16 May 2020
The Middle Corridor or the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route - one of the three main land routes in Eurasia envisages the revival of the Silk Road. It creates a natural synergy with the China's Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to develop connectivity between the east and west. As a new multimodal transit corridor the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route extends from the Chinese-Kazakh border to Europe, passing through Kazakhstan, and via the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan and Georgia with rail, road and sea connections. The symbolic date of its formation can be considered as October 2013, when the Coordinating Committee was created, which included Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Romania and Turkey. The purpose of this multimodal freight transportation route is to increase freight traffic between China, Central Asia, the Caspian and Black Sea basins and European countries bypassing Russia in both directions through Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan supports the Belt and Road Initiative based on mutually beneficial cooperation. In this context, a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of the Silk Road Economic Belt was signed between the Government of Republic Azerbaijan and the Government of the People’s Republic of China during President Ilham Aliyev’s state visit to China in December 2015. Azerbaijan's favorable geopolitical and geographical position enhances the development of connectivity between Asia and Europe. Necessary steps have been taken with the partners in the region within the framework of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route. By improving its transportation infrastructure in recent years Azerbaijan has developed various projects for the revitalization of the historical Silk Road, including the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway (BTK). As an important leg of the Middle Corridor, BTK started operating in 2017 (official opening 30 October 2017).
It is expected that BTK, which was set to carry 1 million passengers and 6.5 million tons of cargo per year in the beginning, and 3 million passengers and 17 million tons of cargo in 2034, will offer a new perspective in the uninterrupted transportation and trade facility between China and Europe. Transportation through the Middle Corridor using BTK shortens the transportation time by 1/3 (15 days) compared to Northern Corridor. Also, the Middle Corridor is 2,000 km shorter and more favorable in terms of climatic conditions which minimizes transportation costs and increases the profitability of transportation in the Eurasian space. Another geopolitical advantage of the BTK project is that it creates a direct railway connection, which promotes multilateral cooperation among Turkic Speaking States. Within the framework of the cooperation under the Middle Corridor, a “Joint Cooperation Protocol” was signed between the Ministers of Transport of the Turkic Council member countries. In addition, a “Coordination Board” was created at the level of Deputy Ministers, which is expected to bring practical solutions to the problems that may arise in the field of transportation between countries. In addition, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed signed between Baku, Aktau and Samsun Ports, which established a Sister Port relationship. Under the umbrella of the Turkic Council, negotiations are still ongoing on the draft "International Combined Freight Transport Agreement" among member states.
In addition to the aforementioned countries, the Middle Corridor Initiative is supported by Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Turkey-Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan-Afghanistan transit corridor (Lapis Lazuli), both is crucial for the landlocked Afghanistan and Tajikistan, as well as regional integration and interconnectivity. The Agreement on the "Lapis Lazuli" corridor was signed by Georgia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on the sidelines of the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan on 14-15 November 2017.
Eurasian Connectivity and the Middle Corridor have recently drawn enormous scrutiny and gained greater recognition from think tanks, independent experts, scholars not only from participating countries, but also from the international community. The AIR Center accordingly aims to create a mechanism that boosts multilateral collaboration and dialogue through building a platform for better coordination and synergy. To reach this goal, the AIR Center intends to hold academic conferences, conduct joint research projects, share and publish research findings among the countries along the Middle Corridor.