Author: Agil MAMMADOV
Azerbaijan has long waited for these days to delay the implementation of projects that would ensure the great return of the Garabagh people to their native lands. Therefore, it is not surprising that these projects are implemented with such a dedication and speed.
Despite the rugged terrain, which the Victory Road to Garabagh is passing through, construction works are implemented as speedy as the victorious path of the Azerbaijani army to the heart of Azerbaijan - Shusha. We can proudly say that it is almost complete. As part of his recent visit to the region, President Ilham Aliyev was reported that 92 km of the 101 km 2-3-lane Ahmedbeyli-Fizuli-Shusha road have already been paved.
Another record is the Fizuli International Airport. As Mr. Aliyev noted, "perhaps no airport in the world has been constructed at such an accelerated pace." The 11.6 km tunnel through the Murovdagh Mountain along the Toghanaly-Kelbajar highway, as well as the 3.4 km tunnel along the Kelbajar-Lachin highway are also under construction. President Aliyev took part in the groundbreaking ceremonies of these tunnels at the end of August. All these projects are just a tiny part of the large-scale transport infrastructure of the Azerbaijani territories liberated from the Armenian occupation.
Highways and tunnels
The level of access to international transit routes is the main catalyst for the development of the economy of the country and its regions, since transport plays the role of the circulatory system of the national economy. Therefore, in order to ensure the rapid integration of the liberated territories into the general economic system of Azerbaijan, as well as to ensure the favourable living conditions for the population, which will gradually return to their native lands, it was decided to start with the reconstruction of the transport architecture. This process is currently implemented through a synergistic interaction under the following three categories: construction of three airports; restoration of existing railway lines; restoration and construction of new highways with a total length of over 700 km.
Regarding the last point, 600 km of these roads will be reconstructed, and about 130 km will be completely new. In total, each area of 1,000 sq.km. will host 70 km of road infrastructure, which is twice the world average.
Apart from the strategic importance of these projects, and along with the accelerating process of resettlement on the liberated territories, the construction of road infrastructure will contribute to attracting investments in these areas. These territories have large agricultural and industrial potential. Modernisation of the road infrastructure will reduce the cost of local products, as well as increase their competitiveness. As a result, the products of local producers will be able to quickly access both local and foreign markets.
Rapid economic development will also accelerate the movement of labour resources. There will be a process of natural migration of workers from the centre to the liberated territories (to the periphery), which will accelerate the development of the labour market in the region and increase the cost of labour. As a result, the service sector will also develop in these territories. According to the NEG theory (New Economic Geography) of economist Paul Krugman, trading between points A and B is possible within the scope of the logistics potential. In other words, the distance between the above points is estimated by the amount of time spent to cover this distance.
During the construction of road architecture in these areas, special attention is paid to ensuring year-round and round-the-clock accessibility of navigation between communication nodes. Thus, the construction of a 11.6 km long tunnel along the Toghanaly-Kelbajar road will not only increase the speed of traffic flows, but also, due to its length, will ensure Azerbaijan’s entry to the top twenty countries in terms of this indicator.
Azerbaijan is restoring and constructing its road infrastructure taking into account the prospects for opening communication lines with Armenia. This means that, on the one hand, the ongoing projects are aimed at the development of the liberated territories, and on the other hand, the road capacity is calculated based on regional interests. In this case, Western Zangezur will get a chance to develop faster than other regions of Armenia. For example, the regions of Mexico and Canada bordering the United States are developing faster than other regions of these countries due to their easy access to wider commodity markets.
Rehabilitation of railway infrastructure
As the history of developed countries shows, their progress is closely related to the expansion of the railway infrastructure. Today the railway system is the only type of transport between points A and B capable of transporting the largest volumes of goods and passengers in a given period of time.
According to the great thinker Ibn Khaldun, the fate of each nation depends on its geographic location. But very often countries with a favourable geostrategic location remain at the last steps of the economic development ratings, while the countries with difficult terrain reliefs prosper. Therefore, much depends on how the authorities are able to correctly and wisely use the geographical position of the territories they govern.
Less than a hundred days after the signing of a trilateral statement by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Russia on November 10, 2020, President of Azerbaijan launched the construction of the Horadiz-Aghbend railway. To connect this transport line with Nakhchivan, it is necessary to restore 40 km of roads in Armenia. This work will be done by Russia, since the management of the Armenian railways has been transferred to Russia in exchange for a loan provided by the Russian Federation to Armenia. In general, after a thirty-year pause, this transport corridor will contribute to the economic activity not only in the regional countries, but also in a wider area.
Construction of the railway line to Nakhchivan will strengthen the integration of the economy of the autonomous republic into the general economy of Azerbaijan. Nakhchivan will finally come out of the thirty-year blockade and increase its economic activity. Industry and agriculture account for 27.6% and 12.4% of Nakhchivan’s GDP, respectively. Nakhchivan has great potential for the development of agriculture, processing industry and tourism. However, it is expensive to export local products, which makes it difficult to make the best use of available opportunities. The operation of a railway line directly connecting Nakhchivan with Baku will accelerate the export of local products and increase their competitiveness in markets. At the same time, Azerbaijan will be able to establish bilateral transport links with its strategic partner Turkey.
On the other hand, direct railway link between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan will provide Armenia with access to modern and high-speed transport corridors. That is, Armenia will have a direct railway communication with Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia and Iran, which will boost the development of Armenian economy. In particular, the mining industry predominantly located in the south of Armenia will become more active and have direct access to the Russian and Turkish markets.
The launch of the Baku-Nakhchivan-Baku railway route will have a positive effect on attracting investments to the Turkish regions of Igdir and Kars. As a rule, export-oriented companies are more inclined to invest in regions with easy access to transport corridors. In addition, export goods tend to be more expensive. That is why the main industrial areas of Turkey are concentrated in the coastal zones. Thus, the launch of the Baku-Nakhchivan railway will expand the territorial coverage of Turkey's production facilities, facilitating their movement inland.
Full access to transport communications initiated by Azerbaijan meets the economic interests of both the regional countries and the countries of the Middle East, Central Asia, China, Scandinavia, as well as Ukraine, Belarus, and Japan.
The transport corridor will contribute to the creation of the Japan-Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia-Turkey-Middle East transport corridor. Thus, yet another initiative of the President of Azerbaijan guarantees the unity and prosperous future of peoples on a large territory with a population of 30 million people.
The transport architecture of the liberated territories is complemented by three airports. The construction of one of them in the Fuzuli district will soon be completed. "Construction of the airport began this year. I said that this year Fuzuli International Airport will be commissioned. Perhaps no airport in the world has been built at such an accelerated pace. The runway is already ready. Final works are underway. Once again I want to emphasize that this year I laid the foundation of the airport, and now we can see the construction works almost complete. This airport is the air gate of Garabagh," President Aliyev said during his trips to Fuzuli and Shusha.
At two other airports, which will be located in Zangilan and Lachin districts, the works are in full sway. The launch of these air hubs will ensure an inflow of foreign tourists, since tens of thousands of people wish to visit Shusha, the capital of Azerbaijani culture. Airports in Fuzuli and Lachin will provide foreign tourists with faster and more profitable access to these areas.
In addition, the construction and operation of airports will create new job opportunities. This is especially important to ensure the employment of our citizens living in the liberated territories. It is no secret that the airports employ professionals with special knowledge and skills, and airport management is a complex technological process. Therefore, the average salary in such infrastructure facilities has always been high. Thus, for the first time in this region, jobs will be created for highly qualified specialists.
Of particular interest is the Lachin International Airport, which began on August 17, 2021 after the groundbreaking ceremony launched by President Ilham Aliyev. The airport is planned to be constructed in difficult mountainous terrain, making it the highest mountain airport in Azerbaijan. The airport can also be considered a candidate for the most profitable airport in the region. Given the complexity of navigation in the neighbouring Kelbajar district during the winter months, Lachin airport will provide an exceptional opportunity for Kelbajar's transport links with Baku and the rest of the world.
In this sense, Lachin Airport can be viewed not only as an economic, but also a socially significant project. It will not only speed up the return of local residents to the surrounding areas, but will also ensure the district’s recognition as one of the global summer and winter tourism hubs.
Apart from their socio-economic significance, airports in Lachin and Zangilan can also be used as strongholds for the deployment of UAVs and military aircraft, given the proximity of the state border of Azerbaijan with Armenia. This will make it possible, if necessary, to timely neutralise the elements that hinder the sovereignty of Azerbaijan and the peaceful life of the people.
In a nutshell, such an extensive and multifunctional transport system will allow Azerbaijan to strengthen its geopolitical and economic position in the region, expand trade relations, and fully unleash the potential of Garabagh and Eastern Zangezur.