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Work is likewise endless for the Turkish state, toiling to gain acceptance into the European Union (EU). Turks look indignantly at countries like Bulgaria and Romania that have already been accepted, places with much less developed economies and greater corruption. Turkey, the Cold War NATO ally, meanwhile, waits for an invitation that may never come. This "raises questions of fairness, at least," says N. Ahmet Kuşhanoğlu, the Turkish deputy director of transport in charge of railways. "Turkey's face is turned westward since two centuries." Now Turkey is looking east in order to make itself indispensable to the West. Once the Marmaray rail tunnel opens in 2013 beneath the Bosporus in Istanbul, trains from Baku will reach all the way to London. "It is easy to see that this railway shall serve Europe also," says Kuşhanoğlu.

Looking directly east, Turkey has lately sought to repair relations with its neighbor Armenia. In 1993 it had closed the border and shut down its rail service with Armenia as a sign of loyalty to Azerbaijan—a close Turkish ally with the same Muslim religion—after Christian Armenia helped ethnic Armenians in the Azerbaijan enclave of Nagor­no-Karabakh wage a bloody war to secede. Last year in Zurich, under the watchful eyes of the EU and the U.S., Turkey signed an agreement with Armenia to mend diplomatic ties and reopen the border. But the Armenians then demanded that Turkey acknowledge that the 1915 massacres of its people constituted genocide, which Turkey is loath to do. For their part, the Turks began insisting on some resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Since neither is likely to happen anytime soon, the deal—and the opportunity for a rapprochement—collapsed last spring.

A bridge between Turkey and Armenia actually does exist, though most of it has crumbled into the Akhuryan River, which cuts deeply through a gorge that serves as the border between the two countries. The Silk Road city of Ani stands abandoned along this part of the border, its mosques and churches intact after a thousand years, its bazaars echoing in a winter wind. Beyond an electric fence and across the river, Armenian guard towers keep watch over the ruins.

Some 50 miles north of Ani, Ustael's workers continue to dig 13 feet every day. Once completed, the tunnel will run for a mile and a half, 1,300 feet beneath the surface. It will be one of the longest in Turkey, Ustael says, and everyone will know his name. "Maybe then I can go work someplace warm."

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