Turkey's TRT Radio on the strategic importance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Also known as the Kars-Tbilisi-Baku railway.

TRT Radio has a really good radio program called Stratejik Bakış (strategic view) that I listen to all the time, as the two people that regularly do the show are very knowledgeable on the subject and there's quite a bit there that I don't see much of in English online, unless it's very brief. Translating an entire radio show transcript though is not that enjoyable, especially for the fact that there's a lot of repetition and breaking off in mid-sentence when people are talking to each other, but I decided it would be worth it to just write out the information alone. Not a real translation, but something based on what I would tell somebody sitting next to me if I had to be the interpreter for their conversation. It's much easier than doing an actual translation, because I can fiddle around with the sentence structure as the only goal here is to transmit the information they were talking about. I'll probably be doing a lot more of these as a result.

In their second most recent show (28 July 2008, mp3 here) they spent the first ten minutes talking about the new railway, which has now made its way into Turkey. One part of the dialogue I wasn't sure about so I've marked that with an asterisk. This is the dialogue from about two minutes to seven minutes in, so there's a bit left that I have to do.

A: The Baku - Tbilisi - Kars railway line is being opened, the regional leaders are in Kars today.

B: Yes, the ceremony for this started about an hour ago, and as you said the three regional leaders are in Kars. That's president Abdullah Gül from Turkey, Azerbaijan's president İlham Aliyev, and president Saakashvili of Georgia. This line's Turkish portion is having its foundation laid. Last November as well the Georgian portion had its foundation laid.

B: So why is this line important? Let's take a look at that. It's not just a railway line. The main reason is that there were two important lines that connected Turkey to the East, to all of Eurasia. The first one is to Iran, one that was never cut off. The second one was from the Soviet Era to Soviet Armenia, to Gyumri. However, there was a war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, there is approximately 20% of Azerbaijan that Armenia occupies and the occupation continues; after this in 1993 there was a closing of the border between Turkey and Armenia, two border gates: the first is over land, the second is the railway. In this way our open railway line to Eurasia was closed. Of course, the largest influence of this closing was on cargo transport. However, probably around the beginning of the 1990s nobody really felt the need for this transport. But take a look at Azerbaijan's rapid growth of its economy through petrol dollars, and then the Central Asian nations, especially Kazakhistan's rapid growth of its economy through petrol dollars as well. These two nations have very important exports of natural gas and oil, and needed a pipeline, to the Black Sea and the Mediterranian Sea. We saw it in the BTC Pipeline, and in the Shah Deniz for example with Azerbaijan. There's a need for a transportation line from these parts for imports and exports. That means there's a need for a railway. Let's not forget that the nations we've talked about are landlocked, they have no route to the sea.

A: You're talking about Central Asia, right? Georgia is the exception.

B: That's right, Georgia is the exception. For Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian nations a railway is important for ship transport as well.* And we're seeing this project come to light in this framework.

A: Here with Georgia, whether with the BTC Pipeline or the BTK Railway, all of the three nations are increasing their strategic, their geostrategic importance more and more. And of course this increased strategic importance and especially closer ties with the West is in a sense, for example with nations like Georgia with its sensitive position, maybe for Turkey this carries even more importance. Especially in the dimension of security, looking at Georgia's future. Because with these lines their security and stability in the countries they're in, directly and indirectly, have a direct and indirect influence on them. So it's worth looking at its value from a strategic point of view.

B: Of course. Like you said, energy and transport security are important in the age we live in, and an issue that increases in importance as time goes on. Because of that security has to be an issue with Georgia as well.


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