International Opposition Continues to Mount Against Caucasus Railroad Proposal That Bypasses Armenia

European Commission rules out support for Turkish railroad proposal that would institutionalize Turkey’s closed border with Armenia

WASHINGTON–DC–The European Commission has added its voice to growing international opposition to a Caucasus railroad proposal by the Turkish government that would–if built–institutionalize Turkey’s border closure with Armenia–reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

The Commission’s position was articulated this week by the Directorate General for Transport and Energy. In explaining why the European Union would not support the creation of this rail line–the directorate noted that its construction was both unnecessary and inefficient in light of the existing railroad connecting Kars–Gyumri–and Tbilisi. This line–which passes through Armenia–was effectively shut down more than a decade ago by Turkey’s imposition of its blockade of Armenia–which continues to this day.

The Commission’s adoption of this position comes in response to a May 21 letter from Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian to Jacques Barrot–Deputy Chairman of the European Commission. In this letter–the Foreign Minister outlined the destabilizing implications of the proposed route bypassing Armenia–and stressed the willingness of the government of Armenia to cooperate in the reactivation of the existing Kars-Gyumri-Tbilisi railway–which remains fully functional but unused due to the unilateral Turkish blockade.

"We welcome the wise position taken by the European Commission against Turkey’s most recent effort to effectively institutionalize its border closure with Armenia. The well founded concerns raised by the Commission reflect and reinforce those being addressed in the US Congress by the South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act," said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. "In pressing forward so recklessly with this politically motivated proposal–Turkey openly disregards the Administration’s repeated calls to end its decade-long border closure with Armenia. Clearly–this disregard must be recognized and reckoned with by the US Congress–which should–in the coming weeks–act in an urgent and decisive manner to check Turkey’s growing indifference to US priorities in the region."

On July 21–Armenian Caucus Co-Chairs Joe Knollenberg (R-MI) and Frank Pallone (D-NJ)–along with Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA)–introduced legislation addressing this issue by barring US financing for rail projects circumventing Armenia. The ANCA welcomed this bipartisan effort–noting that it would protect US taxpayers from subsidizing a totally unnecessary and regionally destabilizing proposal by Turkey aimed at isolating Armenia. The measure–known as the "South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act of 2005" (HR 3361)–currently has 39 House cosponsors and is gaining support from both sides of the aisle.

The text of the legislation notes "the exclusion of Armenia from regional economic and commercial undertakings in the South Caucasus undermines the United States policy goal of promoting a stable and cooperative environment in the region." In its operative section–the legislation prohibits US assistance "to develop or promote any rail connections or railway-related connections that do not traverse or connect with Armenia–but do traverse or connect Baku–Azerbaijan; Tbilisi–Georgia; and Kars–Turkey." Specific forms of US assistance prohibited would include: foreign economic and development aid–Overseas Private Investment Corporation–Trade and Development Agency–and the Export-Import Bank.

The ANCA raised this issue publicly as early as June 10 of this year in a question to Foreign Minister Oskanian–during a briefing at the National Press Club. Minister Oskanian expressed concern that this would be a wasteful undertaking for the international community. He said that they [Turkey] are planning on spending something from $600 million to $1 billion to put that railroad in place."

The Minister closed his commen’s–by stressing that–"This is in no one’s interest–not the US or European Union or the countries involved. I have raised this issue with the Administration and they understand. They promised to follow this–and to try to talk them [the Turkish government] out of engaging in this type of senseless–useless activity."

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