Baku-Tbilisi-Kars “Iron Silk Road”

“But oil and gas will end someday. The railroad will live always.” –Musa Panahov, Azeri rail worker quoted in National Geographic magazine

The August issue of National Geographic contains an article about the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad which, once completed in late 2011-early 2012 will connect Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. (Cool photo gallery here.)

“You will be able to go from Europe to Asia without getting off the train,” said Serap Timur, a Turkish spokesman. Mikhael Saakashvilli (Georgian president with the boyish grin in the photo above) called the railway, which is to carry both cargo and passengers trains, a “geopolitical revolution.”

In reality, it would be more revolutionary if it included a stop in Armenia. Indeed, the three nations’ choice to build a new railroad that bypasses Armenia (rather than, for instance, reopen a defunct Soviet-era railroad already connected  Gyumri, Armenia to Tbilisi and Kars) seems to have prevented them from receiving funding for the construction from either the U.S. or E.U., with oil-rich Azerbaijan fronting the bill for Georgia.

Basically everyone involved has it in for Armenia. Azerbaijan is against continued Armenian presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey wants to express solidarity with Azerbaijan (of course, the Armenian question doesn’t help matters), and Georgia is desperate to maintain its monopoly over Armenian external trade. This leaves Armenians cut off from economic developments and increasingly marginalized in the region.

Regardless of regional conflicts and geopolitics, for those of us interested in touring the south Caucasus, the BTK rail will be a great option.

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