By Armen Zakarian
Senior Armenian lawmakers pushed for the reopening of the strategic railway passing through Abkhazia at a meeting on Tuesday with their visiting Georgian colleagues led by the recently elected parliament speaker, Nino Burjanadze.
Burjanadze arrived in Yerevan earlier in the day on a two-day official visit aimed at boosting contacts between the legislative bodies of the two neighboring states. “I consider Armenia to be a really friendly country,” she told reporters on arrival. “It is very essential that our relationship remain as friendly and cordial as it has always been.”
Burjanadze met with her Armenian counterpart, Armen Khachatrian, shortly afterwards. They were later joined by other senior Armenian and Georgian deputies.
Armenian participants said the talks focused on transport issues, with the fate of the Abkhaz railway featuring prominently. Its reopening is vital for the Armenian economy as it would restore Armenia’s rail communication with Russia and Eastern Europe, which was disrupted by the 1992-93 war in the breakaway Georgian republic.
The chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on defense and security, Vahan Hovannisian, said the relaunch of the railway link would benefit both Armenia and Georgia and facilitate a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Abkhazia. “If they start the process of reopening the railway, it will be easier for us to persuade the Abkhaz of the need to make some concessions [to Tbilisi],” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. “They promised to think about our proposal,” he said.
The Georgian government has for years opposed the restoration of the rail communication, fearing that direct contacts with the Abkhaz authorities could strengthen the Black Sea region’s de facto independence. But President Eduard Shevardnadze signalled a change in Tbilisi’s position on the issue recently. So far, however, there have been no concrete initiatives on the official level.
Hovannisian said Armenia understands Georgian security concerns and would back a compromise solution whereby trains travelling to and from Russia would make no stopovers in Abkhazia.
According to the head of the largest Miasnutyun faction in the National Assembly, Galust Sahakian, the issue was discussed during Khachatrian’s visit to Moscow last week. He said the Russian government and State Duma back the idea because they believe that rail communication would boost Russia’s commercial ties with Georgia and Armenia.