By Atom Markarian
Azerbaijan vetoed on Friday Armenia’s choice of the rotating secretary general of the European Union-funded TRACECA transport project in another international manifestation of the two countries’ conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The Armenian government, which took over the one-year presidency of TRACECA’s governing body on Thursday, was thus forced to suggest another candidate for the post: Lyudmila Trenkova of Bulgaria. The nomination was unanimously approved by EU officials and representatives of 13 countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia that participate in the ambitious plan to develop new Eurasian trade routes.
The diplomatic spat occurred at the end of a two-day conference in Yerevan of TRACECA’s Intergovernmental Commission. Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian, who represented Armenia at the meeting, looked furious as he revealed the incident to reporters. “Azerbaijan spoke out against our candidate for purely political considerations,” he said, adding that Yerevan will respond accordingly during the Azerbaijani presidency.
“Not a single proposal or initiative of the Azerbaijani side will pass,” Manukian said.
A senior official from the EU’s Brussels-based executive, Per Knutsen,” regretted Azerbaijan’s move. “This is a step which contradicts the neutrality of TRACECA,” he said.
Akif Mustafaev, who represented Azerbaijan at the Yerevan conference, defended his government’s action, but declined to elaborate on it. “I think that the conference proceeded in a constructive and positive way,” Mustafaev said. “The conference showed wisdom in giving the TRACECA presidency to Armenia and the post of secretary general to Bulgaria.”
Official Baku has stated on numerous occasions that it will not engage in any economic cooperation with Armenia before a Karabakh settlement even within the TRACECA framework. Its veto was effectively backed by Turkey whose representative abstained in the vote on Armenian Gagik Grigorian’s candidacy.
If appointed, Grigorian would have managed for one year TRACECA’s executive secretariat which is based in Baku and staffed with individuals of Azerbaijani and other nationalities.
The closed borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey are a serious hindrance to Armenia’s involvement in TRACECA which is aimed at bringing the Caucasian and Central Asian countries geographically and economically closer to the expanding EU. The EU executive, the European Commission, has spent large amounts of money on developing transport infrastructures in the region. Officials said it will allocate an additional 64 million euros ($75 million) for the effort in the next five years.
Armenian officials hope that the upcoming membership of neighboring Iran in TRACECA will create new transit opportunities for their landlocked country. In a related move, the transport ministers of Armenia, Georgia and Bulgaria signed on Friday a trilateral agreement regulating cargo transit through their territory. They said the agreement is open to other regional states.