Nagorno-Karabakh’s second road and its consequences Mark Dietzen about the new project

 

 

The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is rebuilding the second road which links Karabakh with Armenia passing through Karvachar. The current Goris-Stepanakert motorway is not quite convenient, that’s why a decision was made to build a new road which will be shorter than the main way via Goris by 150 kilometers. So, our discussion with Executive Director of Americans for Artsakh (AFA), international affairs analyst and consultant Mark Dietzen was about the consequences, changes of Karabakh’s second road.

–       Mr. Dietzen, why did the “Hayastan” All-Armenia Fund recently decide to construct a new, second road from Armenia to Nagorno-Karabakh?

First of all, we need to begin with Azerbaijan’s release of Ramil Safarov last year. There’s a connection, because one of the main issues involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is related to security – the future security of the Karabakhi Armenians. From the Armenians’ perspective, it is very important that their security be maintained, and this is linked to the buffer territories which form a security perimeter around the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The main reason why the buffer territories were taken in the first place was to create a security belt around the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast.

So, after Safarov’s release, and the pardon of a proven murderer who admitted his crime, Azerbaijan essentially sent a signal to the Armenian side and to the international community – that killing an Armenian is somehow a heroic deed. And I think the Armenians took it seriously, because Azerbaijan’s sanction of such behavior is troubling for any Armenian. That’s one of the reasons why the Armenians decided to be more proactive by building a second road, to help support the security of Karabakh.

However, before the announcement of this new project connecting Vardenis to Martakert, we heard a lot about the reopening of the Stepanakert Airport, which is also very important. In this case, Azerbaijan warned Armenia that the airplanes would be shot down by Azerbaijani forces, if the Armenians use that type of transportation.

What positive changes could the second road bring?

The new road will contribute to economic development in Nagorno-Karabakh, especially in the Shahumian and Martakert regions. It will be easier to ship goods into and out of Nagorno-Karabakh, because the new road will cut travel time from Yerevan to Stepanakert from 6 to about 3 hours. Currently the journey by car takes about 6 hours, driving south-east via Goris, and it’s a long trip. But we have to remember the security element as well, that the road will be an alternative supply line in case of new conflict. In addition to the first road passing through Berdzor, the second road from Vardenis to Martakert will create a more reliable connection between Armenia and Karabakh. This is especially relevant considering that the Stepanakert airport remains closed, and the risk of new conflict between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis if it is reopened. The second road from Vardenis to Martakert allows for a secure and strategic alternative transportation route between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

–         Could there also be social development as a consequence of the second road?

Economic development brings social development, so we can expect this as another result of the new road. The military-security aspects are again important to consider, as they relate to social development. For young Armenians who are currently living in Nagorno-Karabakh, one key question is: how can they support their families and have comfortable lives in Karabakh? The Vardenis-Martakert road’s added security value will make the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic both safer for its citizens, and more economically viable. Reinforcing these fundamental needs will undoubtedly have a positive impact on social development there.

In addition to the positive military-security, economic and social changes, the new transportation route will develop tourism as well. Tourists will be able to get to Karabakh from Armenia more quickly and more comfortably, since travel time will be cut in half. They also will have better access to tourist sites in Shahumian and Martakert. And transportation will be cheaper as well.

–         What will Azerbaijan’s reaction be to this project?

Whenever Azerbaijan hears about new transportation projects involving Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, they protest, and we can expect them to protest this time as well. But as there is already a working road from Goris to Stepanakert, the Vardenis-Martakert road isn’t going to face the same backlash that we’re witnessing now with the Stepanakert airport. Azerbaijan has less leverage when it comes to new roads in Nagorno-Karabakh, as compared to new airports.

–         Would it lead to war or inner conflict?

I don’t think this project will spark military conflict. The “Hayastan” All-Armenia Fund certainly considered the costs and benefits involved in constructing the new road, and their decision to pursue the project reflects their confidence in it, which I share. It’s important for members of the Armenian Diaspora to know that their financial contributions are going to be used for viable projects, and their support of this project is proof of its viability.

–         What countries, especially the great powers, would benefit from this new project?

It will be beneficial first and foremost to Nagorno-Karabakh, and also Armenia, but not significantly beneficial to any of the great powers, to be honest. However, the increasingly proactive steps Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh are taking regarding their future will affect the great powers in so far as it affects their policy decisions related to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. These include the Minsk Group co-chair countries – France, Russia and the United States – as well as other regional powers, such as Iran, Turkey, and the European Union. The Vardenis-Martakert road is symbolic of the Armenians’ initiative to encourage the international community to look at Nagorno-Karabakh in a different way.

–         What does the “new map” of Karabakh look like?

In the long-term, the southern area of Kashatagh is also important in terms of its proximity with Iran. For countries without access to the oceans, international borders are as valuable as ports, so this region has significant future trade potential for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. People in the Caucasus know that international relations changes, and that the current situation involving Iran will eventually change, and we hope, will get better, not just for the sake of the people of the Caucasus, but internationally as well. Nagorno-Karabakh realizes that, in the future, the small border it shares with Iran is going to become more and more important. These factors highlight Kashatagh’s strategic significance.

The southern area of Kashatagh, extending all the way to the Iranian border, is also important for several reasons. I predict that we’re going to eventually see the construction of a third new road from Kapan to Kovsakan. Like the northern Vardenis-Martakert route and the central Berdzor corridor, this southern route would also have military-security, economic, and social benefits.

–         Could the new road be a business goal for specific persons?

From a business point of view, the second road is especially welcome for Nagorno-Karabakh, but I really can’t speak to its relation to the goals of specific individuals – I think this depends on the type of business. For example, those who are involved in agriculture, mining (eg. Drmbon mine), small industries, and tourism in Karabakh will certainly benefit. Businesses will benefit by having a shorter and cheaper shipping route to and from Karabakh. This is most significant for Armenian businesses exporting to the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (like agricultural goods) and those Karabakhi businesses exporting to Armenia (like precious metals).

–         What guaranties are there that the new road won’t be exploited?

I don’t see any worrying signs that the new road will be exploited. It is important that Karabakh continue to preserve its beautiful environment, both for the people who live there and those who visit. I don’t think Karabakh wants to lose the tourists who are drawn to its nature, which is one of the first things they notice when entering the country. Like the Goris-Stepanakert highway, the new Vardenis–Martuni road will be a positive example of sustainable development.

–         What wise steps should Armenia take regarding its policy towards Azerbaijan and other countries, such as its neighbors?

Armenia can take three wise steps in relation to Karabakh. First, it should continue to cooperate with the OSCE Minsk Group to find a diplomatic resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict – there is still time to do so. Second, it should work tirelessly to decrease tension at the Line-of-Contact between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. And third, Armenia should promote a greater role for the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in the Minsk Group, by campaigning for its inclusion as a formal party to the negotiations.

The more aggressive Azerbaijan becomes against Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, as judged by its words (President Aliyev’s military threats) and actions (Ramil Safarov’s deceitful release, a massive arms buildup, and continual ceasefire violations), the more Nagorno-Karabakh’s buffer zones become security necessities for the Armenians, instead of bargaining chips in a potential compromise with Azerbaijan.

Elena Chobanyan

Posted by on Aug 27 2013. Filed under Armenia / Diaspora, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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