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Armenia Pressing Ahead With Road Upgrades In Strategic Region


Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian chairs a cabinet meeting in Yerevan, February 17, 2022.

The Armenian government on Thursday took the first step towards attracting potential contractors for the multimillion-dollar construction of a new highway in Armenia’s southeastern Syunik province bordering Iran.

The 60-kilometer highway is to connect the provincial towns of Sisian and Kajaran. It will significantly shorten travel time between Armenia and Iran and bypass Armenian-Azerbaijani border areas.

Armenia lost control over a 21-kilometer stretch of an existing Syunik road leading to the Iranian border after a controversial troop withdrawal ordered by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian following the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Yerevan had to hastily finish work on a 70-kilometer bypass road late last year. Pashinian has acknowledged that it is not convenient enough for heavy trucks and needs further upgrades.

The bypass road will presumably overlap the Sisian-Kajaran highway. According to Minister for Territorial Administration and Infrastructures Gnel Sanosian, the mountainous highway will include as many as 27 bridges and five tunnels with a combined length of 12 kilometers.

“We will do everything to get large international companies seriously interested [in the project,]” Sanosian told a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.

Pashinian announced at the meeting that his government has formally initiated a “prequalification” of prospective bidders that will be shortlisted for an international tender for the project.

“We hope that by the end of the year we will have [selected] a company that will carry out that work,” he said.

Pashinian also said that the 60-kilometer highway will cost Armenia “several hundred million dollars.” Neither he nor other government members specified the sources of funding for the project.

The government is understood to expect Western donors, notably the European Union, to foot the bill. The EU expressed readiness last year to provide up to 600 million euros ($680 million) in grants, loans and loan guarantees for road construction in Armenia.

Pashinian suggested on Thursday that the Kajaran-Sisian highway will link up with another planned road in Syunik that would connect Azerbaijan with its Nakhichevan exclave.

Yerevan and Baku disagree on the status of that road link. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly demanded an exterritorial land corridor passing through Syunik.

The Armenian side rejects these demands, saying that Azerbaijani freight cannot be exempt from Armenian border controls. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi appeared to back Yerevan’s stance during a January 3 phone call with Pashinian.

The Iranian ambassador in Yerevan, Abbas Badakhshan Zohouri, said later in January that Syunik must remain a key route for cargo shipments between Armenia and Iran even after the anticipated launch of Armenian-Azerbaijani transport links. The Iranian side is therefore looking forward to further highway upgrades in the strategic Armenian region, he said.

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