Caucasia connects to Europe through Turkey: Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project

A tender was held for the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project, also known as the “Iron Silk Road,” in Ankara on Sept. 20. The railway will provide a direct connection between Turkey and Georgia, from where the line will also extend to Azerbaijan, Central Asia, China and Mongolia.

Turkey’s decision to close its border with Armenia in April 1993 during the Azeri-Armenian War severed Turkey’s direct rail connection with the former Soviet republics. Turkey no longer had access from Armenia to Georgia, from Georgia to Russia and Azerbaijan or from Russia and Azerbaijan to Ukraine, Central Asia and China. Currently rail transportation between Turkey, Central Asia and China takes place through Iran. For these reasons Turkey has been seeking alternative rail projects that would circumvent Armenia. The Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project was the outcome of the pursuit to ensure transportation on the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan route. Two other alternatives — the Batumi-Hopa railway project and the Samsun-Poti line — were also considered to facilitate commercial transportation between Turkey, Georgia and Russia.
With the project, which is currently under review, Turkey seeks to become an important actor in the region by achieving the following: creating an alternative route to the present west-east corridor through Iran, connecting Central Asia to Turkey through the Caspian Basin, ensuring shorter transport times between Europe and Central Asia, connecting Central Asia to the Mediterranean via a railway-marine route combined transportation over the Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan line and reviving rail transit with Central Asia. In Georgia, there is a railway, dating from the Soviet era, from Tbilisi through Ahalkelek. In the event of the construction of a railway between Ahalkelek and Kars, Turkey will have the opportunity to connect to Tbilisi and Baku. Therefore, Turkey will not have to rely on the Kars-Gümrü-Ayrum-Tbilisi rail route anymore. The construction of the Kars-Ahalkelek railway would connect Turkey to the already operational South Caucasia railway network. If that occurs, the old Kars-Gümrü railway that connects the Soviet republics to Turkey would become obsolete.
The implementation of the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway project that will bypass Armenia has already drawn a negative reaction from Armenia and the Armenian diaspora.
The completion of the tender for the Georgian part of the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway is expected in September from the Georgian Transportation Ministry. The foundation-laying ceremony of the railway is scheduled for October with the attendance of President Abdullah Gül, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. The total length of the project will be 124 kilometers. Of this, 92 kilometers will pass through Turkey and the remainder through Georgia. Under the project, 60 kilometers will be constructed in Turkey and 30 kilometers in Georgia. The existing 160-kilometer line between Ahalkelek, Akhali and Marabda will be rehabilitated. The project is scheduled to be complete by 2010. Within the project, 1.5 million passengers and 3 million tons of freight will be transported every year. By 2034, the number of annually transported passengers is expected to rise to 3.5 million and freight to 16.5 million tons.

 * View by Hasan KANBOLAT (TZ)

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