The 45-kilometer railway will be part of broader transport links between the two countries envisaged by the Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh as well as follow-up agreements reached by Baku and Yerevan.
Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev reported decisive progress towards establishing the rail link between Nakhichevan and the rest of Azerbaijan after face-to-face talks held in Brussels in December.
Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that the construction of its Armenian section will likely cost Yerevan $200 million and take about three years. But Grigorian did not say when it will start.
The task force formed by Pashinian’s government late last week is to deal with practical modalities of the transport project. It will be headed by Artashes Tumanian, Armenia’s former ambassador to Iran, and also comprise nine government officials and railway and construction specialists.
Tumanian, who is now an adviser to Pashinian, did not return phone calls at the weekend.
Pashinian insisted last month that the rail link will be beneficial for not only Azerbaijan but also Armenia. “Through that railway Armenia will gain access to Russia and Iran, while Azerbaijan will get a rail link with Nakhichevan,” he said.
Critics of the Armenian prime minister are skeptical about the project’s economic benefits for Armenia, however. Suren Parsian, an opposition-linked economist, believes that it is first and foremost a political undertaking.
“We often overestimate the significance of this unblocking of transport infrastructures,” Parsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “True, Armenia needs to have open roads and alternative options. But this must not be presented as a miracle cure.”
While apparently reaching an agreement on the rail links, Aliyev and Pashinian failed to patch up their differences on the status of a highway that would also connect Azerbaijan and Nakhichevan through Syunik.
Aliyev said ahead of their December 14 meeting in Brussels that people and cargo passing through that “Zangezur corridor” must be exempt from Armenian border controls. Pashinian rejected the demand.