’s plans. Russia, particularly, needs this route south to avoid Western sanctions. Moscow has been utilizing Azerbaijan to proceed promoting oil regardless of import bans and a value cap regime coordinated by the Group of Seven nations.

However Iran, a strong ally of Armenia and its solely pleasant neighbor, has strongly opposed the mission, averse to any alterations to its border with Armenia. The proposed plan would hinder, if not disconnect, free commerce and site visitors between the 2 nations. It may additionally cut back income from Iran’s fuel contracts with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh final month, which prompted greater than 100,000 of the area’s ethnic Armenian residents to flee, has raised issues that Baku — which has stepped up its hawkish rhetoric — might use power to get its method within the transit hall dispute.

It was battle between Azerbaijan and Armenia that initially shuttered the Meghri station.

At its peak through the Soviet period, the station had 70 workers. Armenian and Azerbaijani residents lived facet by facet. One 12 months, even one deputy mayor of Meghri was Azerbaijani.

However in 1992, with Armenia and Azerbaijan at battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, revenge assaults escalated. A bunch of Azerbaijanis hijacked the prepare operating from Yerevan to Kapan because it handed by Nakhchivan and took 12 wagons filled with largely Armenian passengers hostage for every week.

As official negotiations stalled, a bunch of males from Meghri took issues into their very own fingers. Climbing the excessive mountain paths to a radar station, they bribed a Russian border guard to allow them to cross into Nakhchivan. Then, disguised as Russians, they kidnapped a neighborhood man — a relative of an Azerbaijani official — who was exchanged for the 14 remaining passenger-hostages. Baku and Yerevan later signed an accord to safeguard passenger transport.

The subsequent 12 months, nevertheless, a rumor unfold that Azerbaijanis had kidnapped a bus load of Armenian passengers farther north. A lynch mob of offended Armenian residents gathered on the Meghri station. Considering that Baku had violated the accord, Arman Davtyan, the deputy station director, halted the prepare.

“I gave the order to the obligation officer to cease the incoming prepare,” Davtyan stated in a current interview, a smile twitching on the corners of his mouth, “and by doing this, I very almost risked a global disaster.”

After two days of talks to make sure locals wouldn’t ambush the passengers, the prepare departed from the station — one of many final to ever depart Meghri. The station closed a couple of months later, in 1993, together with the entire line from Baku to Nakhchivan.

However regardless of the railroad’s darkish historical past, Davtyan — who labored on the station for 25 years — needs to see it reopened.

“My sincere opinion as a railway worker is that it’s extra in Armenia’s pursuits than Azerbaijan’s,” he stated. “It will be crucial for our economic system.”

Meghri Mayor Bagrat Zakaryan, 40, stated the native authorities can be prepared to reopen the previous railway.

“We perceive the need of doing this, and it’s useful for us too,” Zakaryan stated in an interview. “We can’t oppose the entire world. If we don’t compromise, folks will flip away from us.” Nonetheless, he stated, Armenia wanted some ensures. “In any other case,” he stated, “Baku will simply take increasingly, little by little.”

However, he stated, a shared freeway was dangerous.

“It’s not possible for folks to share the identical highway with those that have killed their kids or relations,” he stated. “What if folks wish to take revenge? It’s a safety subject.”

Certainly, many Meghri residents are skeptical of any plans to reopen transport.

“I don’t need this railway again once more. We live peacefully right here with out it. I don’t belief the Azerbaijanis,” stated Silva Hovakian, 63, a retiree.

Marat Khachatryan, 70, a vegetable vendor, remembers the previous prepare line nicely.

It will take 12 hours to get from his native Kapan to Yerevan. In these days, the prepare handed by Nakhchivan and, Khachatryan stated, Azerbaijanis would typically throw stones on the home windows.

“As soon as I used to be sitting within the carriage and a stone shattered the window and flew proper previous me — it was terrifying,” he stated. “I at all times sat away from the home windows after that.” He added: “Regardless that there was no battle then, and it was communist guidelines and society; there was nonetheless loads of hatred.”

“I don’t need the prepare line,” Khachatryan stated. “We don’t want it. The Azerbaijanis may cease off in Meghri and simply do no matter they need.”

Baku insists these fears are unfounded. Elin Suleymanov, Baku’s ambassador to Britain, stated that these fearing Azerbaijani army motion have been residing in “a paranoid dreamworld” and that Azerbaijan had no army aims on Armenia’s territory.

In the meantime, Davtyan, the station’s former deputy director, stated that transit shouldn’t be blocked by politics.

“Sure, you possibly can count on something from the Azerbaijanis,” Davtyan stated. “However there are nations who’ve been enemies for hundreds of years and who nonetheless have transport hyperlinks. We’ve got acknowledged borders — we’ve got to consider in worldwide regulation and order.”