The capital of Azerbaijan, Baku also known as Azerbaijani Baki lies on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and the southern side of the Abşeron Peninsula, around the wide curving sweep of the Bay of Baku. The city derives its importance from its oil industry and its administrative functions. In 1723 Peter I (the Great) captured Baku, but it was returned to Persia in 1735 followed by a capture by Russia finally in 1806, but later in 1920 Baku became capital of the Azerbaijan republic.

Baku developed as a hub of trade and exchange, providing a vital link in the passage of goods and people between the steppe lands and the west. The buildings and monuments of this historic city reveal evidence of Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic influences, as well as the traces of Sassanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman and Russian cultures, all of which have come together throughout the city’s history and played a part in shaping Baku into what it is today.

On October 30, 2017 Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Kazakhstan Prime Minister Bakyzhan Sagintayev, and Uzbek Premier Abdullah Aripov met at the Port of Baku and launched a rail project to connect their countries as part of the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative and the Georgian Prime Minister Kyirikashvili called the initiative, “a bridge between Asia and Europe.”

A major part of this new 826-kilometer (500-mile) rail corridor, also known as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) already existed. However, 105-km of track has been built to connect these countries directly to each other. This rail link plays a significant role in connecting countries in the East and West, and China is just one of them. The BTK railroad planned to transport 3 million passengers and 17 million tons of cargo by 2034. The trains leaving East Asia traverse central Asia and reach the Khorgos Gateway in Kazakhstan. At that point the cargo can be shipped over the Caspian Sea by ferry to arrive at the New Port of Baku in Azerbaijan. It would be costly to build the facilities to receive this massive amount of cargo; likewise, there had been problems with financing for the project.

Last year on May 20, 202, a new $65 million loan to the Republic of Azerbaijan to finance the Regional Connectivity and Development Project was approved by the World Bank Board of Directors. The project was planned to provide safe, efficient and climate resilient transport connectivity and improve market accessibility along the Salyan-Bilasuvar road in the south of the country. About 2,50,000 people living along this route were expected to benefit from upgraded road infrastructure, as well as improved economic opportunities and easier access to essential service facilities in order to help the country achieve its national development priorities.

The project has financed three important sectors, firstly, investments in roads and ancillary agricultural and logistics infrastructure to contribute to supporting connectivity and market accessibility, with a view to maximizing the socio-economic development impact of upgraded roads. Secondly, the project supported financial sustainability and efficiency within the road sector, through technical assistance for developing road network management systems and study options for introduction of user charges and prevention of vehicle overloading. Lastly, the project supported the design and arrangement of roadside logistics and market facilities, and provision of skills training to local entrepreneurs, to improve income-generating opportunities for local communities.

As a result to the new developments, the Port of Baku became the centrepiece of the project, experiencing the largest growth rate in the section of container traffic as the cargo transhipments reached almost 2 million tons in only first of 2018 as long distance trade had become a trend using the BTK railway in 2018. Similarly, passenger transportation increased and as a result the Port can now cater to 1,50,000 passengers at once. As the BTK started showing such positive results, people started expecting that this kind of economic cooperation would bring prosperity to the fast growing local economies and populations of the region, as well as bringing countries together on better terms, and hopefully creating an environment of peace and cooperation among them.

Recently, Azerbaijan and Turkey sought peace and prosperity in the region as remarked by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov saying that “Baku has fully supported the position of Ankara, which is yet another evidence that both Azerbaijan and Turkey are aimed at lasting peace in the region. Of course, as in all other issues, Baku and Ankara closely coordinate their actions, consult. The coordination of the policy of Azerbaijan and Turkey is not directed against Armenia or a third country. Our goal is to achieve positive results for the entire region, including Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

At an event and exhibition held by the ministry on March 14 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Azerbaijan and Iran, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Elnur Mammadov said that Azerbaijan and Iran’s existing historical ties, shared values, and traditions created conditions for the development of bilateral relations, stressing on the 44-day war, Azerbaijan restored its territorial integrity, including the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, which President Ilham Aliyev had described as the friendship border.

In response, Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan Seyed Abbas Mousavi extended his appreciation on the establishment of diplomatic relations between friendly Azerbaijan and Iran followed by Azerbaijan’s Deputy Prime Minister Shahin Mustafayev and Iran’s Roads and Urban Development Minister Rostam Ghasemi signing the document in Baku on March 11, 2022 within the 15th meeting of the Azerbaijan-Iran state commission on economic, trade and humanitarian cooperation which commenced regional peace and prosperity.

By Dr. Ankit Srivastava

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