The gap in the Middle Corridor
As the age-old cliché goes: “geography is destiny.” Armenia knows this well, as it has never been far from the epicentre of geopolitical storms.
The gap in the Middle Corridor
The Economics of Geography

The gap in the Middle Corridor

Photo: AFP/Anadolu Agency/Resul Rehimov
Zoltán Koskovics 26/03/2024 22:04

As the age-old cliché goes: “geography is destiny.” Armenia knows this well, as it has never been far from the epicentre of geopolitical storms. In antiquity, the first Christian kingdom ever proclaimed sat at the crossroads of the Roman Empire and Persia. Today, it lies in the path of what could become the most lucrative trade route the world has ever seen: the Middle Corridor of the Belt and Road Initiative. In the weakened state in which Armenia currently finds itself, this could spell disaster.

Like its precursor, the Silk Road, the Belt and Road Initiative is a collection of land and sea routes. The Middle Corridor was thus not designed to be uniquely important, but dire global circumstances have conspired to make it so. The war in Ukraine has blocked the Eurasian Land Bridge. The end of the conflict may not lie in the very distant future, but any EU-Russia rapprochement that would allow such massive trade certainly does. The Maritime Silk Road is now imperilled by the war against Hamas, which has metastasized into a conflict on the Red Sea and may spread even further.

This leaves the Middle Corridor as the only viable option. The trade route is essentially controlled by China and President Erdoğan’s “Turkic World”. It extends through the “Stans” of Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and into Turkey. All of these countries either already have a formidable infrastructure in place or the potential to rapidly develop it (especially with Chinese help). They share a familiar cultural and historical background, strengthened by Turkic blood ties. They also have much to gain in terms of economic potential.

Yet Armenia stands in the way. It cuts right through the middle corridor (and not only that but also Azerbaijan itself). Bypassing the nation altogether is not an option since diverting the route to Iran or Georgia would involve cultures outside the Turkic family and, in the case of the former, a regional power that Ankara would probably like to keep out of the loop.

This is a puzzle that has kept Azeri strategists occupied for decades. The Zangezur Corridor is a proposed transportation route through Armenia – but without any of its checkpoints – that would connect the Nakhichevan enclave to Azerbaijan proper and allow the entirety of that Turkic republic free access to its staunch ally, Turkey. The same plan would also stabilize the Middle Corridor. But will Yerevan agree to cede control of its section of the sole surviving Silk Road?                    

This would have been unimaginable in the past three decades, but the Azeri victory in the Karabakh War has created an awkward predicament for Armenia. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan not only lost the war and had to cede claims to Karabakh (or “Artsakh” as the Armenians call it, an ancient land sacred to that nation) but in the process, managed to alienate his country’s only great power patron, Russia. This leaves Armenia in the unenviable position of having to contemplate allowing the Middle Corridor to pass through its lands under Azeri control, with Baku keeping most - if not all - of the revenue that this lucrative project is sure to generate. The alternative is a new war that Yerevan cannot afford and is certain to lose.

The author is a geopolitical analyst at the Center for Fundamental Rights (Alapjogokért Központ)

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