The meeting of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan was a strong signal from both sides of their intention to create the Zangzor Corridor that could change geopolitics in the South Caucasus and all the way to Central Asia.
The Zangzor corridor is an aspect of the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which was the headline of Nagorno-Karabakh for years before escalating again in recent days.
But with Baku announcing the restoration of sovereignty over all of Karabakh following a lightning military operation on September 19, interest in the Zangzor corridor, which expresses the ambitions of Turkey and Azerbaijan after the resolution of this round of conflict, has renewed.
With Azerbaijani forces taking control of Karabakh and thousands of Armenians beginning to flee, the choice of Nakhchivan province to host the summit meeting between Erdogan and Aliyev has a great deal of symbolism about the direction of the two countries going forward.
In the past, Zengzor was an Azeri region inhabited by Turkish Muslims, before the Soviet Union annexed it to Armenia in the twenties, causing Azerbaijan to lose contact with the autonomous Azeri province of Nakhchivan, as well as with Turkey.
Erdogan-Aliyev meeting in Nakhchivan province had clear symbolism (Reuters)
- According to the Turkish-Azerbaijani proposal, the Zangzor corridor represents a project to link the land between the Azerbaijani province of Nakhchivan (surrounded by Armenia to the north and east, and bordering Turkey and Iran) with the rest of the territory of Azerbaijan.
- The corridor gives Ankara direct access to Baku and then to Turkey's historical and geopolitical depth in Central Asia.
- Turkey announced on September 13 that it would soon begin work on the construction of the Zengezor Corridor.
- The agreement that ended the Second Karabakh War in 2020 under the auspices of Russia stipulated that "Armenia shall ensure the security of transport lines" passing through its territory between Nakhchivan and the rest of Azerbaijan.
Objections of Armenia
- Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stressed that his country will not allow Azerbaijan to have a "corridor" through Armenian territory, but is ready to open a road between Nakhchivan and the rest of the Azerbaijani territory.
- Yerevan says the establishment of the Zangzor corridor without Armenian checkpoints would undermine the country's sovereignty.
- Armenian Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan told the UN General Assembly that the creation of a corridor "that passes through the territory of Armenia but is beyond our control is unacceptable to us and should not be acceptable to the international community."
- The project raises the concerns of Iran, which fears that its border with Armenia will be cut off and encircled in the Caucasus by Turkey and Azerbaijan.
- Iran's leadership has said that changing the "historical borders" in the region is a "red line," and military commanders have repeatedly stated that they will not allow such a move, and have worked to bolster military build-up in the border area.
- At the highest levels of leadership, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has declared his opposition to any such change, a position he expressed in talks with both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Khamenei said after the end of the second Karabakh war between Azerbaijan and Armenia in 2020, "We are happy that Karabakh returned to Azerbaijan, but if there is a policy to close the border between Iran and Armenia, the Islamic Republic will oppose that policy, because that border has been a way of communication for thousands of years."
- According to Eurasia researcher Ali Baman Iqbali Zarg, the conflict of foreign interests in Eurasia poses a threat to Iran's national security.
- Iqbali Zaraj said – in statements to Al Jazeera Net – that the establishment of a Turkish corridor will harm the field of transit (re-export) Iran by cutting the north-south corridor or undermining it, as well as cutting the way for Iran to reach Europe through Armenia.
- The researcher concluded that the Zangzour corridor aims to transfer energy from Eurasia and Central Asia to Europe, which means that it will put a definitive end to the European need for Iranian energy.
Khamenei warned against changing historical borders in the region (Anatolia)
- Some critics have described the Zangzor project as a "Turani" corridor in reference to the current of unity among the Turkish ethnicity, as Turkey seeks to reach its historical spheres of influence in Central Asia.
- Former Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan Mohammad Bagher Bahrami accused Israel, Britain, Turkey and Azerbaijan of working to create a "Turkish world" by creating a corridor extending to Turkmenistan and even Uyghur Muslim areas in China.
- Bahrami said Iran is ready to present an alternative plan to link Nakhchivan to southern Azerbaijan through Iranian territory, noting the possibility of constructing several bridges on the Aras River on the border with Azerbaijan and Armenia.
- Critics have also described the Zengzor project as a NATO corridor, arguing that by encouraging the creation of the corridor, the alliance, of which Turkey is a member, seeks to reach Russia via the Caspian Sea.
- Iran's former ambassador to Baku, Mohsen Pak Ayin, warned that this would cut off Iran's contact with Russia through Armenian territory.
- In previous statements to Al Jazeera Net, Pak Ayin stated that NATO sees its interest in reaching the waters of the Caspian Sea by land through the Zangezor corridor at the expense of Iran, and cutting off its connection with Perevan, which is Iran's gateway towards Eastern Europe.
What changed in 2023?
- Azerbaijan announced the restoration of its sovereignty over the entire Karabakh region after a lightning military operation launched on September 19 and ended the following day with the conclusion of a ceasefire agreement and the surrender of Armenian separatists in the region.
- Azerbaijan is in an advanced military and political position that may enable it to reshape the reality in Zengzur to serve its own interests and those of Turkey.
- Some Western observers expected – after Azerbaijan took control of the capital of Karabakh – that the Azerbaijani forces would advance to take control of the Zangezor region, which is administratively affiliated with the southernmost province of Siunik, in light of what is described as a "retreat" on the part of Russia, which deploys its peacekeeping forces between the two countries.
- Russia, Armenia's historic backer, has become preoccupied with its war in Ukraine, and relations between it and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan have soured after he announced steps to open up to and cooperate with the United States.
- Russia has a vested interest in opening corridors across the Caucasus after cutting off its supply lines westward to Europe due to the war in Ukraine. Therefore, Moscow may seek additional transport links with Turkey and may pressure Yerevan on this file.