The messenger logo

A key moment in 2007: Baku–Akhalkalaki–Kars railway construction starts

By M. Alkhazashvili
(Translated by Diana Dundua)
Wednessday, January 9
Reflecting on events in the South Caucasus in 2007, the launch of construction on the Baku–Akhalkalaki–Kars railway was one of the most high-profile regional projects to date.

An inauguration ceremony was held on November 21, the same day Turkey and Georgia signed a free trade agreement, by the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

Then-president Mikheil Saakashvili described the project as a “geopolitical revolution” that would provide an alternative to the Russian Trans-Siberian railway for Chinese cargo, at the ceremony in Marabda, a town south of Tbilisi. He also said it would see the creation of “tens and hundreds of thousands of jobs in Georgia” and help stimulate the local economy in Samtskhe–Javakheti province.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev mentioned the project in his New Year speech, noting that obstacles to its implementation had been overcome and construction begun.

Those obstacles included political opposition to the project from Washington, in response to Armenian complaints that the railroad is an intentional attempt to isolate their country.

The project will oversee the construction of 150 kilometers of new railway, 29 kilometers on Georgian territory and 76 kilometers on Turkish, as well as the rehabilitation of 183 kilometers of the Akhalkalaki–Marabda–Tbilisi railway.

While Georgia is likely to reap some benefit during the construction stage of the project, it is unclear whether the railway will be an economic success story in the long run, given competition from Iranian and Russian corridors.

The Baku–Akhalkalaki–Kars railway may therefore prove to be most significant as an example of regional cooperation, and more memorable for its political, rather than economic, implications.