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ARTICLE

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The New Silk Road

The New Silk Road

A railroad through the southern Caucasus will soon connect Europe and Asia, fueling dreams and discord in the region.

Grades

3 - 12

Subjects

Anthropology, Sociology, Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies

















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The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railroad opened in 2017. The new railroad line is known as the "Iron Silk Road." It connects the Caspian Sea region to Turkey.

The Caspian Sea region is full of oil. Now the BTK makes it easier for that oil to reach Europe.

The new railroad line passes through the Caucasus. The Caucasus is a 1200 kilometer (750-mile) stretch of land. It lies between Europe and Asia. It stretches from the Caspian to the Black Sea.

Before it got swallowed up by the Russian empire in the 1800s, the Caucasus helped connect Europe and Asia. The old Silk Road passed through the region. Merchants traveling the Silk Road brought Asian goods to Europe. Fine silks from China were some of the most prized of those goods. The route was named after those silks.

The BTK is a new form of the old Silk Road. Is is called the Iron Silk Road because of its tracks. Train tracks are made of iron.


Lots Of Oil Under The Caspian Sea

The BTK will bring great change to the Caucasus. Besides parts of Russia, there are three countries in the region. These are Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. All three were once part of the Soviet Union.

The Soviet Union was a group of countries controlled by Russia. In 1991, the Soviet Union fell apart and split into 15 countries. Russia then lost its power over the southern Caucasus. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan all became independent nations.

The Caucasus quickly became very important to the outside world. Oil was the reason. There is a huge amount of oil under and along the Caspian Sea. During the Soviet years, it was controlled by Russia. Suddenly, it was up for grabs.

After 1991, pipelines were laid across the Caucasus. They brought oil and gas to the European market. Today they are heavily used.

The BTK was built to carry oil and gas west across the southern Caucasus. It also carries European goods east into the Caucasus. It makes trade between Europe and the Caucasus much easier.


Working Together To Build The BTK

The BTK begins at the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, which sits by the Caspian. It then travels through the Georgian city of Tbilisi. It ends in Kars, a small Turkish city. Kars is on the southwestern edge of the Caucasus region.

Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan worked together to build the BTK. Before last year, trains leaving the Caucuses had to pass through Russia or Iran. Now they can go straight to Turkey. And Turkey sits on the border between Europe and Asia. Western Turkey is in Europe. Caucasus oil now can easily reach the rest of Europe.

The Turkish city of Kars is the new railroad line's endpoint. It lies 67 kilometers (42 miles) south of the Turkish border with Georgia. Today, Kars is a poor city. That could change now that the BTK connects it to Baku, which is very rich.

Ahmet Kara is the governor of Kars. He believes the BTK will turn Kars into an important city.

Georgia may not get as much good out of the BTK as Turkey and Azerbaijan. Indeed, it may be hurt by it.


Azerbaijan Has Become Much Richer

The port cities of Batumi and Poti are very important for Georgia. Both are on the Black Sea. Many goods are shipped to western Europe from the two cities' docks. Now that goods can be sent on to Turkey instead, that may change. Many jobs may be lost in both ports.

In Azerbaijan, things are looking much better. The city of Baku is booming. All of Azerbaijan has gotten much richer since 2005. In that year, the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline began pumping oil out of the Caspian. Soon, fancy stores opened everywhere. So did big hotels.

Right now, most Azerbaijanis think oil is much more important than trains. Musa Panahov doesn't agree. Panahov works for the Azerbaijani government. He helps oversee the train system.

"Oil and gas will end someday," Panahov says. "The railroad will live always."

Media Credits

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Director
Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Author
Brett Forrest, National Geographic
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Producer
André Gabrielli, National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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