A newly announced transit route through Iran will connect western Azerbaijan with Azerbaijan’s exclave of Nakhchivan. It will pass within 5 kilometres of Iran's border with Armenia.
On 11 March, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received Iranian Minister of Urban Development and Roads Rostam Ghosemi in Baku. The two men signed a memorandum establishing a corridor connecting Azerbaijan’s region of East Zangezur to the exclave of Nakhchivan.
In the essence, the agreement proposes the establishment of a new railway, a new motorway, as well as communication and energy lines with all the attendant infrastructure.
During the meeting, the participation of Iranian companies in the reconstruction of territories that returned to Azerbaijani control during and after the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War was also reportedly discussed, as well as the resumption of flights between the two countries.
The corridor comes on the heels of nearly a year of advocacy by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev for the ‘Zangezur corridor’; which would run through the southern Armenian province of Syunik (called Zangezur in Azerbaijan). A connection between Nakhchivan and western Azerbaijan running through Armenia was one of the points of the tripartite agreement that brought an end to the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War — though it was never called a ‘corridor’. Aliyev has previously threatened to open such a corridor by ‘force’.
Anar Mammadli, a human rights activist and head of the Center for Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies, an Azerbaijani democracy watchdog, praised the memorandum.
‘It is commendable that such an agreement has been reached between the two countries, albeit belatedly’, he said. ‘Alternatives [to a corridor through Armenia] don’t harm anyone.'
Not everyone, however, has seen the new route through Iran as an alternative to a corridor through Armenia. In a Facebook post, Arastun Orujlu, a political analyst and head of the East-West Research Center, a Baku-based think tank, wrote that while ‘communications through Iran may be important only for Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran’ the Zangezur corridor is a ‘global project’, connecting China and other Asian countries to Europe.
Orujlu also said that he does not foresee Armenia opening the Zangezur corridor voluntarily and that Azerbaijan ‘opening it by force’ would be the most ‘optimal route’.