The Horadiz-Zangelan-Agbend Railway
-as part of the 140 Year History of the International Transport Hub
By Aybaniz Ismayilova,
Head of the International Relations Department
Azerbaijani Community of the Nagorno-Karabakh Region of the Republic of Azerbaijan
February 18, 2021
Images courtesy of contributor.
Creating a new transport hub in Karabakh
If you live in a town where trains pass nearby, I suggest watching the romantic movie “Mona, l’étoile sans nom” (1965). Putting the film’s main plot to one side, the events that happen around the town’s train station won’t fail to leave an impression on anyone.
The whole town’s social life is tied to one passenger train passing through each day at the same time. The residents of the town put on their best clothes and come to the station. Young women comb their hair, young men polish their shoes, and schoolchildren tear away from their classes to have a look – not at the train itself, but the people on the train.
Maybe this film affected me so profoundly because my childhood was spent in the station-town of Minjivan, Zangilan, where many passenger trains passed. The heart of this town, and the station of the same name, was beating with the passing trains. Almost the whole life of our town was connected with the railway and trains.
My father worked as the head manager of a rail line. But he was not the only resident who saw his life and future so tied to the railway. In Minjivan, almost eighty percent of men were railway workers, worked on trains or railway infrastructure.
Located at the crossroads of two major international transport corridors, North-South and West-East, Azerbaijan has played the role of a unique bridge for centuries. The 140-year-old (1880-2020) Azerbaijani railways passed through our small settlement as part of the International Transport Hub. The Minjivan station was divided into several lines, from Moscow to Tehran, Yerevan to Tbilisi, and Baku to Qafan. As trains carrying people from those inaccessible cities passed through our town, we too felt we were part of this massive transportation road.
It was as if we were part of not only this road but also of the long history of the railway, a considerable process that began with the oil boom in the Absheron peninsula, more than a hundred years old at that time.
The First Karabakh War destroyed countless wonderful things, this road being only one example of what was put an end to, cut down, and demolished.
On October 23, 1993, at 23:40, the last Baku-Gafan train departed. The train, which reached Imishli station at 4.10 in the morning, was not permitted to leave. Zangilan was under Armenian occupation, and if the train continued, it would no longer go to flourishing Minjivan but to the center of the conflict. This train line, one of the leading transport arteries in the region, was officially cut off due to the Armenian occupation later that day. In this way, more than 240 km of railway lines were subjected to Armenian control. The trains in the Mehri-Frame area were suspended, and as a result, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic was isolated from the country and under blockade, as it has been now for more than 27 years.
But the days are not far away when the Second Karabakh War’s victory will heal the wounds of the First Karabakh War.
Recently, Hikmet Hajiyev, Assistant to the President of Azerbaijan – Head of the Foreign Policy Department of the Presidential Administration, together with foreign diplomats in Azerbaijan, visited the liberated territories. During this visit, Mr. Hajiyev said that the regional transport hub in Minjivan would be restored.
On February 14, during a trip with First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva to Fizuli, Zangilan, Lachin, and Jabrayil regions, President Ilham Aliyev laid the foundation of the Horadiz-Zangilan-Agbend railway.
“This railway is of great strategic importance. First of all, because it will be of great importance both for the travel of citizens and for cargo transportation. On the other hand, this road will lead to Nakhchivan. The joint statement signed on November 10 contains a special provision on the creation of the Nakhchivan corridor. This work has already started. I am sure that this project, carried out on our initiative, will be realized. After a long break, Azerbaijan and its the inseparable Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic – will be connected by rail, and thus our strategic, economic, and political goals will be realized,” Aliyev said.
The Republic of Azerbaijan today is turning into an international transport hub. Investments and the political will of the country’s leadership create tremendous economic opportunities for logistics. Railway routes will pass from east to west and north to south through Azerbaijan. This will give momentum to development and create new jobs and economic opportunities for all countries in the region.
The North-South Transport Corridor was laid based on the intergovernmental agreement signed between Russia, Iran, and India on September 12, 2000. Azerbaijan joined this agreement in 2005. In total, 13 countries have ratified the agreement (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Armenia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Oman, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Ukraine). The corridor aims to reduce the delivery time of cargo from India to Russia and to northern and western Europe (at present, delivery time on this route is over six weeks, but it is expected to be three weeks via the North-South Transport Corridor).
Another important corridor in which Azerbaijan will play a key role in the East-West Railway Corridor. The main connecting link of this corridor is the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project. Azerbaijan is both an initiator and financial donor of BTK.
The East-West line, or The Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), is intended to grow freight traffic from China to Turkey and from the countries of the European Union in the opposite direction. A consortium established by participating countries carries out the management and development of this transport route. The block train, the “Nomad Express” on this route, delivers goods from China to Europe within 10-12 days on average. This speed is one of the main advantages of this transport corridor.
It is not difficult to understand how this news affected me. After thirty years, I am still a part of the road, history, and process that I was a part of as a child.
In the end, as Guy de Maupassant says in his famous novel A Life “After all, life is never so jolly or so miserable as people seem to think.”