WASHINGTON, DC – The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) welcomes the introduction of legislation in the House of Representatives prohibiting U.S. assistance for the building of railroads traversing the Caucasus that circumvent Armenia. The measure, entitled the “South Caucasus Integration and Open Railroads Act of 2005,” is being introduced by Congressman Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), and George Radanovich (R-CA).
“We welcome this effort to protect U.S. taxpayers from subsidizing an ill-advised and over-priced railroad project that – at the insistence of Turkey and Azerbaijan – has been designed to exclude Armenia,” said Aram Hamparian, Executive Director of the ANCA. “Constructing this railroad around Armenia runs directly counter to U.S. foreign policy and – as if that wasn’t bad enough – makes absolutely no financial sense – which is precisely why its sponsors will surely turn to the American taxpayer to foot the bill.”
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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 10th of this year when Communications Director Elizabeth S. Chouldjian posed a question to the Foreign Minister of Armenia, Vardan Oskanian, during his briefing at a National Press Club. Minister Oskanian expressed the Armenian government’s “concern about this recent consideration by Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey to build a new railroad from Kars to Tbilisi, linking to an existing Azerbaijani line. They are planning on spending something from $600 million to $1 billion to put that railroad in place. The problem is that there is such a railroad in the region. There is an existing Kars, Gumri, which is an Armenian city, Tbilisi, and next to Azerbaijan. The railroad is sitting there, rusting now for fifteen years, because Turkey, for political reasons, does not allow the trains to cross the Turkish Armenian border. Now, having that in place and thinking of building a new one and spending $600 million is nonsense.” He closed his comments, by stressing that, “It is in no one’s interest – not the U.S. 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 out of engaging in this type of senseless, useless activity.”
In May of this year, the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, and Turkey’s President Akhmed Nedget Sezer announced their intention to construct the railway corridor linking Turkey, Tbilisi, and Baku. The project would effectively replace the Kars-Gyumri railroad route, which has been blockaded by Turkey for more than a decade. The governmental and commercial interests involved in the project, estimated at between $600 million and $1 billion, will almost certainly turn to the U.S. government for financial support, subsidies, favorable lending terms, and low-cost risk insurance, as they did for the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan pipeline route.