Roads and Overland Travel Between Azerbaijan and Georgia

Feature | 22 August 2011

For years, the bad road stretching between the city of Gazakh in western Azerbaijan and the Georgian border has hampered the local economy. Farmers have faced high costs transporting produce to the nearby town of Ganja, the capital Baku, or to cities in Georgia. In a region famed for its natural beauty, sacred monuments and unique tea houses, precious tourist dollars have also been lost. But the Asian Development Bank's funding of the rehabilitation of the 35 kilometer stretch highway between Gazakh and Georgia border has led to enormous changes in the area. "The rehabilitation of this road has improved our lives," said Vugar Valiyev, manager of the Damjili Motel, which is built beside the road. "Our business is growing because of this road... ..Every day, we have drivers from Turkey, tourists, and farmers who stay at our motel." The Gazakh-Georgia Border highway, completed in December 2009, is one of a raft of roads being rehabilitated under ADB's East-West highway improvement project, which aims to accelerate socioeconomic development in Azerbaijan and enhance regional cooperation. The project also includes policy reform in the road sector, as well as improving freight and passenger movement across the border with Georgia. The improvement project includes plans for smaller local roads like the 14-km Kemerli road, located in the Inji Villey near Gazakh. The villagers of Caymacli, Astanbayli, and Kemerli are looking forward to the transformation that will take place in the valley - the road was last rehabilitated in 1988 and its slow demise has had a severe impact on their lives. According to Kommunali Nasibov, head of the municipality in Astanbeyli, buses from Baku and Ganja stopped taking tour groups to the three villages to the detriment of the local tourism industry. Telman Ahmadov, an Astanbeyli resident, remarked: "In our village, we have beautiful places to visit. We also have a sacred place, which is usually visited by believers from eastern Georgia and Baku. However, due to problems with the road, visits by believers are becoming rarer and rarer." The negative impact has been felt by small businesses located along the road, such as shops, teahouses, and restaurants - with road traffic diminishing, many have closed down. And the problem isn't just getting into the villages, it is also getting out - there is no public transport, so the 10,000 residents rely on private car. A refurbished Kemerli road would also be a boon to agriculture. Currently, the road is in such bad shape that truck drivers charge higher rates to transport agricultural produce to the markets of Ganja or Gazakh. Operators of tractors and other agricultural machinery also charge more. As a result, produce is sold for prices higher than those charged by farmers from other villages. The villagers are optimistic about the changes the new road will bring. As 72-year old Astanbayli resident Madat Mammadov put it: "The ADB-funded Kemerli road will be a 'road of life' for us."