A senior Azerbaijani official has said that Baku is no longer in interested in a special corridor that would connect Azerbaijan to its Nakhichevan exclave through Armenia’s strategic Syunik province.
Since the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly demanded such a corridor and implicitly threatened to order his troops to open it forcibly. Armenia has rejected his demands while expressing readiness for conventional transport links between the two South Caucasus states.
Last month’s Azerbaijani military offensive in Karabakh raised more fears in Yerevan that Baku will also attack Armenia to open the exterritorial “Zangezur corridor.” A senior Armenian diplomat claimed on October 8 that an Azerbaijani attack on Syunik may be “a matter of weeks.”
Aliyev’s top foreign policy aide, Hikmet Hajiyev, denied this in an interview with Politico published late on Wednesday. He said that the corridor “has lost its attractiveness for us” and that Baku is now planning to “do this with Iran instead.”
“Our agenda was only about building transport linkages and connectivity through the framework of bilateral engagement,” said Hajiyev. “If this is the case, yes, but if not then OK. It’s still on the table but it will require from the Armenian side to show they’re really interested in that.”
Earlier this month, Azerbaijani and Iranian officials broke ground on a new road that will link Nakhichevan to mainland Azerbaijan via Iranian territory adjacent to Syunik. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk, who has mediated numerous Armenian-Azerbaijani talks on transport links, was reported to say on Thursday that Baku and Tehran have also agreed to build a similar rail link bypassing Armenia.
Syunik is the sole Armenian province bordering Iran. The latter has repeatedly warned against attempts to strip it of the common border and transport links with Armenia. The Islamic Republic views that as a serious threat to its national security.
“We have repeatedly said that we disagree with the [idea of the] ‘Zangezur corridor’ and we have made this clear during meetings with various Azerbaijani officials,” Iran’s Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrzad Bazrpash said during a visit to Yerevan on Monday.
Bazrpash spoke as two Iranian companies were formally contracted by the Armenian government to rebuild a 32-kilometer section of Syunik’s main highway leading to the Iranian border. The contracts worth $215 million underscored Tehran’s interest in Armenia’s continued full control over Syunik.
Meanwhile, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan travelled to Tbilisi to Thursday to attend and address an international conference on reviving the ancient Silk Road. In his speech, Pashinyan reaffirmed his government’s commitment to opening the Armenian-Azerbaijani border to commerce and individual travel.
Pashinyan reaffirmed the official Armenian line that all regional countries must exercise full control over roads and railways passing through their territory. This means, he said, that travellers and cargo cannot be exempt from national border controls. Baku is understood to have sought such exemptions for the “Zangezur corridor.”
Aliyev has repeatedly described Syunik and other parts of Armenia as “historical Azerbaijani lands.” He said last week that ethnic Azerbaijanis who used to live there in Soviet times will eventually return “not in tanks but in cars.”