After holding fifth trilateral meeting in Tbilisi on February 19, foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey traveled to southern Georgia where they visited a section of the regional railway link, which is under construction for more than eight years already to connect the three countries.
Visiting a railway station in Kartsakhi close to the Turkish border, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, Elmar Mammadyarov, Mikheil Janelidze and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, respectively, hailed the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway project as “historic” and noted its importance for the region in the context of the new Silk Road.
A week before the trilateral foreign ministerial meeting, Tbilisi also hosted the seventh meeting of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project’s coordination council with the participation of Turkish and Azerbaijani transport ministers, and Georgian economy minister. After that meeting, 2017 was named as new date for putting the railway into operation.
The launch of the construction was announced in late 2007; at the time, 2010 was set as completion date, but it has been delayed for many times since then with deadlines moving to 2012, then to 2013, 2015, 2016 and now to 2017 – reasons, cited at various times by various officials in Georgia, Turkey and Azerbaijan, varied from delays in funding and change of government in Georgia to problems with a contractor company in Turkey and complex mountainous terrain and climate conditions.
“We have seen data, which clearly show that construction works on the Turkish side will be over before the end of this year and we will be able to launch operation of the railway in 2017,” the Georgian Economy Minister, Dimitri Kumsishvili, said after the meeting with Turkish and Azerbaijani transport ministers on February 12.
About 153 km-long railway line between Marabda in south of Tbilisi and Akhalkalaki in Samtskhe-Javakheti region was reconstructed and 27 km-long new railway section constructed from Akhalkalaki to Kartsakhi on the Turkish border; from there the railway will be linked with Turkey through a 4.4 km-long tunnel with almost half of that on the Georgian side of the border; a new railway is being built on 76 km-long section between eastern Turkish city of Kars and the Georgian border.
Turkey’s transport minister, Binali Yildirim, said in Tbilisi on February 12 that the construction of the Turkish section is expected to be over before the end of this year to make the railway operational from 2017.
Azerbaijan’s transport minister, Ziya Mammadov, said on February 12 in Tbilisi that “difficult terrain affected on dates of completion of the project.”
“The most difficult part of the work has already been done and the project is now at its final stage,” he added.
In a joint statement adopted after the meeting in Tbilisi on February 19, the Azerbaijani, Georgian and Turkish foreign ministers stressed “the key role of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway in facilitating competitive transportation between Asia and Europe.”
They also “noted with content successful testing of the Georgian section of the railway in 2015 and reiterated utmost importance of the earliest start of operation of the BTK railway.”
At the meeting in Tbilisi the three foreign ministers condemned in “the strongest possible terms” the terrorist attacks in Ankara and Diyarbakir this week which killed more than 35 people. The Turkish foreign minister thanked his Georgian and Azerbaijani counterparts for solidarity.
In view of sensitive global & regional developments, our trilateral cooperation is critical for stability & prosperity of Southern Caucasus.— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) February 19, 2016
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said: “Probably we need to expand more in cooperation in the security area, law enforcement.”
“I believe that we are on the right track. It’s a joint understanding that we must continue this cooperation because it’s a win-win-win for all three countries and the region,” he added.
The three foreign ministers also “reiterated the utmost importance of the earliest peaceful settlement of the conflict in and around Nagorno-Karabakh region of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the conflict in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia on the basis of principles and norms of international law, particularly, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally recognized borders.”