By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian, in Tbilisi on a two-day official visit, reaffirmed on Friday Armenia’s strong interest in the resumption of railway connection between Georgia and Russia which is currently discussed by the two neighboring states.
The rail link, which passes through Abkhazia, was disrupted in 1992 with the outbreak of a secessionist war in Georgia’s Black Sea region which has been de facto independent from the Tbilisi government for the past decade. Its reopening would restore Armenia’s railway communication with the outside world and give a strong boost to its struggling economy. Meeting in the Russian city of Sochi last March, the presidents of Georgia and Russia agreed in principle to restore the link.
“Armenia is interested in the implementation of the Sochi arrangements,” Kocharian was reported to say after talks in Tbilisi with his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze. He said Yerevan is ready assist in that.
“The restoration of railway communication on the Abkhazian stretch of the Georgian railway will be very important for Georgia, Russia and Armenia and for the entire Caucasus,” Shevardnadze agreed.
The comments came amid the ongoing Georgian-Russian talks on the details of the planned reconstruction of the disused Abkhaz section of the railway. The two governments formed a special task force to deal with the issue after the Sochi agreement. Itar-Tass news agency quoted on Friday a Georgian deputy minister of transport, Giorgi Nizharadze, as saying that they will name specialists within the next two weeks who will carry out the reconstruction work.
Progress on the issue was made possible by an apparent softening in Georgia’s position. The Shevardnadze administration had previously linked the reopening of the rail link with the resolution of the Abkhaz conflict. It now demands only the return of tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the war.
The Sochi agreement provides that the railway should be reopened simultaneously with the return of the Georgian displaced persons, something which was emphasized by Shevardnadze after his meeting with Kocharian.
The two leaders also reportedly discussed broader economic cooperation between Georgia and Armenia and signed agreements meant to step up bilateral ties in the areas of culture, education and information exchange. Kocharian was due to meet with other Georgian leaders and representatives of Georgia’s large Armenian community on Saturday.