Author: Natig NAZIMOGLU
Meeting of the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran (Elmar Mammadyarov, Mevlut Cavusoglu, Mikhail Janelidze, and Mohammad Javad Zarif) in Baku established a clear framework for a new regional format of cooperation. The results of the summit strengthened the important role of Azerbaijan in integration processes at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
South-West: Ready to roll
The Baku Declaration signed at the four-party meeting expressed support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran, as well as the settlement of regional conflicts by peaceful means on the basis of international law. Foreign ministers also confirmed their readiness for further expansion of cooperation between their nations based on deep historical and cultural ties that contribute to the strengthening of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
Meanwhile, the key topic of discussions was Azerbaijan's initiative to create the South-West transport corridor designed to connect the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
Iran is particularly interested in the implementation of this project. Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, believes that quadrilateral relations will create an opportunity for even broader cooperation, given that the Persian Gulf connects Iran with the Indian Ocean.
As to Iran's role in perspective integration activities, it is worth mentioning the desire of the Islamic Republic to join the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, as expressed by Mr. Zarif. Iran is also ready to extend this railway to the city of Tabriz. A section of the railway connecting the cities of Astara in Iran and Azerbaijan, which was officially opened at the end of March during the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Azerbaijan, will be of great importance for the operation of the South-West transport corridor. By the way, this railway section is also a part of the North-South transport corridor agreed and implemented between Iran, Azerbaijan, and Russia.
Thus, the new format for regional cooperation between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Iran will provide a further incentive to expand cooperation in the Caucasus-Caspian region. Therefore, all interested parties perceive this format as a "historical event". In the long term, it will also determine the role of Azerbaijan as one of the key links of integration at the Eurasian crossroads.
Indeed, Baku has turned into a central, connecting link of regional integration. Azerbaijan actively participates in the development of various interstate forms of cooperation such as Azerbaijan-Turkey-Georgia, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Iran, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Russia, Azerbaijan-Russia-Iran, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan-Turkey-Pakistan.
Undoubtedly, the creation of yet another promising integration platform, that is the four-party format between Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia, and Iran launched at the Baku meeting of the foreign ministers of these countries, as well as the launch of the South-West transport corridor project will further strengthen political and economic positions of Azerbaijan in the region, and the Eurasian open space.
The intertwining of interstate interests in the North-South and South-West projects also has a Russian component. It is the significant role of the Russian Federation in the North-South transport corridor that makes any talks about the alleged contradiction of the South-West project to Russian interests because it bypasses Russia futile. After all, Russia is going to use a significant portion of the South-West route within the framework of the North-South project. Besides, Russia's close economic ties and friendly political relations with the three participants of the quadrilateral format of cooperation launched in Baku (Azerbaijan, Iran, and Turkey), and the fact that Russia shares borders with these states proves that this great northern power can somehow take advantage of the integration format created between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and Iran.
The only country that is really doomed to stay away from the potential offered by the South West project is Armenia. The aggressive state, which occupied a fifth of the territory of Azerbaijan, has been increasingly supporting its status of a ‘rogue state’, hence isolating itself from significant regional processes. Obviously, this factor is further deepening social and economic crisis in Armenia.
Yerevan strategists constantly console themselves by thinking that certain prospects for cooperation with Iran can take Armenia out of the blockade. However, Iran once again has made a clear choice: it participates in regional projects jointly with Azerbaijan and other countries but Armenia.
Back in August 2014, the Armenian government approved a preliminary program for the construction of the Iran-Armenia railway. It was expected that the $3.5b-worth project designed for the transportation of 25 million tons of cargo annually would be completed in 2022. However, Yerevan has not yet found foreign investors to finance the project. Obviously, Armenia, which has long been in the habit of begging the world creditors, does not enough funds to implement this project. Therefore, we are witnessing yet another failing Armenian project.
The hopes of Armenians that their state, which is experiencing a miserable economic situation, will be able to become a bridge between the 180-million Eurasian Economic Union and 80-million Iranian markets have completely failed. Also, Armenia cannot reasonably claim the role of a link between the multimillion-dollar values of a large Eurasian policy, given an acute demographic crisis due to the mass emigration of its citizens in search of a better life...
It is not surprising therefore, that the results of the quadrilateral meeting in Baku caused pessimism in Armenia. In particular, the Zhamanak newspaper acknowledges that "Azerbaijan has managed to solve at least two problems - made the other three states of the region to accept its position on Karabakh as a consensus point of view; and further deepened the regional isolation of Armenia." At the same time, Yerevan's reference to the "high level of Armenian-Georgian and Armenian-Iranian relations" is refuted by the fact that "these seemingly friendly relations are essentially devoid of political agenda, regional component, and strategic vision," writes Zhamanak.
According to The First Armenian Information Website, Azerbaijan consistently pursues a policy of isolating Armenia thanks to bilateral and multilateral formats of cooperation. "The quadrilateral format is another reason for Baku to announce the isolation of Armenia," which has become an outsider of all possible regional integration projects," says the author of the article, Sarkis Artsruni.
Once again, life has taught Armenia a lesson, proving that the hopeless crisis it is experiencing cannot be overcome in isolation, outside of cooperation with Azerbaijan, the leading country of the South Caucasus, a country that plays a key role in the processes of regional integration. But this cooperation is possible only after the withdrawal of Armenian troops from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. The observation of this fact is yet another, albeit indirect, outcome of the Baku meeting.