Building railroads and roads will be “mutually beneficial” for Armenia and Azerbaijan, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said on March 20 during a visit to the country’s western Aragatsotn Province, as he attempted to ease concerns about the development of such infrastructure projects.
Addressing scores of supporters in the village of Nerkin Bazmaberd, Pashinian noted that one of the provisions of the trilateral statement signed by the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia ending last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh calls for the unblocking of “all economic and transport links” in the region.
This includes the construction of new roads and railroads linking the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan with mainland Azerbaijan via Armenian territory.
A trilateral working group led by the deputy prime ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia was formed in February to work on details of the projects.
The provision in the cease-fire agreement on establishing “economic and transport links” in the region raised concerns in Armenia about possible geopolitical and economic implications of such infrastructure projects passing through the country’s southern parts.
For now, the matter mainly concerns the construction of railroads and the road that would connect Naxcivan to mainland Azerbaijan, but energy facilities like pipelines could come into the picture at some point in the future.
Pashinian said the development of transportation infrastructure could be a step toward overcoming animosity in the region.
“If someone says that the opening of these roads is beneficial only for Azerbaijan, do not believe it. If someone says that the opening of transportation is beneficial only for Armenia, do not believe it either. The opening of transportation, especially in this situation, is beneficial for both Armenia and Azerbaijan,” he stressed.
“It is in Azerbaijan’s interest because it should get transportation with Naxcivan; it is in Armenia’s interest because we need a reliable railway link with the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added.
Pashinian’s statement came two days after he announced early parliamentary elections in June.
During the rally, Pashinian did not conceal that his political team will seek a fresh mandate from the people to be able to form a government again. He said, however, that he and his team were ready to accept any outcome of the elections.
Pashinian and his government have come under fire from various opposition parties and groups over the Armenian defeat in last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh. They have demanded Pashinian’s resignation since the Russian-brokered cease-fire was signed on November 10, ending six weeks of hostilities in which thousands of soldiers were killed.
Under the deal, a chunk of Nagorno-Karabakh and all seven districts around it were placed under Azerbaijani administration after almost 30 years of control by ethnic Armenian forces.
The coalition of opposition parties has been holding anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan and other parts of the country in a bid to force Pashinian to step down and allow an interim government to be formed before snap elections.
But the prime minister, whose My Step alliance dominates parliament, has refused to hand over power to such an interim government.
Following discussions with the leaders of two opposition parliamentary factions, Pashinian said on March 18 that it was agreed that early elections in Armenia will be held on June 20.