Nakhchivan: Autonomous Republic Of Most Powerful Country In Southern Caucasus – OpEd


The Republic of Azerbaijan is an interesting country among the independent states that emerged after the collapse of the former USSR. As a South Caucasian republic, Azerbaijan is mentioned with its rich oil and natural gas resources, the cooperation in energy trade, its struggle against Russian occupation, Armenia’s attack on this country 30 years ago, and the liberation of Karabakh three years ago (2020) by its own army.

Thanks to the incomparable services of the powerful politician Heydar Aliyev, who was the leader of Azerbaijan both during the Soviet period and in the years of independence the country eradicated the influence of Russia, which is still strong today in the region, and strengthened its independence. All these facts are clearly visible as to how much Azerbaijan was lucky in the background of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. In addition, the power Azerbaijan gained in economic development despite the Armenian occupation for many years and the problems of up to 1 million internally displaced persons are also significant in this regard. The current President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, continued this policy and with the strong economy and army of the renewed Azerbaijan, he solved the biggest problem that had been accumulated for 30 years and restored the full territorial integrity of the country.

The South Caucasus is a rather complicated region. A hundred years ago, the military and political events that took place here significantly changed the map of the South Caucasus. At the beginning of the 20th century, after the fall of Tsarist Russia serious border problems arose between the independent republics that were born there. In the 1920s, as a result of the crossing interests of the great powers and the reoccupation of these lands by Bolshevism, serious changes took place in the map of the South Caucasus, and some of these problems still remain. Therefore, many people find it difficult to explain the reasons for the separated areas such as Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, when they look at this area on the map. As a result of these political processes, Nakhchivan, which was separated from Azerbaijan since February 1924, managed to remain as an autonomous republic within our country.

However, the same Azerbaijan that you saw on the map of the South Caucasus printed in France during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 no longer exists, and now between Nakhchivan and main part of Azerbaijan stretches Zangezur region of Armenia. Currently, Nakhchivan has the status of an autonomous republic with its own parliament as a part of Azerbaijan.  

The known history of Nakhchivan dates back to 5,000 years ago. The World flood legend, huge salt deposits that prove it was here, rock paintings that prove the traces of Noah’s ark, a large number (about 250 sources) of mineral water sources, the holy Ashabi-Kahf cave mentioned in all religious books, Alinjagala, the Machu Pichu (picturesque castle) of the Caucasus, large number of architectural monuments from the period of Islamic culture of the 12th century have internationally enlivened this territory. As the capital city of Islamic Culture in 2018, Nakhchivan was brought to significant attention of many scholars and tourists. In ancient times, the name “Nakhchivan” was mentioned in the travel notes of world travelers such as Strabo, Ptolemy, and Turkish traveler Evliyya Çelebi.

Currently, Nakhchivan is located along the border with Iran and is closely related to ethnic Azerbaijanis in this country. The 11 kilometer long border connecting with Türkiye is not the only way to Nakhchivan, but also to all of Azerbaijan and the Turkish republics of Central Asia to this country. However, until Azerbaijan gained independence, the visa free travel was blocked of not only for foreign tourists to Nakhchivan, but also for citizens who are not registered in the autonomous republic. Travels into Nakhchivan was regulated by special permits, and the border region was kept under strict control. Doubtless, it was a unjust decision that served purely political and security purposes and led to the non-use of the historical, cultural and natural resources of this ancient land. The middle-aged people remember very well the checking of passengers’ passports and relevant documents at the border when they arrived by train from Baku to Nakhchivan during the Soviet period.

Since Nakhchivan has hot summers and cold winters, spring and autumn are the best times to travel here. All roads here are comfortable and safe to travel. In all settlements, it is possible to meet young people who can welcome tourists in English. Three universities in the region prepare young personnel in almost every branch. The educational, healthcare and sports infrastructure for an autonomous republic with a population of about 500,000 people is quite perfect. Tourists visiting here can stay in comfortable 4-5 star hotels.

During the 70 years of Soviet period, the strategic position of Nakhchivan, located on the southern border of the USSR with free market economy countries such as Iran and Turkey, had not a serious impact on the economic and cultural life, transport, logistics and tourism relations of this region. Later, because of the war starting by Armenia, communications between Baku were cut off after 1992, transport connections to the region were carried out by air and transit through Iran.

Even though the Karabakh conflict is over, due to the lack of communications you can still travel from Baku to Nakhchivan only by air. In addition, there are regular flights from Moscow and Istanbul to the International Airport in Nakhchivan once a week. As for land and railway transport, this was possible only 35 years ago. During the Soviet period passengers and goods were carried by the Baku-Yerevan railway running from Nakhchivan along the Araz River, and there were easy connections between the two Soviet republics by highways. However, these belong to the past, and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic, which has been in a state of blockade since 1992, is living and developing in this situation.

After the 44-day II Karabakh War, which resulted in the liberation of occupied territories of Azerbaijan, a new geostrategic reality has emerged in the region. The fact that the Middle Corridor project, which will connect China to Europe, passes through this region, as well as the Red Sea logistics line has become unstable due to Middle East conflicts, has only increased the position of Nakhchivan. We believe that the opening of the Zangezur corridor, the end of the blockade situation, in this sense, will support the development of Nakhchivan’s economy and tourism, as well as Armenian economy itself. Because during the Soviet time, 85 percent of cargo transported to Armenia passed through Nakhchivan.

The modern economy of Nakhchivan is mainly based on agriculture, processing industry, production of mineral water and construction materials, production of solar energy and medical tourism. Suffering electricity cut in the 1990s Nakhchivan became a green energy exporter region to neighbors, Türkiye and Iran which  have a common grid operational ties. Nakhchivan’s position on the Middle Corridor in the future, after the opening of the Zangezur Corridor, its opening to Europe through the main part of Azerbaijan and Turkey will further increase its logistics and tourism potential.

At the present, the goods transported to Nakhchivan from Turkey and Iran are transported via 3 customs points that operate 24 hours a day. The existing infrastructure here allows for safer cargo transportation on the China-Europe route. In recent years, the international events held in Nakhchivan, especially several meetings held by the heads of state of Türkiye, Azerbaijan and the Turkic-speaking countries of Central Asia, show that Nakhchivan is the center of attention in this regard.

Ali Jabbarov

Ali Jabbarov is an author, journalist and a university professor in field of tourism studies and international affairs. He is the author of many articles published in various newspapers of Azerbaijan and Europe.

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